For historical purposes if not for what it is worth, south east (Nigeria) leaders rather subtly lured President Muhammadu Buhari into a very cautious undertaking that he would favourably consider consider granting amnesty to political enfant terrible Nnamdi Kanu total amnesty on all charges of treason the man is facing. These are federal offences. This is unprecedented in our political/civilian dispensation, if only because of its possible implications.
The first major treason trial in Nigeria was against a Briton who, later, in an attempted escape, disguised in Fulani babanriga, a big turban to match his well grown beard, under the false name of Alhaji Hassan Doga in the mid-fifties. Just at the Idi Iroko border with Benin republic, the dubious Alhaji Hassan Doga’s attempted escape from Nigeria was foiled by very alert Nigerian security operatives who duly arrested him. The matter was settled through diplomatic means between Nigerian and British authorities.
The other notable treason trial under a civilian administration involved the opposition leader in the first republic, Obafemi Awolowo, who went through the trial and was jailed in 1963 until he was released in August 1966 by the military administration of Colonel Yakubu Gowon. Thus, there were two treason trials each ending differently. The most interesting aspect was that each had its various implications, either an implied admission of guilt or strict adherence to innocence, whatever the consequences. Into any of these two different outcomes could the current proposed amnesty fit. There is no doubt this must have been well-considered by the stakeholders.
By the way, this focus is strictly on the proposed amnesty and not in any way on the trial proper. One undeniable fact is the various issues thrown up so far and which the public were eagerly waiting to be solved or indeed was existing to be tackled at a court in Abia State. Nnamdi Kanu had earlier absconded from Nigeria and thereby could not be tried. Nigerians then woke one morning only to be told that Nnamdi Kanu had been arrested in Kenya and was to face treason trial in Abuja. Inevitably, questions arose. When, where and how was he arrested? What was the mode of his journey from Kenya to Nigeria? Were Kanu’s arrest and trip to Nigeria with the maximum cooperation of Kenyan government? President Uhuru Kenyata denied any knowledge or involvement in Nnamdi Kanu’s sad experience back to Nigeria. Speculations therefore mounted that Kanu was kidnapped in Kenya by paid agents and sent back to Nigeria. There were also stirs in the Commonwealth.
The poor chap also acquired more sympathy and support from his followers. Nigeria’s history did not help matters. In 1984, the minister of transport and chairman of task force on importation of rice under the administration of President Shehu Shagari, late Umaru Diko was smart enough to run away abroad while his colleagues and state governors were clamped into detention without trial, at least initially. While Umaru Diko was in London, a female confidant alerted British authorities of not only the ex-minister’s kidnap by hired masked gunmen who were imminently to crate him for an unpleasant journey to Nigeria. The British government instantly closed all local and international airports. The crate containing its very important passenger (vip) was recovered by the British security, thus aborting the kidnap attempt. It was not clear if Nigeria was behind the international diplomatic controversy. For considerable period, Nigeria and Britain mellowed in all diplomatic dealings. That was thirty-seven years ago.
That is why the legal tussle in Umuahia on the mode of Nnamdi Kanu’s unpleasant journey from Kenya to Nigeria is being eagerly awaited, especially with the record of the failed attempt to crate Umaru Diko from England to Nigeria. There was also the issue of lawyers not allowed by the court to appear in person for Nnamdi Kanu. It should be noted that regular counsel for Kanu made their due appearance. There was that sudden development where the size of Kanu’s lawyers suddenly enlarged, if only for many of them to be conveniently identified with Kanu in south east today. The court has a duty to control the crowd (even if lawyers) strictly to the size available for the trial team. Otherwise, the court should not unilaterally hinder lawyers from practising their profession. It was the duty of Nigeria Bar Association to have intervened in furtherance of the right of lawyers to be seen offering services to an accused fighting for his life in a treason trial.
