“My name is Usman, I do not know who was brought to court, but what I know is that, whenever he is to stand trial, I barely make sales and my family depends on my daily sales for sustenance…”
The person brought to court on the “no sales” day is Nnamdi Kanu, the controversial and self-acclaimed leader of the proscribed separatist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
For the second time since his arrest and repatriation from Kenya, Nnamdi Kanu was arraigned at an Abuja division of the Federal High Court, on November 17, 2021, before Justice Binta Nyako, on a 7-count charge bordering on alleged terrorism and treasonable felony. The embattled IPOB leader was first arrested by the Department of State Security (DSS) in 2015 on allegations of terrorism, treasonable felony, managing an unlawful society, publication of defamatory matter, illegal possession of firearms, and improper importation of goods, among others. Having been granted bail on medical grounds, Kanu fled the country in 2017 citing threats to his life, but was rearrested and repatriated to Nigeria by the DSS in June 2021.
Heavy security presence at Kanu’s trial
It is not uncommon for high-profile cases to command the presence of security operatives within and around the court environment, mainly to prevent the breakdown of law and order and protect the lives of individuals involved in the court cases. As one security operative who chose to remain anonymous told Nairametrics, the peculiarity of Nnamdi Kanu’s case in the level of security detailing that accompanies his presence in court on trial days is tied to his leadership of IPOB and the ever-present fear of attacks from that the separatist group where Kanu is held in almost god-like esteem.
Security operatives start a day earlier to sweep the entire perimeter surrounding the court, activating measures to ensure unscrupulous individuals do not jeopardize proceedings the next day.
On the trial date, vehicular movements are restricted with visitors expected to provide a valid means of identification before they are allowed access into their business premises. Barricades are also mounted, baring lawyers, journalists and other individuals without direct business with the proceedings, from gaining access to the court. For example on Kanu’s October 26th trial date, only lawyers who had business before Kanu’s trial judge were allowed access into the court premises. However, on November 17, only lawyers who could prove that they had cases in court that day were allowed in, as security operatives made use of the court’s cause list to screen lawyers.
Cases stalled… lawyers cry out
One of the lawyers who was affected by the restricted access to the court lamented to Nairametrics about how the overzealousness of the security operatives was detrimental to his client. The lawyer was there to defend his client whose long-awaited judgement day, unfortunately, fell on the same date as Kanu’s trial.
“My business here today is to come and hear justice delivered to my client. However, I was prevented from entering the court premises and that has negatively affected the business of the day for me. Not entering the courtroom also means the case has been delayed, which means justice for my client has also been delayed,” he said with disappointment.
The reason for his frustration was not far-fetched. The actions of the gun-wielding security operatives had doused his excitement at the prospects of securing his client’s freedom that day. That freedom would now have to wait for another trial day.
“My client’s life is at stake because, if the case had come up today, probably he would have been set free but because of Kanu’s trial, Justice has been hindered from being delivered to my client,” he lamented.
Business people and petty traders aren’t left out
Traders who rely on the human traffic around the Federal High Court in Abuja, where Nnamdi Kanu’s trial takes place are not left out of the hardship that trails his trial days. Many of those who spoke to Nairametrics had one song in common, “low sales.”
Located right in the car park to the left of the Federal High Court, are petty traders, restaurants, mechanic workshops, snack sellers and bukaterias, who depend on patronage from workers and visitors to one of the busiest courts in the country to eke out a living. From food and drinks to printing, stationery, photocopy, passport photos, recharge cards, newspapers, etc., these small-time business people are relied upon not just by visitors to the court but also by employees of the Ministry of Justice and the Federal High Court.
However, as with Usman, the respondent quoted at the beginning of this article, many of these traders complained of a drastic reduction in their sales volume on Kanu’s trial days because of the restrictions placed on movement by security operatives.
A food joint owner (name withheld) told Nairametrics that she had to sleep in her shop a night before the IPOB leader’s November 17 arraignment to ensure that she is not barred from accessing her business place the following day, as the operatives would not let her through without a means of identification.
“Yesterday I had to sleep here because we heard everywhere will be filled with police people again. Every time this trial comes up, it affects my business, as I will lose money and I will lose customers. And after the security has gone, most people don’t bother coming to work that day. Within the two to three hours that the court is in a standstill, I would have made up to six thousand naira if it had been a normal day,” she recounted.
For Fatima (name changed) an instant noodle joint owner, the trial is supposed to draw more customers to them but the reverse is the case as security men deny customers access to their business spots.
“We are being patronized more by the workers around this area. The problem is from the security agencies that always harasses people. This trial is supposed to bring customers to us because of the number of people that come to attend but because they are not allowed in, the trial makes us lose customers, I would have sold up to N15,000 had it not been for the trial,” she said.
Mary, a woman who sells roasted plantain and yam, said she doesn’t make sales on trial days because security operatives do not allow customers access to where she is. She said her neighbour who sells akara did not come because she heard of the trial. According to her, even if she had come, she would have ended up not making any sales.
…And the hotels as well
Around the court are different hotels, some on the same lane as the Federal High Court and others opposite the court.
One of the hotel managers who spoke on condition of anonymity told Nairametrics that they do not take hall reservations on the day of the trial and if clients insist, only events that will hold after the trial is over would be accepted.
He further explained that on the day of the last trial, they had two major events and the problem was how to convey all the guests to the hotel. They had to pick up guests with their bus to identify them at the security barricade.
“This trial brings a lot of setbacks in our business and the impact is quite negative and heavy when he (Kanu) is on trial. Some of our guests also do not take into cognisance, the date of the trial before making reservations. For us, we try to be careful especially when we are certain of the date, we try not to take bookings during that time especially events that have to do with groups,” he said.
According to him, on trial days, they shut the gates of the hotel to ensure the safety of their guests because hoodlums seize the opportunity to unleash mayhem after the trial is over.
What the security experts are saying
A high-ranking officer of the Nigerian Police Force who chose not to be named told Nairametrics that the security detail that follows Nnamdi Knau’s trial is an absolute necessity considering the personality involved and the danger that mishandling of security protocols protends for national security.
“Kanu’s case is a high profile case with heightened security implications,” he said, explaining that intelligence reports received by government and security agencies necessitated the deployment of so many security personnel at his trial.
He further explained that it was expected that Kanu’s trial would attract his followers, hence the need to provide adequate security within and around the court premises.
“The approach may not necessarily be the same in all high profile cases. There may be other high profile cases that do not require the type of security approach used in the case in view, however where the situation warrants, based on information at the disposal of the government, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with putting adequate security measures in place to protect lives and properties,” he said.
“I would like to point out that Kanu’s case is not the first time such security measures are put in place. Recall the trial of the suspected bombers of Eagle Square, Nyanya Motor Park, and that of the United Nations Building, security approaches were equally stringent during these trials,” he added.
What you should know
Nnamdi Kanu’s trial has been slated to hold three times since his extradition back to Nigeria. He has appeared in court twice as the DSS failed to produce him for trial on July 26th, 2021.
At the resumed hearing on Wednesday, November 19, 2021, Kanu’s counsel refused to enter the courtroom because one of his lawyers from the United States, Bruce Fein was not allowed to represent the IPOB leader.
Trial judge, Justice Binta Nyako adjourned the matter till January 19 and 20, 2022, for the continuation of the trial.