A Nigerian separatist leader arrested last month and brought back to his country to stand trial has been illegally detained in Kenya and is in need of medical attention, his wife and lawyers said.
The banned movement of Nnamdi Kanu, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) campaigning for a separate Biafran state for ethnic Igbos in southeastern Nigeria, has been charged with attacking the police, an indictment they deny.
His arrest was one of two steps taken by President Muhammadu Buhari’s government against separatists in recent weeks as the Nigerian leader comes under pressure to cope with the country’s growing insecurity.
Nigerian officials said Kanu was arrested in late June and brought back into the country with the help of Nigerian partners, although officials provided few details about where and how he was detained.
His wife, Uchechi Okwu-Kanu, who lives in the UK, told AFP he was traveling in Kenya on business when he was arrested and tortured for eight days before being flown back to Nigeria.
“This was an exceptional rendition, he was put on Kenyan soil and brought to Nigeria,” she said in an interview this week.
She said Kanu, who is also a UK citizen, needed a visit from UK consular services to gain access to medical treatment for a heart condition and should be transferred from security custody to prison.
“If he’s sent to prison, he’ll have a doctor every day to examine him,” she said.
The British High Commission in Abuja has agreed to provide consular assistance and is asking for clarifications on the circumstances surrounding his arrest.
Kanu’s lawyers visited him in Abuja this week, it said.
They say the 53-year-old IPOB leader was traveling with his UK passport when he was illegally detained and returned in Kenya.
“When he was arrested, the Kenyan security forces initially accused him of being an Islamic terrorist, which was apparently a decoy to keep him pending the arrival of the Nigerian security forces who were subsequently extradited to Nigeria,” senior lawyer Ifeanyi told Ejiofor AFP.
He said the legal team planned to challenge Canoe’s delivery and treatment.
A European diplomatic source in Nigeria told AFP that its government had also confirmed that Kanu had been arrested in Kenya.
Kenya’s Interior Ministry said he was completely unaware of the case, while Kenya’s High Commissioner for Nigeria told local media that his country was not involved in the arrest and extradition.
Kanu appeared in court in Nigeria’s capital Abuja in June, where a judge held him in custody until his trial was resumed in late July.
– Separatist tensions –
Demands for a separate state of Biafra in the southeast are delicate.
A unilateral declaration of independence by an Igbo army officer in 1967 sparked a brutal 30-month civil war in which more than a million people, most of them Igbos, died as a result of conflict and disease.
Attacks have risen in recent months in southeastern Nigeria, with around 130 police and security officers killed and around 20 police stations attacked this year, according to local media reports.
IPOB has denied that its armed wing, Eastern Security Network, or ESN, is behind the violence and has accused the government of a smear campaign.
Separatism in the southeast is just one of the challenges facing Buhari’s government ahead of the 2023 elections.
That month, security forces ransacked the home of Sunday Igboho, an arsonist who works for an independent nation for the Yoruba ethnic group in the southwest.
Igboho was on the run after an exchange of fire that killed two of his men and discovered weapons and ammunition in his home, Department of State Services intelligence said.
Nigeria is a nation of more than 210 million people and over 250 ethnic groups and is regularly shaken by ethnic tensions in different regions of the country.
The three largest groups are the Hausa-Fulani in the north, the Igbo in the southeast, and the Yoruba in the southwest.
pma / left /