By Lisa Vives
In a surprise development, Nigeria’s Appeal Court sitting in Abuja has exonerated the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, saying his extradition by force from Kenya and his subsequent arrest by Nigerian authorities had been illegal.
Kanu, leader of the banned Indigenous People’s group, was originally arrested in 2015 on various terrorism-related charges. He escaped to Kenya in 2017 while out on bail.
The decision by a panel of three judges has been deemed a major blow to the government, while Kanu has denied any wrongdoing.
The government has rejected the ruling and says it is exploring other legal options.
“Kanu was only discharged and not acquitted,” said a spokesperson for Attorney General Abubakar Malami, so it’s possible he will not be freed imminently.
Mike Ozekhome, Kanu’s attorney, reacting to the judgement, vigorously asserted that the lower court “never evaluated the mountain of evidence regarding the forcible capture, kidnap, torture, extraordinary rendition of Mr Kanu from Kenya back to Nigeria on the 26th of June 2021.”
Asked what he planned to discuss with his client, he responded: “The U.N. has already said Nnamdi Kanu should be paid compensation for the violation of his human rights… that his rights were brutally violated against the laws of Kenya, against the laws of Nigeria, against all international instruments dealing with extradition.
“He should be allowed to go home tomorrow once we get a certified copy of the judgement. Let my people go. That’s how it’s put in the Bible… If the federal government wants to pursue trifles against a citizen by appealing against such a well-rendered judgment, let me tell the federal government that if they appeal, I will cross-appeal.”
The separatist movement’s roots date back to the year of Nigerian independence and the nationalist aspirations of the Igbo ethnic group, whose leadership felt they could no longer coexist with the federal government dominated by the interests of the Muslim Hausa-Fulanis of northern Nigeria.
After two military coups in which the Northern state was triumphant, the Republic of Biafra was founded. Despite recognition by some African states and tacit support from such countries as France and Israel, the Nigerian Federal Military Government (FMG) refused to allow the oil-rich east to secede.
W/PAn increasingly vicious war followed. The Nigerian military, with its superior forces, ruthlessly drove back the Biafran fighters. Appalling hardship ensued for the civilian population of Biafra: massacres were reported as the FMG’s soldiers advanced, and famine took hold after the Nigerian government blockaded Biafra and banned Red Cross aid.
The world appeared to ignore the developing humanitarian disaster leaving hundreds of thousands to die of malnutrition before Biafran resistance ended in 1970 and its officers surrendered.
Although the secessionist rebellion was defeated, the movement has seen a revival under Mr Kanu. Its adherents face persecution by the current Nigerian regime.