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Nnamdi Kanu, Rule of Law and National Re-Integration

The notice of appeal filed by the Federal Government to the Supreme Court, in protest against the discharge of leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu by the Court of Appeal is again a missed opportunity by government to fully resolve the lingering impasse of IPOB and Kanu. After the Court of Appeal had quashed the remaining seven criminal charges preferred against him and thereafter discharged him, it is not in the interest of peace and good governance in Nigeria to continue to hold him in captivity. Neither will his continued incarceration calm frayed nerves in the South East; rather, it can only escalate the political tension in the region and possibly douse any excitement about the conduct of the 2023 elections in that part of the country. The laudable option open to the Federal Government at this moment is to reconcile Kanu and all his estranged followers and sympathisers onto the path to peaceful co-existence of all in Nigeria.

The Court of Appeal has ostensibly begun that reconciliation by unanimously holding that the forcible abduction and wrongful extraordinary rendition of Kanu from Kenya to Nigeria on June 27, 2021 is a violation of both state laws and international conventions. The Appeal Court held on October 13, 2022 that President Muhammadu Buhari’s government breached all known local and international laws in the forceful rendition of Kanu to Nigeria, thereby making the terrorism charge against him incompetent and unlawful. The court proceeded to quash the seven counts left of the initial 15 counts filed by the government. Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court had in an earlier ruling quashed eight out of the 15 counts, leaving seven for determination.  The court added that having flagrantly breached Kanu’s fundamental rights, the Federal Government lost the legal right to put him on trial, adding that the trial court, therefore, lacked the jurisdiction to try Kanu on the retained counts of the charge. “No court can try him going by the circumstances of the extraordinary rendition,” the court held.

Therefore, keeping Kanu in jail after the court had discharged him will likely portray government as being vindictive. Besides, even the government appeal does not ordinarily act as a stay of execution of the Court of Appeal judgment. The appeal means simply that government will seek to keep him in detention while shopping for ways to reactivate his trial. The order of the Court of Appeal is expressly conveyed in the Latin maxim, ex-facto Ius oritur- The law arises from the facts. Since the extra-ordinary rendition of Kanu was ipso facto illegal, nothing will cure the illegality besides pronouncing it as an illegality, and anything put on top of that illegality cannot stand.

However, in a seven-ground notice of appeal which was filed by the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), the Federal Government did not only fault the lower court’s decision, it also prayed that it should be set aside.

Nnamdi Kanu’s matter deserves a peculiar resolution, and not an insistence, which the Federal Government has so far done, that it must be resolved by the court. While his methods are often not in consonance with extant laws and peaceful resolution of disputes, his organisation does have a point that the Nigeria entity has not treated their people fairly. Despite the existence of laws against secession in the country, Nigeria is signatory to international conventions recognising the rights of people to self-determination. The twin factors ought to be jointly considered towards finding a lasting solution. At the moment, IPOB is not the only group seeking secession from Nigeria; that is also the position of a Yoruba group, Egbe Ilana Omo Yoruba, as well as Sunday Adeyemo (a.k.a. Igboho). The Federal Government ought to be interested in pursuing peaceful settlement of the grievances.

Although Buhari had told Igbo leaders who visited him over Nnamdi Kanu a few months ago that the law court would resolve the matter, it is surprising that the Federal Government did not consider obeying the order of the Court of Appeal. By detaining Kanu at its pleasure, the Federal Government conveys the impression that it is out to victimise, bewitch and persecute him contrary to the law.

Every citizen is constitutionally presumed innocent until proved guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. Suspicion or hatred no matter grounded cannot lead to a criminal conviction. If Kanu has not been convicted by any court of competent jurisdiction, why treat him like a criminal convict by incarcerating him indefinitely? Even criminal convicts in correctional centres including those condemned to death are still entitled to the enjoyment of their rights guaranteed under the law.

The Federal Government do have a right to appeal against the verdict of the Court of Appeal but it ought not to pursue the appeal while keeping Kanu in detention, contrary to the discharge order of the Appeal Court. It is strange because he who comes to equity must come with clean hands. Government has shown bad taste in disrespecting the Appeal Court judgment. An applicant who has treated the court with levity cannot come back and be asking for the court’s discretion in his favour.

A political or out-of-court solution is preferable for the Kanu’s case to nip in the bud IPOB’s violent secessionist threats as well as reconcile Kanu and all his estranged followers and sympathizers onto the path to peaceful co-existence of all in Nigeria. The power of dialogue and national reconciliation should not be underestimated. If the Federal government is wont to dialogue with murderous Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, bandits and terrorists, why has it refused to dialogue with Kanu and members of IPOB. Instead of initiating dialogue with IPOB as government did with murderous criminal elements operating across the country, including the terrorists who kidnapped 67 train passengers, the Federal government is hounding and arresting Kanu and his supporters and imprisoning them. If, as some reports indicate, the Federal government has granted amnesty or freedom to some detained murderous Boko Haram members, Fulani herdsmen, bandits and terrorists, justice and equity demand that Kanu and his IPOB members should receive similar treatment. What is good for the goose is equally good for the gander. And IPOB has shown that it has a listening ear.

The Federal government should initiate dialogue with Kanu, IPOB and indeed all aggrieved persons and groups in the country, in order to re-integrate them into the one family of Nigeria. Nigeria needs now more than ever to rediscover the part of true concord. Besides, no amount of official high-handedness can stop agitations for a more equitable Nigeria, the absence of which will only encourage secessionist tendencies. Only in an atmosphere of peace and concord can the 2023 elections be successfully conducted and human flourishing achieved.

Note: This article was originally written by The Guardian Editorial Board on 24/10/2022

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