Two weeks after the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, was forcefully brought back to the country and arraigned, controversy rages in Nigeria. This is expected. The manner in which Kanu was brought home was in itself controversial. When a man who fled abroad for his safety is suddenly brought back to Nigeria in handcuffs, this will certainly generate heated discussion. However, it beats my imagination why Kanu, who could pass for the most wanted Nigerian for giving the Federal Government headaches with his agitation for Biafra, could be travelling alone.
The Federal Government and people who always see what the government does as right have been thumping their chest that the IPOB leader has eventually been cut short and, perhaps, vanquished. Announcing Kanu’s arrest, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami, said the IPOB leader was “intercepted” through international collaboration. In a statement on June 29, 2021, Malami said: “Self-acclaimed leader of the proscribed secessionist Indigenous People of Biafra, Kanu, has been intercepted through the collaborative efforts of Nigerian intelligence and security services.” He added, “He has been brought back to Nigeria, in order to continue facing trial after disappearing, while on bail, regarding 12-count charge against him.”
President Muhammadu Buhari, on his part, commended security agencies for arresting Kanu through what he called “the collaborative efforts of Nigerian intelligence and security services.” According to him, in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, “This international operation was executed in a closely coordinated fashion, following which he was handed over to our national intelligence agency, and then returned to Nigeria to face the law.”
Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, celebrated the arrest of Kanu, saying: “I was very happy because, first, he jumped bail, jeopardising his sureties. Secondly, a person that challenges the sovereignty and the authority of a state and incites violence; he refers to his own country as a zoo… This should be a message to all these separatists challenging the authority of the Nigerian state to be very careful.”
The Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), speaking through its national president, Yerima Shettima, while expressing happiness over Kanu’s arrest, said: “Finally, Nnamdi Kanu has been brought back home. We must commend the Nigerian government, INTERPOL for their wonderful work. They have demonstrated that it’s a matter of time, though long overdue at least, it’s better late than never…Finally, he has to face the music probably, and I’m sure this will serve as a lesson to our brothers in the South-East that never again should they fold their hands and allow a common criminal to be talking as if he speaks for them out of fear.”
In all the celebrations about Kanu’s arrest and forceful return to Nigeria, nobody has told us how a man who was living abroad was brought back to Nigeria by the government. IPOB had said its leader was abducted in Kenya, detained, tortured and then forcefully brought to Nigeria. The IPOB leader’s lawyers have corroborated this and also gone further to petition Britain, on whose passport Kanu travelled to where he was “intercepted.” Other people have equally criticised the Federal Government over the manner in which Kanu was brought back. Some people have even likened it to the abduction saga of former Nigerian Minister of Transport, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, who, during the military government of Buhari (yes, Buhari) in 1983, was abducted in the United Kingdom, put in a crate or cage and was about to be illegally shipped or taken out of Britain but was intercepted by security agents at the airport.
No matter where anybody stands on the matter, whether celebrating or mourning Kanu’s arrest, the question remains: How was the IPOB leader brought back to Nigeria? Was it by abduction? Was it by extradition? Was it by rendition? Or was it by deportation? Abduction is the “action of forcibly taking people away against their will.” Extradition is “the action of handing over a person accused or convicted of a crime to the jurisdiction of the foreign state in which the crime was committed.” Rendition is “the practice of sending a foreign criminal or terrorist suspect covertly to be interrogated in a country with less rigorous regulations for the humane treatment of prisoners.”
In rendition, “a fugitive is typically spirited from a country of refuge and denied access to its judicial process…for detention, interrogation or prosecution. Sometimes, the government of the country of refuge consents to the rendition; sometimes it does not. In deportation, a foreigner is sent out of a country, mainly “on the grounds of illegal status or for having committed a crime.”
Kanu was brought back and the Nigerian government has not had the courage to tell Nigerians what happened. The best the government has done is to say he was “intercepted.” Intercepted where? The government is hiding under the so-called “national security” to keep the truth from the rest of us. By the manner the government is hiding the truth, one suspects that government is not proud of what happened or what it did. That the country where Kanu was spirited away from does not have the nerve to own up also proves this. It is apparent that government’s vaunted “interception” could just be an abduction. The fact that the country where this happened collaborated with the Nigerian authorities does not change the fact that it was abduction. The action was against the will of the IPOB leader. To show how international law frowns on international abduction, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” Also, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, in Article 9(1) says: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.”
There is no indication that a court authorised Kanu’s return to Nigeria. If there was such a court order, it could have been extradition, which follows a process. In extradition, the country seeking the return of an accused must apply to the country where the person is residing. It must be a country in which it had signed a bilateral or multilateral treaty. Such a request is usually passed to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, which in turn transmits it to the judiciary in the country. The judiciary reviews the request, to ensure there is treaty compliance. The accused person is then brought before a court, which examines the allegation and decides whether to believe that he or she committed the offence or not. If the court is convinced, it certifies the extradition and passes it back to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, which could then execute the order.
Whatever happened, one knows that it cannot be hidden forever. One day, the truth would come out. This is why the demand that Kanu be given fair trial is germane. Kanu’s trial should be in the open, not secret, so that the world would know and witness whatever transpires. During his trial, Kanu would definitely have the opportunity to speak and he would tell us how he ended up in Nigeria. It must be noted that the government and those who hate Kanu’s guts are already guilty of sub judice. They are discussing the substance of a case before the court. The government and its agents are desperately pushing the narrative that the IPOB leader was engaged in terrorism and was instrumental to the killing of people. They are the accused, the prosecutor and the judge in their own case. In law, the onus is on he who alleges to prove. It is not enough to accuse Kanu of terrorism. It is not enough to say that countless number of people have been killed because of his actions. Empirical evidence must be tendered in court and there should be proof beyond all reasonable doubt. The court should be allowed to follow due process and try Kanu.
The vigour with which the Federal Government is pursuing the Kanu case shows that it could actually take action on things. However, government has proved that it is selective in its actions. This government has left nobody in doubt that it takes action on only things it has vested interest in and looks the other way regarding others. As Colonel Abubakar Umar (retd) said, if government had showed the same enthusiasm shown in the case of Kanu in dealing with banditry, Boko Haram insurgency and kidnapping in the North as well as the atrocities of criminal herdsmen across the country, the atrocious actions of these criminals would have been stopped. The Buhari government treats banditry, insurgency, kidnapping and the excesses of herdsmen with kid gloves, leaving these crimes to fester.
Government is using all the energy in its being to address the Kanu matter. And to divert attention, the government recently equally went after Sunday Igboho, who is agitating for the Yoruba republic. What is obvious is that agitation, whether it is for self-determination or whatever, will not go away until the Nigerian government provides a level playing field and gives us a country where fairness, equity and justice reign. Suppressing Kanu or Igboho or putting them in jail will not end agitation. As long as some Nigerians feel alienated, as long as some people are made to feel they are less Nigerian than others, as long as the country’s commonwealth is not fairly shared, so shall separatist agitations persist. Jail or kill Nnamdi Kanu, jail or kill Sunday Igboho, it will not end Biafra or Oduduwa republics sentiments.