By Ben Farmer
The Government has abandoned a British-Nigerian political activist who campaigned for independence for his homeland after he was seized and tortured by security forces, his supporters say. Nnamdi Kanu spent years running a radio station from his home in south London, but has been held in solitary confinement for two years by Nigerian security services who seized the activist in Kenya and illegally spirited him back to the country.
His family say he is being held in a small, windowless cell despite a Nigerian appeal court dropping all charges against him and ruling that his arrest and extradition were unlawful. The United Nations has also called for his immediate release.
His lawyers accuse the UK Government of doing too little to push for his release and failing to condemn his mistreatment, even though he was travelling on a UK passport when seized. They also fear his life may be in danger in prison.
“This is a serious matter which we would have expected the British Government to be very vocal and reactive about,” Ifeanyi Ejiofor, one of Mr Kanu’s legal team, told The Telegraph. “The UK Government has not done much. The Foreign Secretary has so far failed to reach any view.”
Mr Kanu is leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra group, and for years ran Radio Biafra from his flat in Peckham, calling for independence for the region in south-eastern Nigeria.The region briefly seceded in the late 1960s, prompting civil war and the deaths of at least a million people, before the breakaway was blockaded and starved into surrender.
Although popular among many Biafrans for raising calls for a referendum on independence, Mr Kanu is a divisive figure, and some in the Nigerian government see him as a potentially dangerous rabble rouser who raises the spectre of renewed civil strife. His group is proscribed as a terrorist outfit in Nigeria.
Mr Kanu had previously spent two years in prison and had fled Nigeria while on bail. In June 2021, he was in Nairobi when his family and supporters say he was abducted and tortured by the Nigerian and Kenyan authorities. After being beaten for several days, he was put on a small plane back to Nigeria and charged with offences including terrorism and treason.
An appeal court dropped the charges and called for his discharge last year, saying he had been subject to extraordinary rendition without proper extradition. But he remains in security service custody ahead of an appeal before the supreme court in September. His family earlier this year described the Foreign Office’s handling of the case as “a catalogue of disappointing failings which has left the Nigerian government’s position largely unaltered, and Mr Kanu’s wife and children, all British citizens, unsupported by their Government.”
The supreme court is widely expected to side with Mr Kanu, but his legal team warn that his health has deteriorated and alleges that he is in danger while in custody.
‘Anything could happen’
Mr Kanu’s family told MPs earlier this year that he was being held in a filthy, windowless six foot by six foot cell. He has not been allowed to change his clothes since he was captured and is given one meal of soup and bread each day.
He has a heart condition and needs treatment for an ear injury his lawyers say he suffered under torture. Nigerian authorities are refusing to let Mr Kanu’s own doctors treat him and his lawyers claim that his life may be at risk if he is forced to undergo treatment by military doctors.
Mr Ejiofor said: “I am 100 per cent sure that if he were made to undergo medical procedures under custody that anything could happen, given the history of how he was abducted, how he underwent extraordinary rendition, how he was tortured.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We continue to offer consular support to Mr Kanu and remain in regular contact with his family and legal representatives, and the Nigerian and Kenyan authorities.”
First published by The Telegraph UK.