By Chukwudi Nweje The Nigerian Third Force Movement has rolled out its action plan for the 2019 general elections. Prominent members of the group include former Cross River State governor, Donald Duke, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Charles Soludo, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Olisa Agbakoba, Tafawa Balewa, and Prof. Pat Utomi….
On Tuesday, when Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court, Abuja granted Director of Radio Biafra and chieftain of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, conditional bail, there was dancing in the street of South East and South South. Men, woman and children had trooped out in their large numbers to celebrate. Many of them may not have endorsed self-determination or secession of the Igbo, but they see Kanu as a prisoner, who is the conscience of the people, a symbol of the struggle to highlight their plights.
Nobody should be surprised that there was such reaction in the East. Nobody should be surprised that there were celebration and jubilation over Kanu’s bail, even though he is yet to regain freedom. The Federal Government made Kanu a hero. By arresting, detaining and putting him for trial over Biafra, the Federal Government lifted Kanu to a pedestal higher than he ever stood. Now, the government should have seen, as many people had said, that the continued detention of this young man is part of what is fueling the agitation in the South East and South South as well as the tension therein.
For the avoidance of doubt, until Kanu was arrested about one year ago, only a few people knew him. IPOB, as a group, was in existence, quite all right, but its followership and activities were not as large as now. It took the arrest of Kanu for the group to become a talking point and for Kanu to become a name that resonates across the country and the world. The hardline posture of the government and the beat-them-to-line attitude of those in government and corridors of power have, therefore, become counter-productive.
However, by granting Kanu bail, I believe that the foundation for solving the problem is being laid. This is despite the fact that there are issues about the conditions Justice Nyako attached to the bail. Yes, the court said Kanu should go home on health grounds if he fulfills the bail conditions so named, which are: Provide three sureties, one who must be of Jewish religion; another, who must be a senator in Nigeria and the third, who must be a prominent Nigerian, who lives and owes landed property in Abuja, the Federal Capital territory (FCT). Other conditions are that the sureties would deposit N100 million in court, while Kanu must not attend rallies, be in an assembly with more than 10 people and not grant press interview. Also, the court demands that it gets monthly report on Kanu’s health condition.
Many people have said the bail conditions are stringent. Indeed, the leadership of the pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, has condemned the conditions. IPOB has rejected it. Prominent Nigerians, like ex-Ohanaeze president, Prof Dozie Ikedife, Mbazulike Amaechi and Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, among others, have risen against the conditions. These Nigerians are right. The conditions are obnoxious. They are as funny as they are inconsistent with the principle of liberty. For one, I have been wondering why a court would specifically demand that an adherent of Jewish religion must sign Kanu’s bail bond. If Kanu professes Judaism, this should not be anybody’s cup of tea. There is freedom of religion in Nigeria and he is free to embrace whatever religion.
Kanu being of Jewish faith, if this is the case, does not indicate he only associates with Jews. Therefore, saying that a Jew must sign his bail bond is taking a joke too far. Such demand ties Kanu’s hand. It is discriminatory. I have not heard or seen where Christians, Muslims or Atheists are singled out to sign a particular bail bond because the people whose bail they seek profess their religion. This is certainly new and does not make sense to me.
It is also strange that the court would want those standing surety for Kanu to deposit a whopping N100 million at a season of recession. Inasmuch as I know that there could be a condition that a sum of money be lodged to guarantee the appearance in court of someone standing trial, demanding N100 million is outrageous. And making the deposit of the money a condition for the release of Kanu gives the impression that the court is equatting his person with money and that fears he could jump bail and, therefore, the money would be a guarantee. How could anybody ever think that Kanu would run away? This is a man who came back to the country when he knew that the government was angry about Radio Biafra. And he came in through the legal border posts. If Kanu were afraid of arrest, I do not think he would have returned to Nigeria to be arrested and clamped into detention. He could not have been under any illusion that the government would not arrest him, but he returned.
However, the conditions to be fulfilled before Kanu is released on bail, as hard as they may be, appear easier than those after his release. To be sure, the post-bail conditions are restrictive and tantamount to gagging Kanu. The court said when Kanu is freed, he should not attend rallies or stay in gathering with more than 10 people. With such condition, what is the difference between Kanu in prison and Kanu out of jail? I ask this question because for Kanu to keep to this condition, he has to lock himself up in a room. He may not attend rallies, but how would a man avoid gathering of more than 10 people? What this means is that if Kanu attends a wedding, naming or chieftaincy title ceremony, he is in breach of the bail condition. If he holds a family meeting, with his dad, mum, wife, sisters, brothers, cousins, etc, where more than 10 people will be in attendance, he has breached the condition.
Nnamdi Kanu is standing trial for “treason,” a charge, which is still contentious. He did not bear arm. He was not involved in armed robbery. He never committed murder, which are offences that carry capital punish, and therefore, do not attract bail. It is, therefore, surprising that his bid for bail is being made a big deal. By simple definition, treason is “the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill or overthrow the sovereign or government.” The government will still have to prove how Kanu has betrayed Nigeria or attempted to kill the country’s sovereign. In the meantime, the government should not prosecute the case as a political one. Courts had granted Kanu bail, but the government refused to honour the orders so given by judges. Such behaviour gives the government away, as working against the rule of law and working from the answer to the question, instead or vice versa. Kanu should be given fair hearing, if the case should go on. His trial should not be in camera, but in public. He is innocent until proved guilty. The government should not treat him as guilty before being proved innocent.
I do know that Kanu would meet those bail conditions if he so chooses. I have no doubt that he could get someone of Jewish faith to stand surety for him. I believe he could get a senator in Nigeria to sign the bail bond. I believe also that he could get a prominent Nigerian living in Abuja and who owes property there to stand surety for him. If he could meet these conditions, he should take the bail and fight from outside rather being holed up in one dungy cell, where his thinking and movements would be restricted. His co-accused will equally get bail, in no time, because the offence they are standing trial is bailable.
One clear thing is this: Even if Kanu is jailed, the Biafra agitation will never go away. The Igbo have come to see Biafra as a point of convergence, of hope, expectation and satisfaction. At a time when they do not have a feeling of satisfaction, when they feel marginalised, in a country where they have given their best, Biafra is their elixir, a propelling tonic. It is a feeling no force can stop.