The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has struck out the allegation of the management of an unlawful society and five other charges brought against the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu and three others, by the Federal Government.
According to the offence, which was number three in the 11-count charge, Kanu managed an unlawful society alongside his co-defendants in 2012, in London, South East and South-South Nigeria, pursuant to his secessionist agenda, with intent to bringing into being, a Republic of Biafra out of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The development raises the hope of Kanu being freed from detention at the end of his trial .
The charges were struck out yesterday following a preliminary objection filed by Kanu and two others challenging the charges slammed against them.
The Federal Government had filed an 11-count charge bordering on terrorism, treasonable felony, managing an unlawful society, publication of defamatory matter, illegal possession of firearms and improper importation of goods, against the defendants.
Justice Binta Nyako at the resumed sitting yesterday ruled that the prosecution had failed to show proof that IPOB was either unlawful, unregistered or had been proscribed.
The judge also struck out counts six, seven, nine, 10 and 11 while sustaining counts one, two, four, five and eight of the charges, which the prosecution had placed before the court.
Count six had alleged that one Benjamin Madubugwu – third defendant, accepted and kept a container housing a radio transmitter known as TRAM 50L, with the knowledge that the said radio transmitter was to be used for radio broadcasts and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 63 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
Count seven bordered on illegal possession of firearms, contrary to Section 27 (b) (i) of the fire Arms Act.
Count Nine alleged that Onwudiwe Chidiebere – the second defendant and the National Coordinator of IPOB, in June 2015 at Enugu, knowingly committed an act preparatory to an act of terrorism by carrying out research for the purpose of identifying and gathering of improvised explosives device (IED) making materials to be used against the Nigerian security operatives carrying out their lawful duties.
Justice Nyako ruled that some of the charges against the defendants that bordered on intentions to commit crimes would be better handled at the magistrate’s court and not at the Federal High court level.
The court added that the total of six counts, which were struck out did not call for trial due to lack of evidence in the proof of evidence filed by the prosecution.
It also held that six of the 11 charges disclosed no prima facie case and the elements of offences against the defendants.
“Therefore, those charges cannot stand and are consequently struck out”, the judge ruled.
Thereafter, the four defendants pleaded not guilty to the remaining charges, one of which read in part: “That you Nnamdi Kanu ,’M’, Onwudiwe Chidiebere ‘M’, Banjamin Madubugwu, ‘M’, David Nwawuisi ,’M’ and others now at large on diverse dates in 2014 and 2015 in Nigeria and London ,United Kingdom, did conspire amongst yourselves to broadcast on Radio Biafra monitored in Enugu and other areas within the jurisdiction of this court preparations being made by you and others at large, for states in the South-East and South-South zones and other communities in Kogi and Benue states to secede from the Federal Republic of Nigeria with a view to constituting same into a Republic of Biafra and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 516 of the Criminal Code Act CAP .C38 laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2000.”
Justice Nyako later adjourned trial till March 20 and 21 following a request by the prosecution counsel, Shuabu Labaran, for time to enable him to call witnesses.
While the judge promised to entertain defendants’ fresh applications for bail, she, however, noted that such would not stop the trial from proceeding. The judge also upheld the earlier order which allows at least four members of the defendants’ families to witness the trial.
Efforts to get the reaction of the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo to the development in court failed as the President General, Chief Nnia Nwodo, neither answered calls to his mobile line nor responded to a text message.
But the immediate past secretary general of the group, Dr. Joe Nworgu, told The Guardian that the Ohanaeze Ndigbo had always insisted that Kanu should be released unconditionally.
He urged the government to obey the ruling in good fate, stressing that the development would open a window for more negotiations.
Also, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), which welcomed the development, urged the judge to strike out the remaining charges, insisting that Kanu did not commit any of the offences brought against him.
Leader of MASSOB, Uchenna Madu said in a short statement that the group would always press for the release of Kanu and other agitators being held in various prisons across the country.