•… as court advocates dialogue, political solution
•… Kanu takes fresh plea in Abuja court, applies to be acquitted
•… says FG’s charge against him baseless, incompetent
By Vincent Ujumadu, Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Chinedu Adonu, Ugochukwu Alaribe & Steve Oko, UMUAHIA
An Abia State High Court sitting in Umuahia, yesterday, ordered the Nigeria Army to pay N1 billion compensation to the Leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu for invading his house in September 2017 during Operation Python Dance II.
The court also ordered the Army and the federal government to apologise to Kanu in three national dailies for the infringement of his fundamental human rights following the September 10, 2017, military invasion of his Afara Ukwu country home in Abia State.
Justice Benson Anya who gave the orders, while delivering judgement on the suit filed by Kanu against the federal government, the Army and six others for allegedly violating his fundamental human rights, declared the raid as unlawful.
Kanu who also appeared before a Federal High Court in Abuja, yesterday, pleaded not guilty to the fresh amended 15-count treasonable felony charge the Federal Government preferred against him .
This came as the South East observed a sit-at-home for the third day across the states in the region in solidarity with the appearance in court, yesterday, although IPOB said it didn’t declare any sit-at-home.
Court orders Army, FG to pay N1bn, apologise to Kanu
Kanu, had through his Special Counsel, Aloy Ejimakor, filed a suit against the federal government, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami; the Chief of Army Staff, COAS; and the Inspector General of Police, IGP, for violating his fundamental rights, with the September 10, 2017, military invasion of his country home.
Other respondents were the Director General of the Department of State Services, DSS; the Abia State Director of DSS; the state Commissioner of Police; and the Army Brigade Commander, Ohafia.
He sought, among other reliefs, “a declaration that the military invasion of his building and premises at Isiama, Afaraukwu Ibeku, Abia State on 10th September, 2017 by the Respondents or their agents is illegal, unlawful, unconstitutional and amount to infringement of the Applicant’s fundamental right to life, dignity of his person, his personal liberty and fair hearing as guaranteed under the pertinent provisions of Chapter IV of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (hereafter, CFRN) and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (hereafter, the Charter)”.
Justice Anya who read the judgement from 10:05 am to 11:09 am, declared that the issue of military invasion of Kanu’s house on September 10, 2017 “was so notorious that the court cannot turn a blind eye to it.”
He said that the federal government, the Army and other security agencies made flimsy and ineffectual denials of their involvement in the said invasion instead of proving otherwise.
The Judge put a poser to the Respondents: “Assuming you were not responsible for the invasion, what steps did you take as government and agents of state responsible for the protection of all citizens including the Applicant, to investigate the invasion and bring the perpetrators to book”?
Justice Anya held that “Nigeria is an integral part of the comity of democratic nations who must respect human rights”, adding that violence, adoption and torture do not resolve but fertilise conflicts.
The court further advised the federal government to embrace dialogue and political solution in handling the issue of Nnamdi Kanu in the interest of peace.
The court however declined Kanu’s prayer to be returned to Britain, his country of abode before his rendition from Kenya.
It also said that it lacked the competence to abdicate on the issue of Kanu’s “abduction” in Kenya and extraordinary rendition, saying that only Federal High Courts have jurisdiction over extradition matters.
According to the Judge, Kenya is outside the territorial jurisdiction of the court, hence, the court cannot entertain the issue of extradition.
The court also struck out the preliminary objections by the Respondents that the a state High Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain suit against agencies of federal government, ruling that the objections were “misconstrued and frivolous”.
Responding, Counsel to the Army, Amos Tory, said he was awaiting the copy of the judgement which he would transmit to his clients for study and determination of the next line of action.
In his response, Ejimakor who led Kanu’s defense team, hailed the judgement, saying it has proved that Kanu contrary to allegation, did not jump bail but only escaped for his dear life.
He said that “the judgement means that the bench warrant against Kanu in Abuja court has to be vacated”.
Ejimakor hailed the courage of the court in declaring the military invasion of Kanu’s house illegal.
On the Court’s decline from abdicating on the issue of Kanu’s rendition for lack of jurisdiction, Ejimakor said the legal team would consider other options after careful study of the judgement.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of Conference of Nigeria Political Parties, CNPP, Ugochinyere Ikenga, who said he was at the court in solidarity for Kanu, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to heed the advice of the court, Igbo elders and other eminent Nigerians, to embrace dialogue and political solution in Kanu’s matter.
He called for the immediate release of the IPOB Leader, arguing that if the federal government could grant amnesty to bandits, it should not be reluctant to do same to a freedom fighters.
