Nigerian separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu has pleaded not guilty to seven charges including “terrorism” and treason in an Abuja court, three months after his trial was delayed when authorities failed to produce him in court.
The charges against Kanu, a British citizen, also included calling for secession, knowingly broadcasting falsehoods about President Muhammadu Buhari, and membership in an outlawed group.
Leaving the courtroom on Thursday, Kanu’s lawyer Ifeanyi Ejiofor told AFP news agency that he urged the court “to dismiss the seven-count charges … acquit our client and discharge him” before the case was adjourned to November 10.
The military considers Kanu’s Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) a “terrorist” organisation.
IPOB wants a swathe of the southeast, the homeland of the Igbo ethnic group, to split from Nigeria. An attempt to secede in 1967 as the Republic of Biafra triggered a three-year civil war that killed more than one million people.
Security services barred journalists from entering the court and forcibly dispersed crowds of supporters who gathered nearby.
In selfies with his lawyer circulating in local media, Kanu looked healthy and in good spirits.
Kanu was first arrested in 2015, but disappeared while on bail in April 2017. His social media posts during his absence and his Radio Biafra broadcasts outraged the government, which said they encouraged attacks on security forces.
Security agents produced him in court in Abuja on June 29 after detaining him in an undisclosed country. His lawyer alleged he was detained and mistreated in Kenya, though Kenya has denied involvement.
Kanu has filed charges alleging that he was illegally taken from Kenya and asking that he be repatriated to the United Kingdom.
On Thursday, his lawyers also asked, unsuccessfully, for Kanu to be transferred to the Nigerian Correctional Centre instead of state security custody for easier access to his lawyers.
Ejiofor said they have an application challenging the competence of the underlying charges, most of which reference Radio Biafra broadcasts made out of London.
“I can’t see how someone would make a statement in London and it becomes a triable offence in this country,” Ejiofor told reporters.
IPOB called for a “sit-at-home” on Thursday across the southeast to protest the arrest of their leader.
Another separatist, Sunday Igboho, who advocates for independence for the southwestern Yoruba people, was also recently arrested.
Igboho was taken into custody at the airport in neighbouring Benin, police and airport sources said.
He was on the run after a gun battle with security forces at his home, where weapons and ammunition were discovered.
Southeast Nigeria has seen a spike in violence with at least 127 police and other security personnel killed by gunmen this year, according to a local media tally.
Authorities have blamed the attacks on IPOB and its armed wing, the Eastern Security Network, a claim the groups deny.