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Trial of Nigerian separatist adjourned again

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ABUJA: A court in the Nigerian capital has adjourned the trial of separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu on terrorism charges again, this time till April.

Last October, Kanu, pleaded not guilty to seven charges at his last court appearance, and the court adjourned proceedings. In January, prosecutors filed eight additional charges against him, linked to broadcasts on IPOB-run Radio Biafra that they claim “amounts to terrorism” and incitement to violence.

The leader of the separatist organisation Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) appeared in court on Wednesday on charges of “terrorism”, calling for secession and spreading falsehood against President Muhammadu Buhari.

For years, IPOB has been agitating for the separation of south eastern Nigeria, which is home to the Igbos, one of the country’s three majority ethnic groups.

A previous attempt by the region to break away as the Republic of Biafra led to a 30-month-long bloody civil war from 1967 to 1970.  More than one million people, mostly civilians, died during the conflict.

Kanu, who holds dual citizenship in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, launched IPOB about 10 years ago. He is the torchbearer for a new generation of Igbos calling for separation from Nigeria due to perceived political and economic marginalisation.

His antics and rhetoric have led to frequent clashes with the government and repeated arrests of his followers. He also spent two years in detention before disappearing while on bail and is currently under trial after being extradited from Kenya in June. In 2017, the group was proscribed as a “terrorist organisation” by a Nigerian federal court order.

Despite the many starts and stops, experts believe the long arm of the law may finally catch up with him this time.

“There is a strong likelihood that Kanu might be convicted because the political will exists to make an example of a separatist leader who has caused the central government more than its fair share of headaches,” said Ikemesit Effiong, head of research at SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based political risk analysis firm. “[And he’s from] a part of the country where scepticism of constituted authority runs high.”

Nollywood actor Yul Edochie urged the government to release Kanu and proceed to dialogue with him. “In a multi-tribal country like Nigeria. there’ll always be agitation from different quarters,” the popular thespian tweeted. “To keep the country united, you should listen to your people, know why they are agitating and resolve it peacefully.”

For Wednesday’s session, the secret police complied with an order to not block the court premises in order to allow journalists and others to freely access the building.

Before the trial, some Igbos also seemingly adhered to a sit-at-home order in the southeast, a form of civil disobedience to show solidarity with Kanu as he stands trial in Abuja. The sit-at-home orders, often enforced by IPOB members, have become a weekly routine, crippling small businesses, and other economic activities.

A 2021 survey by SBM Intelligence showed how the sit-at-home protests have affected work productivity. Of 878 people who observed the demonstrations in their locality, 64.1 percent said their productivity was affected.

“As we speak, people are currently sitting at home,” said Sunday Elom, a public affairs analyst based in Onitsha, a commercial city in southeast Nigeria. “Any day he [Kanu] is going to court, it is even more compulsory for people to sit at home. Like today, children didn’t go to school, and major markets are shut.”

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