There was wild jubilation in the South-East on Thursday following the Court of Appeal judgment which quashed the terrorism charges preferred against the leader of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu.
Across parts of the South-East states, people celebrated openly on hearing the reports that the court had discharged Kanu who has been in custody since June 2021 when he was arrested in Kenya and brought to Nigeria to face prosecution for leading an outlawed organisation and clamouring for the Republic of Biafra.
However, there are strong indications that the Federal Government may appeal the judgment of the Court of Appeal.
A senior official in the Ministry of Justice confided in our correspondent that the government would study the ruling and take a decision on it.
“All options are on the table; we will study the order but we will likely appeal it. The court only discharged him, it did not acquit him,’’ the director stated.
Reacting, the Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Dr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, in a statement said, “The Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice has received the news of the decision of the Court of Appeal concerning the trial of Nnamdi Kanu. For the avoidance of doubt and by the verdict of the Court, Kanu was only discharged and not acquitted.
“Consequently, the appropriate legal options before the authorities will be exploited and communicated accordingly to the public. The decision handed down by the court of appeal was on a single issue that borders on rendition. Let it be made clear to the general public that other issues that predates rendition on the basis of which Kanu jumped bail remain valid issues for judicial determination.
“The Federal Government will consider all available options open to us on the judgment on rendition while pursuing determination of pre-rendition issues.”
It was observed celebrations and parties at Imo state University Junction area, Ikenegbu, Amakohia, Orji, Okigwe Road and flyover junction.
At the flyover junction, a commercial driver was seen shouting and honking that Nnamdi Kanu has been freed at last. He said, “Victory at last. Mazi Nnamdi Kanu has been freed. It is victory for Biafra.”
At IMSU junction, groups of youths were seen at different locations shouting and singing following the development.
The situation was also the same in Enugu as there was spontaneous celebrations when news filtered in that the court had ordered Kanu’s release.
Many youths took to the major streets as they discussed the development in groups.
They were hopeful that Kanu’s release would end the Monday sit-at-home restriction enforced by IPOB members in the South-East.
In Anambra State, drinking spots and fun centres made brisk business as residents trooped to relaxation spots in Awka, Onitsha, Nnewi and Ekwulobia.
At the Upper Iweka in Onitsha, youths and adults, including men and women displayed massive fireworks while chanting pro-Biafran songs.
In Abia State, It was an atmosphere of joy in Umuahia and Aba areas as family and friends of the IPOB leader rejoiced over the news Kanu’s release.
Reacting to the development, Kanu’s younger brother, Emma Kanu, told The PUNCH that the “The victory is for all of us.
“I am thanking all men, women, pastors, journalists, IPOB media warriors, those we know and those we do not know all over the world, especially the Appeal Court judges that handle the case, even the dead.
“I also thank the Federal Government who understood and which I know will abide by the Appeal Court decision. This is a win-win day. More importantly, this is the time for all to sit down for the truth to be said. The truth must be said.
The Senator representing Abia South at the National Assembly, Enyinnaya Abaribe, said, “We thank God that justice has been done by the judgment.
Court delivers judgment
Delivering judgment in the appeal on Thursday, the appellate court declared as illegal and unlawful, the abduction of Kanu from Kenya to Nigeria and quashed the entire terrorism charges brought against him by the Federal Government.
It further held that the Federal Government breached all local and international laws in the forceful rendition of Kanu to Nigeria thereby making the terrorism charges against him incompetent and unlawful.
Justice Oludotun Adefope-Okojie voided and set aside the charges by the Federal Government against Kanu and also discharged him from the alleged offences.
Adefope-Okojie held that the failure of Nigeria to follow due process by way of extradition was fatal to the charges against Kanu.
The Appeal Court also held that the failure of the Federal Government to disclose where and when the alleged offences were committed was also fatal to the terrorism charges and made them liable to dismissal.
The Appellate Court said that the Federal Government having flagrantly breached the fundamental rights of Kanu lost the legal right to put him on trial.
The court held that laws are meant to be obeyed and that the Federal Government has no reason to have taken laws into her own hand in the illegal and unlawful way the matter of Kanu was handled.
Adefope-Okojie held that the failure of Nigeria to follow due process by way of the extradition process as prescribed by law was fatal to the charges against Kanu.
“By engaging in utter unlawful and illegal act and in breach of its own laws in the instant matter, the Federal Government did not come to equity in clean hand and must be called to order.
“With appalling disregard for local and international laws, the Federal Government has lost the right to put the appellant on trial for any offence.
“Treaties and Protocols are meant to be obeyed. No government in the world is permitted to abduct anybody without following the due process of extradition. Nigeria is not an exception or excused. Nigeria must obey her own law and that of international so as to avoid anarchy”, the judge declared.
Before Kanu filed the appeal against his trial, Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court had dismissed the IPOB’s leader’s claim that the federal government illegally repatriated him from Kenya to Nigeria without following a formal extradition procedure.
In her ruling, Nyako held that his repatriation to Nigeria could not be said to be illegal when there was a “surviving bench warrant” for the IPOB leader’s arrest.
The judge had, in March 2019, ordered Kanu’s arrest after adjudging him to have jumped bail bringing his trial on charges of treasonable felony to a halt.
She held that the IPOB leader’s arrest in Kenya and repatriation to Nigeria were in compliance with her order in 2018 for his arrest to face trial.
“There is a bench warrant for the arrest of the defendant. He is a fugitive that is wanted in court. The bench warrant survives until he is brought to court,” the judge stated.
