The Nigerian Bar Association, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and prominent Nigerians on Thursday took a swipe at security agents for barring lawyers, journalists and Igbo leaders from the trial of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra.
The NBA spokesman, Raphulu Nduka; the pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and senior lawyers said harassment of lawyers, and journalists at the trial was despicable and undemocratic.
Kanu, who is facing treasonable felony and terrorism charges, was on Thursday brought to the Federal High Court, Abuja amid tight security.
The leader of the separatist group, who has been facing trial since 2016, was granted bail in April 2017.
In September that year, he fled the country after the invasion of his home in Afara-Ukwu, near Umuahia, Abia State, by the military.
On July 29, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, said he had been rearrested and brought back to the country.
The failure of the DSS to produce the IPOB leader at the scheduled proceedings on July 26 attracted condemnation by his lawyers and Igbo leaders.
On Thursday, as early as 4am, there were indications that Kanu would be brought to court as security agents consisting of the police, soldiers and Department of State Services operatives were deployed around the premises.
They blocked roads leading to the court and nearby streets including Shehu Shagari Way which leads to Transcorp Hilton Hotel.
Journalists, lawyers and staff of the FHC who started arriving at the court as early as 6am were barred by the security agents, who said they were acting on the order of the presiding judge, Justice Binta Nyako.
This was the second time in three months that the Federal Government refused journalists access to cover the trial of Kanu.
Only July 26, only five lawyers each from the defence and prosecution teams were allowed to enter the court.
On Thursday, a security agent who addressed reporters at the entrance of Justice Nyako’s courtroom, explained that the instruction was that journalists should be confined to their press centre.
However, one of our correspondents learnt that the DSS did not send any list of journalists to the judge for approval.
Also barred from the court were a delegate of Igbo Lawyers Association and some Igbo leaders.
Our correspondents noticed that some lawyers, who tried to explain their reasons for turning up at the court were dismissed and harassed by the overzealous operatives.
Kanu’s lawyers, Ifeanyi Ejimofor, Alloy Ejimakor, Maxwell Opara and Fein Bruce his foreign counsel and two other lawyers were allowed to enter.
We were denied access to courtroom – Ohanaeze
Ohanaeze Ndigbo told journalists in Abuja that members of its entourage were denied access to the courtroom.
A former governor of Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife who spoke on behalf of the group told journalists, who were on ground that his entourage were barred from entering the court room.
He said, “We did not see Nnamdi Kanu with our eyes but we saw pictures, reason is that we were not allowed to enter the court room.
“When we got to the court, we were told that it was only one person that would be able to enter. The security did not allow us to enter.
“All I know is that a new Nigeria is coming where everyone will be treated equally.”
As senator I have the right to enter court, says fuming Ifeanyi Uba
A member of the National Assembly, Senate Ifeanyi Uba, who was also not allowed to enter the court, protested.
Uba, representing Anambra South, who filed a motion seeking permission of the court to visit the defendant in the custody of the DSS wanted to witness the trial and move his motion but was not given access to the court.
In a chat with journalists, Uba said, “As a serving Senator of the Federal Republic, today, I have a case in court and I was to present myself in court regarding my motion.
“This (Thursday) morning, I came to the court from the Transcorp Hilton axis, it was blocked. I tried the Borno House axis, it was also blocked.
“As a Senator of the Federal Republic, I think I have the right to enter the court premises even if I have no business in the court.”
Hoodlums storm court premises with petrol bombs, beat Sowore
While the senator was prevented from entering the room, the Publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, got a worse treatment as he was not only denied access, but also beaten by hoodlums who stormed the premises with petrol bombs.
Sowore was still talking to security operatives, who denied him access into the court when some boys, who looked unkempt arrived.
The hoodlums headed straight to where Sowore was, slapping and punching him as security agents, to the surprise of everyone, looked on.
It took protest by journalists and lawyers present for security agents to reluctantly intervene and stop the hoodlums from beating Sowore.
Prior to the attack, Sowore had told journalists that he was in court to show solidarity to Kanu and ask the officials at the court registry why he had not been arraigned.
He said, “ I am here to check the registry because for a while I have not been charged. I need to know about my treason case.
