Nnamdi Kanu: A criminal suspect and not a political prisioner, By Alex Ndubueze


With the deteriorating security condition in the South-East, one is inclined to call for a political solution to put an end to the burgeoning restiveness bedeviling the region. While bouts of criminal activities and bloodletting characterized the South East, the arrest and incarceration of Nnamdi Kanu have irrefutably aggravated insecurity in the zone with repercussions for socio-economic and political order. This has sparked desperation and entreaties by critical stakeholders and groups for workable resolutions to restore peace and stability in the region. Though these calls are intended for peace and greater good, the political solution being sought for is unfortunately not tenable and the reasons are not far-fetched.

Nnamdi Kanu was arrested and charged with crimes of terrorism and treasonable felony. These crimes qualify him as a criminal suspect and not a political prisoner. This is more so that the internationally accepted definition of political prisoner is at variance with crimes committed by the outlawed group leader. A political prisoner is anyone detained for exercising their human rights under international law. Such rights include peaceful assembly, freedoms of religion, association, expression and advocacy for peaceable social and political change as well as criticize government policy or government official. Kanu was none of that or could have been one if he remained non-violent. He turned his IPOB group to a bloodsucking violent pack. The modus operandi of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra is also not in line with peaceful procedures as defined. Kanu is commonly known to aggressively advocate for civil disobedience, bigotry and fanning the embers of war to provoke anarchy and public disorder. He has on several occasions openly incited members of his group to take laws into their hands.


Indisputably, the formation of IPOB’s military wing code named Eastern Security Network, exacerbated insecurity in the South East Zone. Attacks on police formations, correctional centres, homes of select personalities and other critical government facilities became widespread after the formation of ESN. IPOB is also suspected to have launched unprecedented attacks against security agents in the region leading to the death and maiming of innocent citizens. During the #EndSARS protest, Kanu was known to have incited the carnage and destruction of lives and property in Lagos State and some parts of the country. His broadcasts are filled with hate, bile, intolerance and propaganda against the State and its institutions.

Similarly, the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe noted that a person can only be recognized as a political prisoner if the suspect’s detention is imposed purely for political reasons without connection to any offence. The activities of the IPOB leader falls within the context of crimes against the state which prompted security and law enforcement agencies to effect his arrest. In furtherance to this, Nnamdi Kanu was never a member of a political party neither is he being tried for expressing political views. He has never contested for election under any party or independent platform. Why then should he be referred to as a political prisoner? His offences – treason and terrorism¬ – are purely criminal; for which he is being charged and tried by a competent court of law.

It is public knowledge that Nnamdi Kanu has been granted access to his lawyers, family members and medical doctors. He practices his religious beliefs unhindered despite the attempt by IPOB, subversive groups and individuals sympathetic to him to project otherwise. According to information in the public space, he is treated in accordance with provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA). His legal team can attest to the veracity of this assertion. Additionally, a political prisoner is someone who is detained for many years without trial or under house arrest. Nnamdi Kanu was never detained under an executive order. The State has not also failed to take him to court after his arrest. He was promptly charged. So the argument of being detained as a political prisoner has no foundation. Nnamdi Kanu was a fugitive who jumped bail after his initial arrest. The severity of his charges, unrepentant disposition and history of jumping bail has diminished the chances of a Judge granting him bail again. Therefore, a political solution may not be feasible given the fact that Nnamdi Kanu’s case contradict the basis for being termed as ‘political prisoner’. His actions contravene both the country’s Criminal Justice system and international laws, thus the law must be allowed to take its full course. Nnamdi Kanu must face the music.

Rather than seek a political solution, stakeholders and promoters of a political solution in the Kanu matter should resort to social reorientation of its citizens to shun violent and divisive acts responsible for crippling security and socio-economic activities. They should also join hands with government and security agencies in restoring normalcy in the zone. Campaign for political solution is a blackmail that should not be allowed to fester. The Igbo elite should come out of its inertia and selective amnesia. It should face the problem and speak out in one loud voice against evil. Those struggling to plant in public psychology that Nnamdi Kanu is a political prisoner should stop that. He is simply a criminal suspect and should be seen and treated so. This achieves common good. Allowing Kanu and IPOB with their splinter groups to bestride the region with pervading violence will rub the region of many things including economic development and the Presidency of Nigeria. The time to act is now.

Ndubueze is a public commentator