It is unusual for a courtroom to be full to the brim, such that only relevant lawyers may be accommodated. Room may not be found for even solicited lawyers provided their seniors for the same case are already seated. Cases such as Nnamdi Kanu’s occasionally come up and are sure to attract unusually large crowd in view of the man on trial, his politics, his followers, his presence or lack of presence in court, the media for such events, etc. All those involved or even ordinarily attracted must rise to the occasion, which is not an everyday event. What was also not clear when some lawyers were alleged to have been refused entry into the court was whether any of such lawyers was specifically involved in advance in Kanu’s case or was on a “me too” publicity stunt. After all, Nnamdi Kanu’s regular lawyers who had been defending him all along were not refused entry into the court. It was also up to Kanu to notify the court even on that if any new lawyer to handle his case was around to be allowed entry.
That also calls into question the risk (being) taken by Kanu’s lawyers threatening to withdraw from the case in protest against aspects of the court’s proceedings so far. If we did not experience such rash decision leading to the death sentence on Ken Saro-Wiwa in the past, there might be no cause for concern . While the trial of Ken Saro-Wiwa was in progress, his defence team led by late Gani Fawehinmi, withdrew in protest against alleged manipulation of the proceedings in favour of the state. The withdrawal was a stupid and risky move which rendered the accused unprotected. In a murder trial? The judge merely noted the withdrawal, since it was a decision which, under the law, could not, in any way, twist the arms of the bench. Where was the cheering mob as Saro-Wiwa lost his life? The law must not be dared in such riky circumstances.
The defence team of Nnamdi Kanu must therefore seriously reconsider its decision to withdraw from the man’s case. The only option (okay, obligation) of the judge is to provide a defence counsel for Kanu, usually only for record purposes. Also, the Nigeria Bar Association could, at the or even before the next hearing of the Kanu case, intervene to sift the large crowd of lawyers purportedly appearing for the youngman with a view to drastically reducing the number of lawyers to add to regular ones. Afterall, only one lawyer can address the court or cross examine at a time.
There was the other controversy of blackout but for the dexterity of the press. In that case, it could be deemed to be aimed at keeping proceedings from the people but also inhibiting the obligation imposed on that estate by Nigerian constitution to make government accountable. Nnamdi Kanu’s case and the handling by stakeholders on all sides (Kanu not excluded) have been so controversial that the press must assert its right to perform its duty as compelled by the constitution. If the court, as was the case with lawyers, was hell-bent on controlling the crowd, the way out was by significantly reducing the press corps by selecting commensurately from radio, television, newspaper and news agency to serve as a pool for the others on such an unusual occasion. The impression must not be created that the press was being done a favour. At the worst, the media could have been requested to nominate about five representatives to later feed scores of their colleagues from world media represented in Nigeria.
Section 22 of the Fundamental Objective and Directive Principles State Policy saddles the press, radio, television and other agences of the mass media to at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives and uphold the responsibility and ACCOUNTABILITY of the government to the people.” The judiciary is one of three arms constituting the government which has rendered the Kanu case not only controversial but also accountable to Nigerians.
It is in fact surprising that in the interim, stakeholders in the media –Nigerian Union of Journalists, the Guild of Editors and Newspaper Publishers Associations of Nigeria — never deemed it fit the violation of their overall constitutional duty by a court.
First republic minister Mbazuluike Amaechi (has) stuck out his neck for Nnamdi Kanu to be released to him, presumably under the undertaking of good conduct by the accused. There is no doubt that the guarantee by Amaechi was with total awareness of assurances of Kano state elders to former president Olusegun Obasanjo similarly for the release of one of late General Sani Abacha’s sons from prison detention after which it was said that the man would surrender what was reported to be part of the Abacha loot in his possession. Out of respect for the Kano state elders, Obasanjo released the man who, surprisingly, later reneged on the excuse that he (Abacha’s son) never gave any undertaking “to anybody to release the money. It is therefore a major sacrifice for Chief Amaechi, now in the last lap to one hundred years to have vouched for Nnamdi Kanu, if given amnesty.
Incidentally, why should south east elders have allowed Nnamdi Kanu such latitude all along without caution? It must have been due to discretion. Major Mohammed Shuwa was one of Borno State leaders at a meeting with the authorities in Aso Villa in 2012. But he was frank in condemning the Boko Haram violent agitators. One Friday afternoon, General Shuwa, was in his compound in Maiduguri, apparently in preparation for prayers. Masked gunmen entere the compound, assassinated him and confidently marched out without being challenged by anybody. With killings and arson only lately dying down throughout south east, the individual caution of their elders should be understandable.