The Nigerian government has indicated that it would not release Nnamdi Kanu despite Thursday’s Court of Appeal judgement.
Instead of releasing Mr Kanu as ordered by the court, the government says it is reviewing its legal options and could institute other charges against him.
The government said it would consider its legal options after the Court of Appeal discharged Mr Kanu, the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), of all pending charges.
The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, in the government’s first official reaction, said the federal government’s decision on the case would be announced to the public after a review of available legal options.
Mr Malami’s reaction is contained in a statement by his spokesperson, Umar Gwandu, late on Thursday. It excluded any commitment to the release of the separatist leader from custody as ordered by the appeal court.
The statement, devoid of clarity or concrete position on any issues raised in the court’s decision, also insisted that the Court of Appeal only discharged the IPOB leader and did not acquit him.
“The Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice has received the news of the decision of the Court of Appeal concerning the trial of Nnamdi Kanu. For the avoidance of doubt and by the verdict of the Court, Kanu was only discharged and not acquitted.
“Consequently, the appropriate legal options before the authorities will be exploited and communicated accordingly to the public,” Mr Malami’s spokesperson wrote.
A three-member panel of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, on Thursday, struck out all the remaining seven charges against Mr Kanu.
It followed an earlier ruling of the trial judge, Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court in Abuja, in April, dismissing eight of the 15 amended counts filed against him by the federal government.
The charges were a fallout of the separatist activities of Mr Kanu, a dual citizen in Nigeria and Britain. Mr Kanu is championing the secession of the Igbo-dominated Southeastern states along with some states in the South-south, as an independent Biafra nation.
The charges included treasonable felony first filed against him after he was arrested in 2015. It also included terrorism-related counts introduced into the case after he was rearrested outside Nigeria and brought back to face his trial in June 2021.
Mr Kanu, displeased with the partial dismissal of the charges against him by the Federal High Court in April, had approached the Court of Appeal in Abuja to challenge the validity of the remaining seven charges.
The Court of Appeal panel led by Jummai Sankey struck out all the remaining charges against Mr Kanu, on Thursday, ruling that the lower court “lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the suit.”
The court held that Mr Kanu’s extradition from Kenya in June 2021 to Nigeria without following the extradition rules was a flagrant violation of Nigeria’s extradition treaty and a breach of the IPOB leader’s fundamental human rights.
It held there was no denial by the Nigerian government’s lawyer, David Kaswe, in the appeal as to the submissions of Mike Ozekhome, Mr Kanu’s counsel, that the separatist leader was “extraordinarily renditioned from Kenya.”
The appellate court held that the failure of the federal government to adequately respond to Mr Kanu’s arguments gave merit to the appeal.
The appeal court also said the Federal High Court failed to examine the findings of the prosecution as it would not have tried Mr Kanu based on the prosecution’s claim that the IPOB leader was not “illegally brought into the country.”
Although the Court of Appeal ordered the release of Mr Kanu from the custody of the State Security Service (SSS), many have expressed doubts, particularly on social media, that the federal government would obey the order.
The secret police repeatedly violated court orders granting bail to Mr Kanu from 2015, when he was first arrested, until 2017 when Mrs Nyako granted him a fresh bail.
‘Only one issue determined’
Mr Malami said the decision of the Court of Appeal “was on a single issue that borders on rendition.”
He added, “Let it be made clear to the general public that other issues that predate rendition on the basis of which Kanu jumped bail remain valid issues for judicial determination.
“The Federal Government will consider all available options open to us on the judgment on rendition while pursuing determination of pre-rendition issues,” he said.
The Court of Appeal’s decision terminating Mr Kanu’s trial on Thursday came months after the federal government, through Mr Malami’s office, amended the charges against the IPOB leader.
The amendment was necessitated by the ruling of Mrs Nyako, striking out eight of the 15 counts including terrorism and treasonable felony earlier brought against Mr Kanu.
Mrs Nyako, in her ruling on Mr Kanu’s application on 8 April, threw out counts 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12,13 and 14 which she ruled were repetitive and invalid.
But she approved counts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8 and 15.
The pending charges had to do with Mr Kanu’s alleged membership of the proscribed IPOB and incitement via social media channels of members of the group to kill innocent persons in the South-east.
The prosecution also alleged that on diverse dates between March and April 2015, Mr Kanu illegally imported into Nigeria and kept in Ubulisluzor in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State, a radio transmitter known as Tram 50L. He allegedly concealed it in a container of used household items which he declared as used household items.
The alleged offence was said to be contrary to section 47(2)(a) of Criminal Code Act CapC45 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
Mr Kanu’s trial, since 2015 when he was arrested, has had a chequered history. It has been punctuated by developments that have bogged it down for almost seven years till it was terminated by the Court of Appeal on Thursday.
The Biafra nation agitator who was first arrested in 2015 over his separatist activities has been re-arraigned before different judges of the Federal High Court in Abuja after the first set of charges were filed against him and his former co-defendants on 18 December 2015.
Mrs Nyako took over the case in 2016 after two judges – Ahmed Mohammed, and John Tsoho (the current Chief Judge of the Federal High Court) – had previously handled it.
Mrs Nyako later granted bail to Mr Kanu in April 2017. But months later, the defendant fled the country after soldiers invaded his home in Abia State in September 2017.
Amid military confrontation with IPOB members and escalation of violence in South-east states, the federal government, on 20 September 2017, obtained the order of the Federal High Court in Abuja for the proscription of the group as a terrorist group.
On 28 March 2018, following Mr Kanu’s continued absence from court, the judge separated his trial from that of his four co-defendants.
Exactly a year after, on 28 March 2019, the judge ordered Mr Kanu’s arrest and directed that his trial on charges of treasonable felony would proceed in his absence.
The case against Mr Kanu did not make any progress until he was arrested abroad and brought back to the country by the federal government in June 2021.
The federal government filed amended charges raising the number of counts from seven to 15 to incorporate terrorism offences he allegedly committed through broadcasts while he was abroad.
Mr Kanu pleaded not guilty to the charges in January.
But following Mr Kanu’s objection to the charges, the trial judge, Mrs Nyako, dismissed eight of the charges in a ruling delivered in April.
The IPOB leader proceeded to the Court of Appeal to seek an order dismissing the remaining seven charges, a request the court granted on Thursday.