Former President of Aka Ikenga, the Igbo intelligentsia group, Chief Goddy Uwazurike has given tips on how the government could neutralise the criminal elements killing, kidnapping and causing terror across the South-East. While accusing Simon Ikpa, the self acclaimed successor to the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) Mazi Nnamdi Kanu of creating the ‘unknown gunmen’ terrorising the region,

Uwazurike, in an interview with VINCENT KALU, was optimistic that Kanu would regain freedom very soon.    

You are one of Nnamdi Kanu’s lawyers, is there any hope for his bail very soon?

I’m the lawyer to Ohanaeze. The President General of Ohanaeze, Prof George Obiozor sent for me last year as soon as Nnamdi was brought back from Kenya. He said, you are the one who will represent us, to be our eyes, our ear and to know what is happening because he is a son of Igbo land, and we cannot turn our back on him; he is ours.

To your question, based on the Nigerian constitution, everybody is presumed innocent until found guilty. When somebody is charged, that doesn’t mean he is a criminal. No, he is still a suspect. Some of us have gone through the charges, and also through proof of evidence, and we expect him to be freed. We may also think that this is also really a judicial trial. It is a political trial, and political trials only serve a purpose, which is to keep somebody away from circulation. It is not that he is guilty or not. That is my understanding of what is going on. That is why they detain you without trial; but in this case, the judge is expected to follow judicial trial, it must not be a political trial. What we want to bring out to the knowledge of the court is that it must not be a political trial. We believe that if the rule of law applies, Nnamdi Kanu will go free.

One the charges was that he was broadcasting from London; but Nigeria has no jurisdiction in London. Here in my bedroom, I can listen to a broadcast from any part of the world. There is an app that allows you to listen to every radio station in the world; in the same way you can also broadcast to the world, broadcasting is now simplified; in the same way publishing is also simplified; anything you post on Facebook, Whatsapp, etc is a publication. When the Nigerian government begins to think backward instead of forward then they would start bringing up all kinds of spurious charges. Last Wednesday, 18/5/22, the government has to withdraw the amendments it has just filed a day before in two volumes, each of them is over 1000 pages and they were expecting a trial to begin yesterday. It is called ambush tactics, but the judge said, ‘you cannot do that.’ So, we expect a favourable judgment.

Is it a favourable judgment in respect of his bail application or trial leading to being set free?

It is in respect of his trial.

What stage are you people at now?

What was argued on Wednesday was a motion filed in 2019, which the judge didn’t see because at a point when the case was handed over to the present judge, somehow somebody misplaced the file. So, yesterday morning after giving a ruling; lawyer to Kanu, Chief Mike Ozekhome and his main lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, brought to the knowledge of the court that since 2019, the motion has been there and that the government side has also filed the counter affidavit. So it took time before they could locate the motion paper and the counter affidavit. So, the judge adjourned the trial to the 26th of this month under the heading: ‘Ruling on the motion filed in 2019 and or trial,’ because this motion is questioning the jurisdiction of the court. What it means is that if on that day the court agrees on that motion filed, the case of Nnamdi would end on the spot. If the judge says no, then the trial is expected to commence on that day. We only hope that the government will not file a fresh motion; fresh amendments to the charges, it means that there will be no trial on that day.

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Between a political and legal solution, which will be faster in this instance?

In this instance, common sense dictates that what is required is a political solution. Common sense should be allowed to spring up and if it springs up, all these crises will die. As a lawyer of many decades, I can tell you that people don’t find peace in settlement in courts. The reason is that the judge must pronounce guilty or not guilty; there must be a winner. If there is a winner then you don’t talk of settlement, which is why in Lagos State courts, as in many other courts, you have what they called, adjudication, arbitration and reconciliation. In some of the cases of arbitration and reconciliation, otherwise known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR), the people presiding among the parties are not even lawyers.

So, if you want genuine peace, go for reconciliation. Nnamdi Kanu stands for something and you must address those issues squarely. When you address them, then you know you are making progress, but if you pretend that those things don’t matter and you think he is a criminal, bastard or anything , then you are missing the point. Let me give you example of Castro. I think it was in 1964; the government in his place arrested him and took him to trial. He was a lawyer and so opted to defend himself. I have read his submission in court; he said, ‘I know this is a political trail, therefore to end this my submission, jail me.’ It was an embarrassment to the judiciary and that embarrassment continued because he was able to escape and led the people to victory against the government of the day in 1969. All those people who were there manufacturing all sorts of evidence against him had to run away.

