NNAMDI KANU TRIAL: A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT HAPPENED IN COURT, NOVEMBER 10, 2021
(By Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire)
Nnamdi Kanu’s lawyers about 8 of them arrived the court by 9:00am. They were all allowed into the court without a glitch. But one man in their team, Bruce Fein, an American lawyer who arrived with the team of Nnamdi Kanu’s lawyers, was denied entry to the courtroom. Some other important people were denied entry to the court. Chief Ezeife, leading a senior Nigerian lawyer, who was robed, and some Igbo traditional rulers who came to observe the trial on behalf of Ohaneze, were not allowed into the courtroom. The reason given by the security officials was that the space in the court was not enough to accommodate anyone who was not essential part of the proceedings. Barrister Ejiofor went into the courtroom. Before entering the courtroom, he assured Bruce Fein that he would inform the judge that he, Fein, should come inside the courtroom. So, Fein was standing in the hallway outside the courtroom, while Ejiofor and other lawyers were inside the courtroom seated and waiting for the arrival of their client and the judge.
By 9:52am, Nnamdi Kanu was led into the court. Before he entered the courtroom, he saw Bruce Fein in the hallway outside the courtroom and Bruce Fein informed him that he was not allowed into the courtroom. When Nnamdi Kanu entered the courtroom, all his lawyers or most of his lawyers, including Ejiofor, rose to greet him. They all hustled to take selfies with him, taking turns to snuggle next to him and pose for selfies and short videos. It was more like the uncontrollable excitement of a bunch of groupies in the presence of a rare celebrity.
By 10:20am, the judge entered the court and the case was called. Ejiofor immediately stood up to raise a preliminary objection. He called the attention of the judge to the fact that Bruce Fein was not allowed into the courtroom. The court told him that there was no reason why Bruce Fein must be inside the courtroom. The judge reminded him that Bruce Fein was not a lawyer in her court and was not entitled to audience from the court. Ejiofor insisted. The judge ruled him out on Bruce Fein issue, and made to proceed to the matter of the day. Suddenly without warning to other lawyers or to Nnamdi Kanu, Ejiofor told the court that since it was not going to let Bruce Fein in, he and his fellow defense lawyers were walking out. He packed his books and started leaving the court. Other defense lawyers in the case rose and followed him. That was how they walked out of court. Even Nnamdi Kanu was confused. He did not see that coming.
One of the lawyers in the defense team immediately felt that this was wrong and he tried to stay behind. But it was too late. It happened too fast.
The question on my mind when I heard this was whether it was a spontaneous event or whether Ejiofor had planned it ahead of time. Naturally, I began to ask questions and to investigate. I discovered that what happened in court yesterday was well planned by Ejiofor. The following factors must be considered:
(1) Ejiofor knew ahead of time that Bruce Fein would not be allowed into the courtroom. He knew from previous hearings that many important people who come to that court to witness the trial are now allowed to enter. So, it was not a surprise to him that Bruce Fein would not be allowed in.
(2) Bruce Fein was previously denied access to that court on the October hearing date. Also, Bruce Fein was denied access when he went to visit Nnamdi in prison. According to Bruce Fein, he was denied access four times before yesterday. So, again, Ejiofor knew that Bruce Fein would be denied access. It did not come to him as a surprise. He could have discussed it with other lawyers and clients ahead of time, if he had wanted to.
(3) Bruce Fein was denied access by 9:00am. Ejiofor walked out of court by 10:30am. So, Ejiofor had one and half hours (90 minutes) to process the information and manage his reaction. There was no need to react in the heat of passion, as he appeared to have done. There was ample time to discuss it with Bruce Fein, Nnamdi and other lawyers and agree on what they should do. The sudden reaction was a farce.
(4) Since Bruce Fein had been denied access on four previous occasions, Ejiofor had an opportunity to make a written application to court with an affidavit explaining to court why it was important for Bruce Fein to be allowed in. That issue could have been addressed ahead of time in a cool and nondramatic fashion. Ejiofor did not do that.
(5) Ejiofor staged the dramatic walkout with a calculated intention to abort the yesterday’s trial. There are two likely reasons for that:
(a) In recent times, Nnamdi Kanu had indicated his preference for Barrister Aloy Ejimakor to be the one to handle the argument in court. In other words, while Ejiofor wanted to be designated in the media and in public as the lead counsel, Nnamdi Kanu wanted Ejimakor to be the lead counsel inside the courtroom. I learnt that this did not sit well with Ejiofor, who has been exploiting that status of the lead counsel. This topic came up again during the recent visit of Ejiofor, Ejimakor and Nnamdi’s relative to the DSS detention. Though, I did not hear this directly from any of the parties, someone Nnamdi’s brother confided in share this with me and it sounded logical. Nnamdi was vehement in wanting Ejimakor, not Ejiofor, to be the one to address the court henceforth on his case. If the proceedings had gone ahead yesterday, there would have been a dramatic change when Ejimakor would have taken over the function of addressing the court. Ejiofor scuttled the proceedings to avoid that transfer of role becoming effective.
