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Nnamdi Kanu’s Case: The First Successful Extraordinary Rendition In Nigeria

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By Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire, Tel: +2348180008266 or +12026510092

There seems to be some confusion as to exactly where Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the foremost neo-Biafran separatist group, was caught and brought into Nigeria on 29th June 2021.

Mr. Kanu has been standing trial for treason since 2015 before fleeing from Nigeria in September of 2017. His dramatic escape from Nigeria stalled his trial. And while overseas, Mr. Kanu intensified his campaign for the actualization of a Biafran State through his inflammatory radio broadcasts with hate-infused rhetorics. His broadcasts embarrassed and infuriated the Nigerian Government and generated tensions in ethnic relations in Nigeria.

Just as his escape from Nigeria in 2017 was dramatic, so was his re-arrest outside Nigeria and forced return dramatic. Only a few days before his return, Kanu had projected in his radio broadcasts bold and defiant aura of invincibility. Many of his ardent followers still find it difficult to believe that the man they curiously refer to as their Supreme Leader could be so easily captured and brought back to Nigeria.

The details of how exactly Kanu was captured and brought back to Nigeria remains mucky and speculative. It was rumoured that he was picked up in Brazil where he went to meet a secret lover. Also, it was rumored he was picked up in Czech Republic where he went to negotiate for weapons meant for ESN fighters. A more bizarre rumour had it that Kanu surrendered himself to Nigerian authorities.

It is not uncommon for his poorly educated followers to believe in every theory that projects him as an invincible leader who could never be caught unless he allowed that to happen. At the end of these theories, it seems now well resolved that Kanu was picked up in Kenya, from where he was taken to Nigeria. Yet it remains a mystery why he was in Kenya at that time he was caught.

Kanu’s followers seem not interested in the question: what was Kanu doing in Kenya? Each time that question is raised in social media discussions, his followers would brush it aside and often get violent in their effort to avoid that question being asked. This obviously is because intuitively, they understand that any attempt to answer that question might reveal some embarrassing facts as to how Kanu conducted his business of achieving Biafra. He either believed in his own invincibility or grossly underestimated his opponents. If his trip to Kenya was in response to a bait by Nigerian agents, it is embarrassing and there will be need to know the details, which could be further uncomfortable. The idea that the man willing to lead a people into a new country could be so naïve and so reckless as to his personal safety and security in face of clear and open risks, is quite disturbing and deeply upsetting to those who believed in him. Hence the need to avoid that question.

Be it as it may, it is still important to know what Kanu was doing in Kenya because that might expose the details of the plot that undid him.

In all this, the Nigerian government has not tried to shed light on the details of how Kanu was brought into Nigeria. The Nigerian Minister of Justice merely announced that it was due to collaborative efforts of the Interpol, which is clearly not the case. To create more fog on the issue, the Kenyan High Commissioner to Nigeria gave a press conference, in which he categorically denied that Kenya had any involvement in Kanu’s arrest and rendition.

How do we reconcile these conflicting accounts of events? Kanu was not in Brazil, there was no secret lover in Brazil for him. Also, Kanu was not in Czech Republic and he was not involved in any arms dealing. Also, it was not through the collaborative effort of the Interpol that he was brought to Nigeria. These were stories planted to throw the public off the real story. But what is the real story? What was he doing in Kenya? Why would a highly respected Kenyan diplomat come openly to deny that Kanu was arrested in Kenya? Is it possible that the diplomat was not aware? Is it possible that Nigerian agents engaged non-state actors in Kenya to capture Kanu? It is possible that what happened to Kanu in Kenya (his kidnap and hand-over) occurred without the knowledge of the Kenyan authorities. Is it possible that Nigerian agents carried out a rendition operation from Kenya without the knowledge of the right officials of Kenya? Quite possible! And if so, then, the Kenyan High Commissioner was honest in his statement that Kenya was not aware of the capture and removal of Kanu from Kenya. It will also suggest that Nigeria was able to enter into another African country and carry out clandestine operation. In the intelligence world, that will be a laudable feat by the Nigerian agents.

Given that Nnamdi Kanu’s family representative has made press statements insisting that Kanu was in Kenya when he was arrested, but failing to state what he was doing in Kenya, it remains an open question what he was doing in Kenya. There has to be a reason for a man who knew he was being looked for by Nigerian Government to be in Kenya at the time. Why are the relatives of Kanu not saying more? Maybe they don’t know any better.

According to the recent report on the British Guardian Newspaper, which was based on the report of Kanu’s family member, Kanu was at a location in Kenya when he was captured. He went out and never came back. They reported that Kanu did not go out with his passport, which is said to remain in Kenya. That meant that Kanu was not anticipating that he could be leaving Kenya when he was taken out. The fact that those who took him did not come to search where he was staying for documents and evidence renders credence to the possibility that it was done by non-state actors who could not properly execute a search. That is; they needed to get out fast. They also reported that Kanu was abducted and kept in a location where he was manhandled before he was handed over to the Nigeria agents who brought him to Nigeria in a private jet. The following questions are ripe:

(a) Who actually abducted or arrested Kanu if not Kenyan legitimate authorities? And who engaged them to get him? Is it possible that Nigerian agents engaged the services of a non-state actor in Kenya to kidnap or abduct or arrest Kanu?