In a separate ruling on Kanu’s preliminary objection challenging the 15 amended charges filed against him, Nyako struck out eight of them which bordered on treasonable felony and terrorism.
She ruled that the eight charges had not established any tangible offence against Kanu. The judge dismissed the defence team’s objection over the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
Kanu’s lawyers react
Reacting to the latest judgment, Kanu’s lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor said, ‘’Automatically, he (Kanu) is barred from facing any prosecution again. No court has jurisdiction again to try him.”
Shedding light on the judicial victory, the lead counsel, Mike Ozhekome, SAN, explained that he filed the action after the Federal High struck out eight of the charges levelled against his client.
He stated, ‘’Based on that, we appealed on behalf of Nnamdi Kanu that the lower court was wrong. There was one fundamental issue on which the court today anchored this judgment and which is that the lower court never evaluated the mountain of evidence placed before it regarding the forceful capture, kidnap, torture, and extraordinary rendition of Nnamdi Kanu from Kenya back to Nigeria on the 26th of June 14th 2021.
‘’The lower court glossed over it. We placed this before the lower court in more than 10 paragraphs of solid materials to show the circumstances under which Nnamdi Kanu was forcibly abducted, kidnapped, blindfolded, tortured, and rendered back to Nigeria extra-judicially, extra-legally against the laws of Kenya, against the laws of Nigeria, against all international instruments dealing with extradition, including various sections of the extradition act of Nigeria, including section 15.
The senior lawyer lauded the judgment, saying the appellate court agreed with him that FG ‘’breezily breached the laws it made, that it never followed due process or the Anti- terrorism Act.’’
When asked if Kanu would be released immediately, the Spokesman, Department of State Services, Dr Peter Afunanya declined comment. Asked if the FG would appeal the judgment, he referred inquiries to the Ministry of Justice.
But a lawyer, Jiti Ogunye insisted that the DSS was bound to obey the court order which authorised the release of the IPOB leader.
He noted that the prosecutor did not have a strong case against Kanu hence the decision of the lower court to strike out eight of the 15 charges earlier preferred against him.
Ogunye said, ‘’The lesson here is for the state to learn competency. The prosecution team was standing on quicksand even before the matter was appealed. Henceforth, the Nigerian state will have to learn competency.’’
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Olalekan Ojo, said the Court of Appeal has proved that the court of law is the last hope of every Nigerian.
He said “The judgment of the Court of Appeal seems to be correct until it is set aside by the Supreme Court.
“However, there is an aspect of it that I read. The Court of Appeal held that the extradition of Nnamdi Kanu from Kenya to Nigeria was illegal and that illegality constitutes a bar to any further trial. That is the basis of the judgment.
“All that the Court of Appeal said is that Nnamdi Kanu ought not to have been put on trial in the first instance. The Court of Appeal has proved that the court of law is the last hope of every Nigerian.”
Ohanaeze, others react
The apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo described the Appeal Court decision as a landmark judgment.
Ohanaeze spokesman, Dr Alex Ogbonnia, who spoke to one of our correspondents in a telephone interview said, “I receive the news with happiness, joy and jubilation. It’s jubilation galore across the entire South-East and Nigeria in general because we are relieved by the Appeal Court judgment. It’s a landmark and I am very much happy.
“We commend every other person who have stood behind the Igbo race in this struggle and above all, we also commend Nnamdi Kanu because what he is fighting in IPOB is an expression of the outcome, effect and not a cause.
“The cause is the circumstances surrounding Nigeria: hardship, marginalisation, lopsidedness. So, what is happening in IPOB is an expression of dissatisfaction with the Nigerian system of governance.
“Nnamdi Kanu is representing Igbo collectiveness of consciousness. We are very happy with the landmark judgment. It’s one of the very best judgments ever delivered by the judiciary.”
Reacting, a political activist, Omoyele Sowore, said the next thing is for Kanu to be allowed to go home immediately.
He tweeted, “#FreeNnamdiKanuNow: We warned Muhammadu Buhari that the abduction of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu from Kenya was a grave mistake! Now they’re sulking. Next, Let Mazi Nnamdi go home tonight! #WeCantContinueLikeThis.”
Kanu’s disciple, Simon Ekpa, also demanded the unconditional release of the IPOB leader, saying, “Court has declared Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s abduction & extraordinary rendition from Kenya illegal, that it was done in clear and egregious violation of extant international laws. All we want is the unconditional release of MNK nothing more.”
On his part, a human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, said, “Should the Federal Government decide to appeal against the discharge and acquittal of Nnamdi Kanu by the Court of Appeal, it must still release Kanu. This is because the liberty of a citizen cannot be stayed. There is no room for a stay of execution in this kind of case.”
IPOB hails judgment
Speaking on the development, the Indigenous People of Biafra described the judgment as a welcome development, adding that it showed that there are still good judges in Nigeria.
IPOB’ Director of Media and Publicity, Emma Powerful, hailed the Appeal Court judgment, saying it signalled most that judges in the country are not half-baked.
He said, “Yes, we are happy to hear that our leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, has been acquitted and discharged. It shows that some judges are good and know the law and understand that Nnamdi Kanu did not commit crimes and his extraordinary rendition was very illegal.
“Biafrans both home and abroad including our friends should rejoice because Almighty Chukwu Okike Abiama has done it again. Biafra realisation is the next target and nothing will stop IPOB from achieving Biafra freedom.”
Also, the governorship candidate of the Action Alliance in Ebonyi State, Chukwuma Nwandugo, described Kanu’s release as a historic event in Igbo land capable of making the Igbos feel they were never neglected by the Nigerian system.