Responding also, the Leader of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, Mr. Uchenna Madu, applauded the judgement but said it looked like it had a dictation of the powers from above as some of Kanu’s prayers were turned down.
Expressing full solidarity for Kanu, the MASSOB Leader said no amount of intimidation or persecution would suppress the agitation for Biafra.
Kanu takes fresh plea, applies to be acquitted
At the Federal High Court Abuja, Kanu who was brought into the courtroom around 10:15am, said he was innocent of all the allegations the FG levelled against him, even as he complained from the dock that some counts in the amended charge were similar.
Immediately the embattled IPOB leader finished taking his plea, the Prosecution counsel, Mr. Shuaibu Labaran, told the court that he was ready to proceed with the trial, adding that he brought two witnesses to testify against the Defendant.
However, Kanu’s lead counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, told the court that he had on Tuesday evening, filed a 43-paged Preliminary Objection for the charge to be quashed and struck out without the matter proceeding to trial.
“We are further asking that the Defendant should be discharged and acquitted as there is nothing in this charge. It has no basis at all.
“We also have a motion requesting the court to grant bail to the Defendant”, Ozekhome added.
On his part, FG’s lawyer, Labaran, argued that Kanu’s two applications were not ripe for hearing, stressing that he would require time to go through them so as to be able to respond.
“In essence, the business of the day cannot be allowed to be truncated by these applications”, he argued.
In a brief ruling, Justice Nyako noted that since Kanu’s first application is challenging the propriety of his trial as well as competence of the charge against him, the court ought to hear it first.
“As for the second motion (on the issue of bail), I don’t even want to talk about it, at least not at this stage”, Justice Nyako held.
The court subsequently adjourned till February 16 to hear the pending application.
Justice Nyako said the matter would hold by 1pm to enable others Judges to conclude proceedings in cases before them.
Meanwhile, contrary to an earlier order of the Judge, Kanu appeared before the court for his trial, putting on the same Fendi designers clothes he has been wearing since June last year when he was arrested.
At the resumed proceedings yesterday, the Prosecution counsel, Mr. Labaran, told the court that Kanu was the one that chose to wear his designers Fendi clothes.
In his response, Kanu’s lawyer, Ozekhome, told the court that it was not true that his client insisted on wearing his designers clothes.
“My lord what happened was that by the time proceedings ended yesterday, and because it was not his visiting day, we were not able to pass to him, some clothes we obtained for him.
“We even discussed it with him this morning and he said that on the next visiting day, he would want to have the new clothes”, Ozekhome added.
He however commended the DSS for providing the IPOB leader with new mattress and pillows.
Before allowing Kanu to be re-arraigned, Justice Nyako reiterated her demand for the Defendant to have a change of clothes.
While addressing Ozekhome, Justice Nyako jokingly stated: “I believe that you are aware that there are some kind of cloth that he (Kanu) cannot wear?”.
“Yes my lord, we cannot give him Agbada or parachute”, Ozekhome responded.
Meantime, the amended charge against Kanu borders on his alleged commission of act of terrorism, felony, incitement, unlawful importation of a radio transmitter, and headship of an illegal organization.
The DSS had before Kanu was ushered into the court room on Wednesday, produced several documentary evidence, including electronic devices it would use to play some of the alleged inciting broadcasts that were made by the Defendant.
Meantime, for the third day running, commercial activities were grounded in many parts of the southeast as banks, markets and even government establishments were closed for business.
In Awka, Anambra State, at the Jerome Udoji secretariat complex, two operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, NSCDC, were sighted under a tree chatting, while the main gate to the complex was securely locked.
The entire secretariat was completely deserted and people who were coming to transact businesses had to turn back on seeing the locked gate.
The Eke Awka main market was closed for business, while the banks did not open to their customers. All the shopping malls in the state capital were also closed, just as most filling stations did not sell their products.
Even newspaper vendors joined in the sit at home, although few tricykle operators were seen carrying people.
Some people who spoke on the issue said the enforcers of the sit at home had injected fear in the people, adding that even without any threat, most people in the South East remain indoors once they were told that the IPOB leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu was going to court.
They blamed government and security operatives for making the hoodlums who order people not to come out very important, adding that the presence of security operatives on the roads could end the unnecessary sit- at-home in the South East.
In Enugu, there was skeptical movement of humans and private vehicles. Tricycles were seen passing but without passengers.
During monitoring, it was learned that no market, banks, private and government offices opened for business activities but streets road side shops opened for business.
Although IPOB had repeatedly announced that there would be no sit-at-home yesterday, residents continued to stay at home for fear of being attacked by hoodlums.