In this case in Nigeria, I was part of the Eminent Persons Group led by Chief Mbazulike Amaechi. Bishop Sunday Onuoha was there, former Anambra State governor, Chukwuemeka Ezeife was also there. We met President Muhammadu Buhari and we put all the issues to him because as president, he doesn’t go to the warfront, he doesn’t go to the battlefield, he doesn’t go to the conflict zone, he relies on the information given to him. Chief Amaechi at 93, who spoke on behalf of all of us, gave a graphic details that on every half a kilometre in the South-East, you have military checkpoints where everybody will come down from the vehicle and raise their hands. The president was shocked. He said he didn’t know about this situation. All the information given to him was that Nnamdi Kanu and his boys were busy killing people, doing this and that. We presented the other side. When you go to visit a president, he also has access to alternative source of information, it might be that those who were against Kanu prevailed on him. So he promised that he would not say no to our request, but he needed time to think about it. Many months have passed; more than seven months and we are still waiting. He said he would call us back and would not interfere with the judiciary. He knows what to do to stop this problem.

If the condition for his release has to do with dropping his agitation, do you think he would toe that line?

One thing I will tell you about public life; don’t ever short change yourself and don’t say, it would not happen. The terms and conditions we don’t know. What I know that is that Chief Mbazulike Amaechi said, ‘release him to me’; Bishop Onuoha said, ‘release him, he is my cousin’, Dr Ezeife said, ‘release him, he is my son.’ They said, ‘release him we want to work with him.’ The former Chairman, Board of Trustees of the IPOB, Dr Dozie Ikedife is now dead, he would have added his voice. What Chief Amaechi was saying is that there is nothing that cannot be sorted out. You don’t make peace with someone by keeping him in detention. From the last description given in court, it was like he was sleeping on a bare floor until the judge said, get a mattress for him. What about the change of clothes? He is still wearing the same attire. It is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war.

The economy of the South-East is suffering following the incessant sit-at-home order; do you think that the release of Kanu will stop it? IPOB said it is not behind the people enforcing the order?

Nnamdi Kanu made it quite clear during private discussions that we should tell those who are disturbing people from going about their normal businesses not to do that. He said it clearly that IPOB didn’t send anybody; he said anybody forcing people to stay at home is an enemy of IPOB. One of those facing trials with him, whose wife has given birth also affirmed it. Yesterday on Urban Radio Enugu, I addressed it squarely. Before then, I had also told other media that Simon Ikpa was not working for IPOB. He has his own kind of followers that believe in violence; they are not having IPOB mentality. Ikpa is against Kanu even though he claimed to be working for him. What he is doing is causing serious damage in Igbo land. Yes, he lives in Finland and what he did was to get what we called unknown gunmen, armed them heavily, given them operation vehicles and they move around freely enforcing sit-at-home. Like this week, the order was for three days. Even though they are well armed, the police can stop them.  For example in Umuahia, you see three of them inside brand new Toyota Hilux van with all kinds of weapons, the police can ambush them. One thing about ambush is that they have no chance of escaping. If police decide to do that in Umuahia, do the same in Owerri, Enugu, Awka, Ebonyi, etc, the group would collapse, but the security forces are not going after them. I can say this without contradictions. None of them is in detention, but let IPOB step out, and then you see the police in their full glory. Right now, every criminal gang listens to Simon Ikpa and they carry out his instructions. Kanu has told the government to go after them, Emma powerful has repeated the same. We are asking, who is behind unknown gunmen? Who is arming them? In April last year, they destroyed Owerri Prison and the police headquarters, but with all the CCTVs in front of the Government House, police chief’s house, DSS house that recorded everything, till today nobody has brought any of those things out. Since that time unknown gunmen have been operating in the South-East. Ebonyi governor has said anybody who commits crime would say, it is IPOB; Imo governor said they are not indigenes. We know the truth. Simon Ikpa and his group are destroying Igbo land.

You have been on the front burner of the South-East to produce the presidency in 2023. Are you sure your efforts would not come to nothing the way things are going?

We are optimistic that the next president of Nigeria will come from the South-East. We are working towards that and praying as well as  believing God for it. There have been attempts to destroy Igbo land and I can volunteer this information that since April last year, the campaign was to show that Igbo land was politically unstable. Anambra election was not supposed to have been held. They failed in that one and I can assure you that they will also fail this time. We have worked hard for this and it shall come to pass.