A Nigerian high court has refused to release on bail a leading separatist activist, whose arrest last year sparked a wave of violent protests across the country. The “alleged offenses for which the defendants are standing trial are serious,” federal high court judge Binta Nyako said on Thursday in a ruling refusing an application by Kanu’s lawyers to release him on bail. In the ruling, Nyako ordered Kanu’s trial to be held “almost immediately, but not later than two months from now.”
The judge further said Kanu and the three other defendants, if convicted, could face sentences of life in jail. At least three judges, including in a regional court, have ordered Kanu’s release, but Abuja refused to free him. Kanu, who was arrested in October 2015, is the founder of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) group. IPOB represents the Igbo people of southeast Nigeria who want secession from the mainland to form a separate Biafra state. The activist now faces charges of criminal conspiracy, intimidation, treason, operating a London-based radio station Radio Biafra and belonging to an unlawful organization.
Kanu’s supporters have held a series of deadly protests across the country in recent months, demanding his release and calling for a breakaway state for the Igbo people, one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. Last week, Amnesty International accused Nigerian security forces of killing some 150 Biafra secessionists during the protests in the past year. Nigerian forces, however, denied the charges.
Fifty years ago, Biafra declared independence from Nigeria and the formation of a separate Biafran state. The announcement led to a civil conflict from 1967 to 1970, leaving about one million people dead, many of them from starvation and disease.