Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja division of the Federal High Court has issued a bench warrant for the arrest of the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, after revoking the bail it had earlier granted him.
Justice Binta Nyako, who issued the arrest warrant, relied on Section 352(4) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, saying that the court would proceed with his trial in absentia.
The order followed the inability of Kanu’s counsel, Mr Ifeanyi Ejiofor, to give “cogent, compelling and verifiable reason” why his client repeatedly failed to appear in court to answer to the charge of treasonable felony against him.
Justice Nyako, thereafter, adjourned the case to June 18 to commence Kanu’s trial in his absence.
It was the prosecution counsel, M.S. Labaran, who raised the matter in an application for a bench warrant when the case was called up for trial.
Kanu, whose whereabouts have remained unknown since September, 2017, was hitherto answering to a five-count charge the FG entered against him and three other pro-Biafra activists, Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi.
Meanwhile, shortly after the IPOB leader was declared missing, Justice Nyako, on February 20, 2018, had okayed a separate trial for the other three defendants.
Kanu, who has dual citizenship, was reportedly sighted at various locations outside the country, including Jerusalem and the United Kingdom.
When the proceedings resumed, prosecution counsel Labaran urged the court to revoke the bail it granted to the defendant on April 25, 2016.
He informed the court that all three persons who stood surety for the IPOB leader had since applied to withdraw from the matter.
“We humbly submit that the defendant has been given adequate opportunity in line with Section 352(4) of the ACJA.
“When he failed to utilise such opportunity, the court took the appropriate step of initiating proceeding requiring the sureties to show cause.
“Even at that, this court has been so magnanimous in granting several adjournments, giving the sureties the opportunity to show cause.
“Consequent upon which the court delivered a ruling on November 14, 2018, for the sureties to forfeit their bail bond, a matter that is currently the subject of the appeal.”
It is on record that the sureties have applied to withdraw because they could not explain the whereabouts of the defendant.
“It is our submission that the request by counsel to the defendant is rather belated. This is the kind of application that he ought to have brought when the court after granting the defendant bail, adjourned for nearly 12 months.
“We urge the court to discountenance the request for an adjournment to give any explanation, and order that the bail be revoked, and issue a bench warrant against the defendant.
“Finally, we urge the court to issue an order for the trial of the defendant in absentia, in compliance with relevant portions of the law.”
But efforts by counsel to Kanu, Mr Ejiofor, to persuade the court for a short adjournment for him to file affidavit evidence to explain his client’s disappearance, failed as it was refused.
Ejiofor had insisted that Kanu’s disappearance was occasioned by the unwarranted invasion of his home by the Nigerian Army.
However, Justice Nyako who traced the history of the case and the continued absent of Kanu in court overruled him.
Justice Nyako said: “I am of the opinion that learned counsel is only seeking for time to delay the inevitable.”
The court had on April 25, 2016, released Kanu on bail on health grounds after he had spent a year and seven months in detention.
To secure Kanu’s release, Abaribe, Uchendu and a Jewish high priest, Emmanuel El-Salom Oka Ben Madu, on April 28, 2016, signed an undertaking to ensure his attendance in court.
Meanwhile, Justice Nyako, on Thursday, adjourned sine-die (indefinitely), an earlier proceeding the court initiated for all the sureties to appear and show cause why they should not forfeit the N100 million each of them had deposited as bond for Kanu to be released on bail.
Justice Nyako had on October 10, 2017 ordered the three sureties to show cause why they should not be committed to prison over Kanu’s repeated failure to appear for a continuation of his trial, or why the N100 million they individually deposited to secure his bail should not be forfeited to the Federal government.
Alternatively, the court said the sureties were at liberty to produce the IPOB leader for his trial. The order followed an application the FG made pursuant to Section 179 (1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015.
In a ruling on November 14, 2018, Justice Nyako ordered the sureties to, in the interim, deposit the bail bond in the court within two months. All the sureties have, however, gone before the Court of Appeal to challenge the ruling.