Ade Adesomoju, Abuja
Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court in Abuja, on Tuesday, ordered Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe and two others, standing as sureties for the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, to explain the IPOB leader’s whereabouts.
Kanu, who was on bail granted him by the judge on April 24, 2017, was absent from court on Tuesday when the trial was billed to commence.
But his three co-defendants – the National Coordinator of IPOB, Mr. Chidiebere Onwudiwe; an IPOB member, Benjamin Madubugwu; and a former Field Maintenance Engineer seconded to the MTN, David Nwawuisi – were produced in court by prison officials.
But Bright Chimezie, who became a co-defendant in the case following an amendment to the charges, was also absent from court.
He was said to be in the custody of the Department of State Services.
Kanu’s lawyer, Mr. Ifeanyi Ejiofor, told the judge that Kanu had been missing after soldiers allegedly invaded the IPOB leader’s home on September 14, 2017, adding that the Nigerian Army was in the best position to produce the defendant.
A lawyer, Mr. Ogechi Ogunna, who appeared for Abaribe on Tuesday, informed the judge that his client had filed a motion seeking to be discharged as Kanu’s surety.
The two other sureties, Immanuel Okabenmabu and Tochukwu Uchendu, were absent from court and not represented by any lawyer at the hearing.
But Justice Nyako said Abaribe’s motion could not be heard until Kanu was produced in court.
After lawyers, representing parties to the case announced their appearances on Tuesday, the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Shuaibu Labaran, who was led by Mr. Saleh Barkum, noted that Kanu was absent from court.
He urged the court to order the arrest of the IPOB leader for being absent from court on Tuesday.
He stated, “This case was adjourned till today for hearing. The first defendant is expected to commence trial today (Tuesday).
“Before then, we have amended information (charges) dated June 21, 2017 and filed on June 21, 2017.
“Unfortunately, my lord, given the circumstances we have seen this morning – the absence of the first defendant – we are afraid that the matter may not go on in the interest of justice.
“The first defendant (Kanu) was granted bail by this court on April 25, 2017, on the grounds of ill health.
“My lord, in the wisdom of this court, gave an order for him to attend to his medical challenge, and report back to the court on a monthly basis. He never did to the best of our knowledge.
“Failure to attend today’s proceedings is a grave violation of the order of the court.
“I want to correct the impression that the first defendant is in the custody of whoever he (Ejiofor) has mentioned.”
Labaran added, “We urge this honourable court to revoke the bail granted the first defendant, issue a bench warrant for the arrest of the first defendant and finally order the three sureties, namely, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, Immanuel Shalum Okabenmabu and Tochukwu Uchendu, to show cause why the bail bond of N100m each shall not be forfeited or commit the three of them to prison.”
Kanu’s lawyer, Ejiofor, told the judge that Kanu was ready to face trial until the military invasion after which he had become missing.
“On September 4, 2017, I led pre-trial conference against the hearing of today.
“He was ready to stand his trial. Within the period, the first defendant’s home was invaded for the first time on September 11, 2017 by soldiers.
“On September 14, the first defendant was seated in his room when his home was invaded again.
“I don’t know the whereabouts of the first defendant at this moment because of the invasion of his house.
“Soldiers that went to his house on September 14 are in the position to know where the first defendant is.”
The judge then called upon the counsel, representing Abaribe, Mr, Ogechi Ogunna, who said his client had filed an application before the court seeking to be discharged as Kanu’s surety.
But Justice Nyako said Abaribe would remain the defendant’s surety until the absentee defendant was produced in court.
“He cannot escape from the suretyship,” she noted.
The judge then gave the senator three options.
One of the options was for Abaribe to produce the defendant in court and then apply to be discharged as a surety.
The other option the judge gave was for Abaribe to be ready to forfeit his N100m bail bond.
The third option was for Abaribe to request to be given time to produce the defendant in court.
But Ogunna said, “He (Abaribe) is not in a position to do any of these.”
However the judge insisted that Abaribe must go with one of the three options.
With the judge’s insistence, Ogunna opted to be given time to produce him.
The two other sureties were not represented in court on Tuesday.
Counsel for the other defendants – Mr. E. F. Oka, I. Adoga and Maxwell Okpara –informed the judge of their pending applications, some of which were seeking bail and another seeking the quashing of the charges.
One of the defendants told the judge that he had an application seeking an order allowing his personal doctor to attend to him in prison.
In his ruling, Justice Nyako directed Abaribe and the two others, standing as Kanu’s sureties, to explain his whereabouts to the court.
The judge ruled, “The sureties are to show cause why he is not in court and why I should not issue a bench warrant against him.
“The second surety (Senator Abaribe) will only be recused or excused from the bail suretyship when the first defendant (Kanu) is produced or if he decides to forfeit his bail bond.
“The prison authorities are hereby directed to allow the medical doctor of the fourth defendant access to his prison records and treatment following laid down prison procedure. I will extend this to the third defendant.
“All pending applications before the court will be taken in the course of proceedings.”
Justice Nyako adjourned the hearing until November 20.
Meanwhile, Ejiofor informed journalists that his client’s suit, seeking the order of the Federal High Court in Abuja to direct the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, to produce Kanu, had been slated by Justice Nyako for November 2 for hearing.