In a world where justice and fairness should be the pillars upon which nations or nation-states like Nigeria build their societies, the continued detention of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), casts a dark shadow on Nigeria’s commitment to these ideals. It’s a saga that challenges the integrity of the country’s justice system, the value placed on human rights, and the essence of democracy. This situation calls for immediate rectification, and President Ahmed Bola Tinubu has both the power and responsibility to ensure this. By championing the unconditional release of Kanu, Tinubu can not only restore faith in Nigeria’s democratic principles but also foster a crucial dialogue towards national unity and progress.
Kanu’s case is a microcosm of the systemic challenges festering within the Nigerian nation—a country torn by ethnic and socio-political tensions. Kanu, widely considered a champion of the Igbo people—who form the majority of the Indigenous People of Biafra—has stirred controversy with his mission. Yet, at its core, it is a fight against perceived marginalisation and inequality—an aspiration for emancipation.
The events leading to Kanu’s arrest in Kenya in 2021, and his extraordinary rendition to Nigeria, raise alarming questions regarding the observance of international law and respect for human rights. This event, seen by many as a targeted attack on the Igbo, has deepened ethnic and political rifts. The seeming celebration of Kanu’s detention, particularly by figures such as then-Attorney General Abubakar Malami, casts a dark shadow over Nigeria’s commitment to uphold principles of justice and human rights.
International law underscores the right to a fair trial, humane treatment of detainees, and the prohibition of arbitrary detention—all of which appear to have been ignored in Kanu’s case. The continued detention of Kanu, despite his deteriorating health, is not only a violation of his fundamental human rights but is also against international human rights norms. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules) stipulate that prisoners should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community and should have access to necessary health-care services free of charge.
Even more unsettling is the Nigerian government’s blatant disregard for the judiciary’s independence and the rule of law, demonstrated by their response to the Court of Appeal’s unanimous decision to acquit Kanu in October 2022. Such flagrant disregard for court rulings not only undermines the justice system but also contravenes international legal principles that mandate respect for judicial independence and decisions.
Indeed, the treatment of Nnamdi Kanu during his detention has been a matter of great concern and contention, casting a long, dark shadow on Nigeria’s commitment to upholding human rights and dignity. Kanu’s health has been in steady decline, a fact that his counsel and family have repeatedly raised, yet adequate medical care has been continually denied. The severity of the situation was recently underscored when it was revealed that numerous detainees, including Kanu, had tested positive for Tuberculosis. This appalling circumstance not only reveals a shocking disregard for the welfare of detainees but also contravenes numerous international human rights conventions, to which Nigeria is a signatory.
Further complicating matters is the disconcerting refusal of authorities to abide by the decisions of the judiciary. In a landmark ruling in October 2022, the Court of Appeal quashed the charges against Kanu, effectively discharging and acquitting him. In any democratic society, this should have signified his immediate release. However, the federal government’s failure to act in accordance with this ruling has only deepened the sense of mistrust and disillusionment within the public sphere towards the justice system.
So, the question remains: why should President Tinubu act to ensure Kanu’s unconditional release? The answers, while seemingly straightforward, have profound implications for Nigeria’s path forward.
Firstly, it is a matter of justice and the rule of law. By acting decisively to uphold the court’s ruling, President Tinubu would send a clear message that the rule of law is not just a principle to be casually invoked but a foundational pillar upon which the nation stands. It would reaffirm the independence of the judiciary and restore faith in the justice system, which has been seriously eroded.
Moreover, the release of Nnamdi Kanu is not only a matter of justice and fairness but is also deeply rooted in legal principles that should govern Nigeria’s democratic society. The continued detention of Kanu, despite court orders for his release, represents a violation of his fundamental human rights and a failure to uphold the rule of law.
Under international law, every individual is entitled to a fair trial and due process. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Nigeria is a signatory, upholds the right to liberty and security of person, as well as the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. These fundamental principles have been disregarded in Kanu’s case, where he has been held in detention for an extended period without being convicted of any crime.
Furthermore, the Nigerian Constitution guarantees the right to personal liberty, fair hearing, and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. The Constitution provides for the separation of powers, with the judiciary serving as a check on the executive branch. The court’s decision to discharge and acquit Kanu should have been respected and implemented, as it reflects the proper application of the law.
The failure to release Kanu despite court orders not only undermines the credibility of the judiciary but also erodes public trust in the justice system. It sends a dangerous message that court decisions can be ignored or manipulated for political expediency, which undermines the very foundations of a democratic society.
President Bola Tinubu, as a custodian of the rule of law, has a unique opportunity to uphold the principles of justice and fairness. By ensuring the unconditional release of Kanu, he would demonstrate a commitment to the legal rights and protections enshrined in Nigeria’s Constitution and international legal standards. This act would serve as a strong reaffirmation of Nigeria’s commitment to the rule of law and the protection of individual liberties.
The release of Kanu would contribute to the restoration of public confidence in the justice system and promote a culture of respect for human rights. It would demonstrate that no one is above the law and that the principles of justice and fairness should prevail, regardless of one’s political or social standing.
The plight of Kanu represents a wider issue, underscoring the urgent need for dialogue and reconciliation within the country. As a political leader and the current President of Nigeria, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu carries the weight of this responsibility. He is in a unique position to foster unity and promote the values that are foundational to a democratic society.
Freeing Nnamdi Kanu goes beyond mere compliance with a court order or the protection of an individual’s rights. Its significance lies in the transformative potential it holds for Nigeria’s societal fabric. By championing Kanu’s unconditional release, President Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has a unique opportunity to pave the way for dialogue, foster understanding, and promote reconciliation among the country’s diverse ethnic and socio-political groups.
President Tinubu has the opportunity to turn a new page in Nigeria’s history and to demonstrate the strength and maturity of Nigeria’s democracy. By ensuring the immediate and unconditional release of Nnamdi Kanu, he can uphold the rule of law, restore faith in the justice system, and move Nigeria towards a future of peace, unity, and prosperity. It is not just a moral imperative; it is a necessity for the continued growth and stability of the nation.