(b) It has become increasingly doubtful that Ejiofor could remain an effective counsel for Nnamdi Kanu, given the sensitive nature of the case. Two times now, Ejiofor had clashes or bloody encounters with the Nigerian police which resulted in death of people. On the first occasion, Ejiofor himself claimed that 27 IPOB members guarding his house were killed by the police and he was declared wanted because two police officers died in that violent clash, which was attributed to Ejiofor. Also, Ejiofor’s house was burnt down in that incident. Before that case could be resolved, there was a second incident in which Ejiofor alleged that some policemen came to kill him, but killed his PA instead. These events are not minor events. It is doubtful that a person declared wanted and involved in allegations of many unlawful deaths would be fit, focused and disposed to lead the defense in a case like Nnamdi Kanu’s. Ejiofor needed to sort all these issues out and make sure that his own controversies would not overshadow the trial of Nnamdi Kanu. If it was a small case, then it would not matter. But this is a very big case.
(c) Another potential exposure Ejiofor has is based on the fact that he has been more than a lawyer to IPOB. A lawyer’s role is to defend a client on a case that is based on facts that the lawyer has no involvement in. If a lawyer can be called even as a witness to a criminal trial, he should not be a lawyer in such trial. So any involvement of the lawyer in the facts that gave rise to the offence or allegations, even as a witness, is enough to disqualify the lawyer. Ejiofor was Nnamdi Kanu’s lawyer in 2017. He was their lawyer before IPOB was proscribed. He stayed in touch and communication with them throughout. He even had IPOB boys guarding his house. Ejiofor actually became a leader in IPOB and a commander of IPOB members with training on how to perform a guard duty on a high profile IPOB figure like Ejiofor. Ejiofor was advising Nnamdi and IPOB at the time ESN was set up. You cannot be representing a client and the same client is engaged in activities that would become a crime. That means that at the very least, you can be called as a witness in any case brought against that client. Ejiofor discarded the veil of a lawyer and became an actor or at least a vital witness.
(d) With such exposure to arrest and prosecution, Ejiofor could be easily used as a double agent against Nnamdi Kanu. In other words, the DSS could approach him and say: “We can arrest and prosecute you for murder and other offences. But we will give you the option of working for us and giving us information on Nnamdi Kanu and using your position as his lawyer to ensure that he never gets quality legal representation”. To avoid arrest and prosecution, Ejiofor could have agreed to help the government against Nnamdi Kanu, but must do it in such a manner that no one would know.
Given the popularity Nnamdi Kanu enjoys especially among Igbo youths, being seen as the lead counsel in Nnamdi Kanu’s case is very good for an ambitious young lawyer like Ifeanyi Ejiofor. He would hang onto that position at all costs. But it is clear that he has been most ineffective as counsel. When Nnamdi Kanu was granted bail with so many stringent conditions, it was the duty of his lawyer to either vary those terms or ensure that his client would comply with them. He failed. No single application was made to vary the terms of bail. Yet, it was clear to everybody that Nnamdi Kanu would not or coule not keep to those terms.
Also, when IPOB was proscribed, it became a crime for them to operate as IPOB or for anyone to belong to that organization. A good lawyer would have advised his clients to change their name and operate under another organization’s name, a new name. It was only IPOB that was proscribed. If they changed name, that would have given them some respite while they are fighting to be unproscribed. Ejiofor did not understand this. Instead, he allowed the increasing and needless confrontations between his clients and the government of Nigeria in series of suicidal and counterproductive missions.
Further, as counsel, Ejiofor had a duty to prevent or advise against some of the extremes of IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu statements and actions. Example: for Nnamdi Kanu to order the stoning of the Ohaneze leader, or to threaten to assassinate the family of the Commissioner of Police for Abia State, or to make so many dangerous utterances, it meant he did not have the benefit of wise counsel. Nnamdi Kanu is not a lawyer. He might not have understood the full legal implications of his utterances and activities. It was the duty of his counsel to keep him in check by making sure that he was properly advised and properly guided. But Ejiofor either did not know his duties or he did not wish to perform them.
The present predicament that Nnamdi Kanu faces can be easily traced to poor quality or ineffective representation of counsel. Why have a lawyer and be acting like a blind man? What then was the purpose of having a lawyer if that lawyer cannot guide you? I have no doubt in my mind that Ejiofor has been a disaster as a lawyer to Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB. The damage he caused is now too late to cure. But changing him will be Nnamdi Kanu’s best decision. And that will actually help Nnamdi Kanu in his cases, particularly on his bail application. The new lawyer will make an impact on the court by saying to the judge: “My Lord, it is clear that my client has not been properly advised by his former lawyers. Hence he did not advert to the consequences of certain actions. However, now that I am here to be his counsel, I can assure this court that there will be a difference. If granted bail, my Lord, I will take it a challenge on my honor to make sure he complies with any terms that this court might deem proper and reasonable in the circumstance to impose”.