(b) What was the chain of movement of Kanu from the moment of arrest/abduction to the moment he was brought into Nigeria? Was he held in a private location and then taken to a private jet that took him to Nigeria? How was he taken through such places? Apparently, the flight that brought him to Nigeria did not go through the normal airport checks and flight clearances for international flights. So, what airport was he taken from?

(c) Whoever took Kanu from Kenya must have known he was there and where he was in Kenya. That person must also know why he was in Kenya and must have been monitoring his movements. In other words, they had excellent intelligence on Kanu’s movement. Since Kanu did not disclose publicly that he was in Kenya, it will require the help of either a close insider and confidant of Kanu or the British intelligence to disclose such information to those who took Kanu in Kenya. Why the involvement of the British intelligence? It is in their nature to keep an eye and monitor a man like Kanu. They would have known his movements, and would likely have passed on such intelligence to the Nigerian agents. It is doubtful that the British agents would work with non-state actors in Kenya. However, the British agents could be working with Nigerians and Nigerians would be the ones directly in contact with the Kenyan operators.

Also, since Nnamdi Kanu’s lawyers have placed emphasis on the unparticularized illegalities of how Kanu was rendered to Nigeria, with allegations that his rights were violated, it is imperative to know more about the details of his trip to Kenya. It is surprising that the Kanu’s lawyers and relatives are not saying much as to why he was in Kenya. Such details will help explain how the rendition occurred – whether he was betrayed by an insider or whether some British agents played a role. Focus must be placed on the following possible actors – an insider actor from IPOB, British agents, Kenyan agents, Kenyan non-state actors, the owner of the private jet used to bring Kanu to Nigeria, the Nigerian agents (DSS and NIA). How did all or some of these actors coordinate the rendition? When did the Nigerian agents enter into Kenya? Was it ahead of Kanu’s arrival in Kenya or were they invited after Kanu had already landed in Kenya?

Being able to answer the above questions will help give an idea of what to expect about Kanu’s fate. Why is it that those who could answer these questions are refusing to answer them? And why is it that those who should be interested in the answers to these questions are avoiding them?

However, regardless of how these questions are answered, there is a consensus that Kanu has been a subject of an irregular method of extradition which is known as extraordinary rendition. This term is defined in Wikipedia as: “Extraordinary rendition, also called irregular rendition or forced rendition, is the government-sponsored abduction and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one country to another with the purpose of circumventing the former country’s laws on interrogation, detention, extradition and/or torture.”

How legal was the process of bringing Kanu to Nigeria? Extraordinary rendition was invented by the United States and was extensively used following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. To the extent that rendition involves an extrajudicial means, it ought to be illegal and unethical, and it violates the rights of those affected by it. Also, there are procedural and substantive elements to rendition. It is often not limited to just the movement of a person. There is a component that involves torture. Apart from transporting the target of rendition, the process creates a space outside the rule of law where the law enforcement agents are able to torture the subject of rendition.

There are examples of rendition that gained international attention. According to the US Justice Society Initiative, the following two cases are well known:

(1) German national Khaled El-Masri was seized in Macedonia because he had been mistaken for an Al Qaeda suspect with a similar name. He was held incommunicado and abused in Macedonia and in secret CIA detention in Afghanistan. On December 13, 2012, the European Court of Human Rights held that Macedonia had violated El-Masri’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, and found that his ill-treatment by the CIA at Skopje airport in Macedonia amounted to torture.

(2) “Wesam Abdulrahman Ahmed al-Deemawi was seized in Iran and held for 77 days in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” in Afghanistan. He was later held in Bagram for 40 days and subjected to sleep deprivation, hung from the ceiling by his arms in the “strappado” position, threatened by dogs, made to watch torture videos, and subjected to sounds of electric sawing accompanied by cries of pain.

Despite the widespread objection to forced rendition, there has never been clear international law condemnation of the practice. The near absence of international case law on rendition is probably because the country most guilty of rendition is the most powerful nation in the world – the United States.

There is something unique about Nnamdi Kanu’s case. Unlike the cases recorded in the US against people they suspected of involvement in terrorisms, Nnamdi was subject to a bench warrant issued by Justice Nyako at the time he was renditioned. So, his capture is strictly a matter of wrong method, rather than wrong purpose. Also, Nnamdi was renditioned from a foreign country (Kenya) to his country of birth and citizenship (Nigeria). Further, there is a question as to whether the extrajudicial act of rendition was just to move him to Nigeria or whether it extended to torture. A human rights panel handling a rendition case is bound to consider whether the human rights violation was limited to denial of extradition hearing or whether it extended to torture. So, it is legitimate to ascertain whether Nnamdi Kanu was tortured beyond being sedated and placed handcuffed in a plane for a flight to Nigeria (Sedating a suspect or detainer or blindfolding him could be torture). Also, it is legitimate to consider what kind of information was obtained from him, if any, and how such information is being used in the case against him.

Does Kanu have any recourse against Kenya and Nigeria for the act of rendition? Perhaps, he does but there are several challenges to his claim. He needs to be able to show that Kenyan authorities were involved. He also needs to show the details of torture. He was handed over to a court of law which ordered his arrest and detention. His case is clearly different from the standard rendition cases mentioned above.

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