Radio Biafra director Nnamdi Kanu is attending the first hearing of his trial on treasonable felony charges. The trial, at the Federal High Court in the capital Abuja, is presided over by Hon Justice John Tsoho.
Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob), was arrested by the State Security Service (DSS) in Lagos in October 2015 on conspiracy and terrorism charges that were later dropped.
A day after the Abuja High Court ruled he should be released, officials pressed new treasonable felony charges against him, while President Muhammadu Buhari said Kanu would not be granted bail due to the "atrocities" allegedly committed.
Kanu was kept in DSS custody until Hon Justice John Tsoho ruled that he should be transferred to the Nigeria Prison Service in Kuje, about 40km south-west of Abuja, so that he could be visited by family members.
Kanu and other pro-Biafrans call for the independence of the Biafran territories forcibly annexed to Nigeria during the British colonisation, which ended in 1960. The declaration of the independent Republic of Biafra in 1967 sparked a civil war that resulted in the death of millions and the reannexation of the republic to Nigeria in 1970.
Kanu - along with Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi - has been charged with six counts of treasonable felony after Nigerian autorities accused him of belonging to an unlawful society, using his radio station to levy war against the state, illegally entering Nigeria and bringing "sophisticated weapons". Kanu, his lawyers, family and supporters rejected the allegations.
Speaking to IBTimes UK, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, one of the lawyers representing Kanu, said treasonable felony charges were "empty".
Following the new charges, Justice Ahmed Mohammed refused to hear the trial and was substituted by Tsoho. Meanwhile, Kanu said he was confident he would not receive a fair trial before the Abuja federal court.
According to chapter 6 of Nigeria's Criminal Code Act, a person is charged with treason offences if:
- Levies war against the state, in order to intimidate or overawe the president or the governor of a state
- Conspires with any person, either within or without Nigeria, to levy war against the state with the intent to cause such levying of war
- Instigates any foreigner to invade Nigeria with an Armed Force
- Becomes an accessory after the fact to treason; or
- knowing that any person intends to commit treason, does not give information thereof with all reasonable despatch to the President or the Governor of the State or a peace officer, or use other reasonable endeavours to prevent the commission of the offence
According to chapter 9 of Nigeria's Criminal Code Act, a society is unlawful if formed for:
- Levying war or encouraging or assisting any person to levy war on the Government or the inhabitants of any part of Nigeria; or
- killing or injuring or encouraging the killing or injuring of any person; or
- destroying or injuring or encouraging the destruction or injuring of any property; or
- subverting or promoting the subversion of the Government or of its officials; or
- committing or inciting to acts of violence or intimidation; or (f) interfering with, or resisting, or encouraging interference with or resistance to the administration of the law; or
- disturbing or encouraging the disturbance of peace and order in any part of Nigeria; or
- if declared by an order of the President to be a society dangerous to the good government of Nigeria or of any part thereof.
According to Section 41 of the criminal code, a person found guilty of treasonable offences can be sentenced to life imprisonment. If the defendant is acquitted, they cannot be tried for treason related to the same facts.
Section 63 says that a person who manages or assists in the management of an unlawful society is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.
According to section 47 of the Customs and Excise Management Act, a person who imports or causes to be imported concealed goods or goods found "not to correspond with the entry delivered thereof" can be sentenced to five years in prison without the option of paying a fine.