“Also I am here to witness the trial of my friend, Nnamdi Kanu. The court is a public space and the public should not be barred from accessing the courtroom.
“People have the right to self-determination. Nigeria has not worked and will never work. So Nnamdi Kanu is not wrong and his trial should not be in secret.
“Security operatives have consistently failed to do their jobs and now you see them harassing journalists and lawyers.”
Commenting on the shoddy treatment meted out to journalists and lawyers, the Publicity Secretary of the NBA, Raphulu Nduka, slammed security agents.
In an interview with The PUNCH, he stated, “This is despicable. The court is a public place and in fact a lawyer’s main place of business.
“Security operatives are not above the law. Why is it difficult for security agencies to understand respect for human rights? It is wrong for lawyers and even members of the public to be harassed because they seek to gain access into the courts.”
On his part, Ifedayo Adedipe, SAN, said security operatives needed to be reminded that the court is a public place which should be made accessible.
He stated, “It is becoming common for security operatives to be overzealous and preventing lawyers from accessing the courts.
“They need to be reminded that the court is a public place, preventing people from accessing the court is wrong and even more wrong to prevent lawyers who have business from accessing the court.
“However, I will recommend that Nigerian Bar Association to take the matter up with the Attorney General of the Federation Abubakar Malami, SAN.”
Harassing lawyers, journalists crude, uncivilised – SAN
Another SAN, Remi Olatubora, berated security operatives over the harassment of lawyers and journalists.
Olatubora said, “The constitution requires that all trials either civil or criminal must be in the public. That means all citizens must be granted access.
“A market woman can attend a court’s proceeding no matter how high profiled the case is as long as it is of interest to her.
“The court case is a matter of the interest of justice. It is not the interest of an individual or the interest of the government or what have you which means no one has the right to harass or assault anyone.
“What happened today which I was victim of was crude. The assaults on the lawyers, journalists are crude and uncivilised and should not happen in civilised societies.
Also, Ohanaeze Ndigbo condemned the attack on its delegation by overzealous security agents.
It called on Federal Government to tender an unreserved apology to Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the former Governor of Anambra state, who led the delegation.
The Ohanaeze spokesman, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, who spoke to one of our correspondents, said though Ohanaeze was elated that Kanu was produced in court, the attacks on the media and Ohanaeze’s delegation negated fair trial.
Ogbonnia said, “We were stunned that deliberate efforts were made to stop the leader of Ohanaeze delegation to the trial of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, the former Governor of Anambra State and others from entering the court.
“Ezeife was a state governor about 30 years ago, a retired permanent secretary, distinguished scholar with a PhD from Havard and Okwadike Igbo Ukwu.
“By all standards, Ezeife deserves honour and respect from Nigeria. Ohanaeze Ndigbo expects an apology from the Federal Government.”
The Pan Niger Delta Forum National Publicity Secretary, Ken Robinson in a telephone interview, said Kanu was already being treated like a criminal while on trial, saying such acts of discrimination would continue to hinder the progress of the country.
Robinson stated,” Barring journalists, some prominent Nigerians and even lawyers from gaining access into the court room shows the discriminatory attitude of the Federal Government.”
The claim to self determination, the right to aspirre for self determination is a right. So he is now being treated as a criminal with all the military and the Department of State Services, the Police and all that barring journalist, even prominent Nigerians and lawyers from gaining access to the court room.”
While urging the government to purge itself of nepotism, he said by singling out the IPOB leader and even Sunday Igboho, the government was making them superstars.
He stated, “They have just singled out Nnamdi Kanu and of course Sunday Igboho and making them superstars. That is what they are doing. And it is high time the government realised that this approach is wrong.
“This approach will not bring peace, this approach will not bring unity, and this approach will continue to adversely affect the progress and prosperity of Nigeria.”
The pan-Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere, also condemned the trial of the IPOB leader.
The Secretary General of the association, Mr Sola Ebiseni, in a chat with The PUNCH, said, “The idea of a secret trial is a design to mystify a circus show. The charges were based on alleged broadcast on Radio Biafra in the United Kingdom which is said to be monitored in Enugu, Nigeria.”