The trial of the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, suffered another setback, Tuesday, as the prosecution counsel, Shuaibu Labaran, failed to appear in court.
Kanu and three others, David Nwawuisi, Benjamin Madubugwu and Chidebere Onwudiewe, are facing trial before Justice Binta Nyako of a Federal High Court Abuja for alleged treasonable offences.
At the resumed hearing Tuesday, Labaran informed the court through a letter that he was attending a seminar and so could not come to court.
He sought for an adjournment.
The court subsequently adjourned till February 20, 2018.
This is the second time in a role that the case suffered setback. On November 20, when the matter was to be held, the court did not sit because of the judges conference in Abuja.
On the last adjourned date, October 17, the trial Judge, Justice Binta Nyako had ordered Senator Enyinaya Abaribe and two others to appear in court and explain why Kanu was absent from court to face trial, warning that they stood to lose their bail bonds of N100m each if they failed to produce him in court on the next adjourned date.
Senator Abaribe, Immanuel Okabemadu and Tochukwu Uchendu had stood as sureties for Kanu as part of his bail conditions, and guaranteed that he would attend his trial after the bail was granted by the court to attend to his failing health.
In addition, they signed a bail bond of N100m each that would be forfeited in the event that the defendant failed to appear in court to face his trial.
Owing to the absence of Kanu, Labaran had urged the court to revoke the bail granted him.
He argued that failure to attend to the day-to-day trial was a serious violation of the law.
Labaran told the court that the matter was adjourned for hearing, but given the circumstances of the absence of the first defendant, the trial may not hold in the interest of justice.
“For failure to appear in court, we urge this court to revoke the bail granted the first defendant and issue a bench warrant for the arrest and order the three sureties, to show cause why the bail bond of N100m each should not be forfeited or commit three of them to prison.” he said.
Following his submission, the Judge called on the counsel to the first defendant, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, to explain why his client was not in court.
Responding, Ejiofor said his client was willing to stand trial but he could not account for his whereabouts since the invasion of Kanu’s home on September 14, 2017, by soldiers of the Nigerian Army.
“I cannot tell the court at this stage whether the defendant is alive or dead. I don’t know where he is, the soldiers should tell the court the whereabouts of the first defendant,” he said.
Though none of the sureties was in court, counsel to Abaribe, Ogechi Ogbonna, told the court that the Senator did not know Kanu’s whereabouts, adding that Abaribe had already filed a motion to withdraw as Kanu’s surety.
However, Justice Nyako held that it would be impossible for Abaribe to withdraw as surety to Kanu without first producing him in court. “Before he can wash off his hands, the defendant has to be here,” she said.
The Judge added that the alternatives to Abaribe were to accept that he could not account for Kanu and forfeit his bail bond, or ask for more time to produce him.
Though Abaribe’s counsel continued to insist that nobody including his client knew the whereabouts of Kanu, he opted for the second option given by the court, adding that more effort would be made at locating the first defendant.
In a brief ruling, Justice Nyako said: “Sureties should come to court to show cause why the first defendant was not in court,” adding that it was their responsibility to make sure that the defendant did not breach his bail terms.
Justice Nyako added that she could not take a decision on Abaribe’s motion seeking withdrawal as surety except the defendant was produced in court.
While the court declined to hear various applications brought by the second, third and fourth defendants, it however directed the prison authorities to allow the fourth defendant access to his personal physician, adding that the same privilege was extended to the first defendant.
Counsel to the fourth defendant, Maxwell Opara, had in an application he attempted to move, prayed the court to order the prison officials to allow his client have access to his personal doctor on the grounds that the medical personnel at the prison had been threatening the life of his client and as such the fourth defendant no longer had confidence in them.
The Judge, in admonishing the prison officials, reminded them that their allegiance was to the court and not to the security agencies, adding that inmates, whether sentenced or awaiting trial, are held in the custody of the court.
Justice Nyako, after stating that the trial could not go on without the presence of the defendants in the criminal matter, adjourned the case till November 20.
Kanu, Onwudiwe Chidiebere, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi were arraigned by the Federal Government on an 11-count charge bordering on terrorism, treasonable felony and illegal possession of firearms, among others.
But Justice Nyako had struck out six out of the 11 amended charges filed against the defendants on the grounds that the charges lacked competence.