Biafra: State Has No Witnesses to Bring Against Nnamdi Kanu, Says Defense

Nnamdi Kanu supporter at a protest in Abuja.
A supporter of pro-Biafra leader Nnamdi Kanu holds a photograph of Kanu at a rally in Abuja, Nigeria on December 1, 2015. Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

The lawyer of pro-Biafra activist Nnamdi Kanu has told Newsweek that the Nigerian government has no witnesses to bring against his client as Kanu's counsel seeks to overturn a ruling that witnesses in the trial could be anonymized.

Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), is facing six counts of treasonable felony — that carries a maximum life sentence in Nigeria — but denies the charges. A British-Nigerian dual national, Kanu, who is also the director of underground station Radio Biafra, was arrested in Lagos in October 2015 and has been held in detention since then.

The Federal High Court in the Nigerian capital Abuja ruled on March 7 that witnesses in the case, which has garnered significant attention in Nigeria, should be allowed to testify from behind a screen in order to protect their identities. The decision came despite a previous ruling by Judge John Tsoho on February 19 that witnesses could not wear masks while testifying.

On April 20 the same court rejected an application by Kanu's counsel to have proceedings stayed while an appeal against the March 7 decision was processed by the Nigerian Court of Appeal. Tsoho ruled that Kanu's application did not follow due process and that he would continue to hear the case until a higher court — such as the appeals court — ordered a stay of proceedings, according to Nigeria's Channels TV.

The trial has been adjourned until June 20 and Kanu is due to appear in court for a bail hearing on May 5.

Speaking to Newsweek after the ruling, one of Kanu's lawyers, barrister Ifeanyi Ejiofor, says that the defense team will now escalate their application for a stay in proceedings to the Court of Appeal and would also ask for the case to be transferred to another judge as they had lost confidence in Tsoho.

Ejiofor adds that allowing witnesses to testify anonymously could allow the prosecution to unfairly prejudice the trial. "If you give them that, they will bring anybody they want," says Ejiofor. "You cannot accuse somebody in public and try him in secret...They [the witnesses] have to come to the public and testify in public. Let us see them in open court."

"The point is that they have nobody to come and testify against our client. That's the simple truth," says Ejiofor.

Kanu's arrest led to a wave of protests across Nigeria and has reignited secessionist sentiment among supporters of Biafra, which existed as a federal republic between 1967 and 1970.

The declaration of Biafran independence in 1967 by Nigerian military officer Odumegwu Ojukwu sparked a three-year civil war between Biafran forces and the Nigerian military. The war claimed more than a million lives, with many Biafrans dying of starvation after a blockade was enforced around the borders of the region that lies in modern southeast Nigeria.