Nnamdi Kanu's Wife Accuses U.K of Doing Nothing Much To Secure His Release
The wife of jailed pro-Biafra activist Nnamdi Kanu has accused the British
government of “evading responsibility” for ensuring her husband's human
rights are not violated.
In an exclusive interview with Newsweek, Uchechi Okwu-Kanu, who gave
birth to the couple's first child together in January, says that the
stress of her husband's detention in Nigeria—which began almost five
months ago in October 2015—meant that she almost miscarried.
Kanu, a British-Nigerian dual national, is the leader of the Indigenous
People of Biafra (IPOB), a global campaign group calling for independence
for the region formerly known as the Republic of Biafra, currently
southeast Nigeria. Biafra existed as an independent republic between 1967
and 1970 and was populated mainly by members of the Igbo ethnic group
before it was re-amalgamated into Nigeria.
Kanu was arrested in Lagos by the Nigerian State Security Service (DSS) in
October 2015 on charges including criminal conspiracy and belonging to
unlawful society. Since then, he has twice been granted bail by Nigerian
courts but remains in detention.
The Nigerian government filed fresh charges against him in December 2015
of treasonable felony—which carries a maximum life sentence in
Nigeria—accusing Kanu of attempting to overthrow Nigerian President
Muhammadu Buhari by broadcasting secessionist material on Radio Biafra, an
underground media outlet of which Kanu is the director. His trial is due
to begin in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Monday.
Okwu-Kanu says that her husband's human rights have been violated by the
Nigerian government and security forces, who have kept him in detention
despite the Federal High Court in Abuja ordering in December 2015 for the
pro-Biafra activist to be granted unconditional bail.
“It is for the British government to get involved, to make sure that this
person's human rights are being respected and they haven't done that.
They've been to see my husband but that is not where it ends,” says
Okwu-Kanu, who married Kanu in 2009 and lives with her husband, step-son
and son in London.
Labour MP Angela Rayner, the U.K.'s Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions,
tells Newsweek that she has received multiple allegations of human
rights abuses against Kanu and other pro-Biafra protesters in Nigeria from
her constituents and had raised the issue with the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office (FCO).
Amnesty International also tells Newsweek that it is investigating
allegations of human rights abuses of pro-Biafra protesters, including
killings and arbitrary arrests, in at least four locations in Nigeria, and
that it will look into claims that Kanu had been tortured in detention.
“His human rights have been violated and international human rights bodies
should be all over the place because he is also human,” says Okwu-Kanu.
“From my perspective, they [the British government] are evading some
responsibility. They should be doing more, they should visit him more…
It's obvious and apparent that the Nigerian government and the DSS is not
obeying the law.”
An FCO spokesperson tells Newsweek: “The U.K. takes all accusations of
human rights abuses seriously. We have provided assistance to Kanu since
his arrest in October 2015, including visiting him regularly in prison and
attending court appearances. In each of our visits to Kanu he has told us
he is in good health and that he has access to both a doctor and his
lawyer.” The FCO spokesperson also says that the U.K. “fully supports the
territorial integrity of Nigeria.”
During the early months of his detention, Okwu-Kanu says she was unable to
contact her husband and wasn't sure if he was alive or dead. The stress
prompted the heavily-pregnant Okwu-Kanu to go into early contractions in
November 2015. “I managed to get an ambulance and got the whole thing
under control. I was kept under care, watched for two or three days before
I left the hospital,” she says. The couple's son—whom Okwu-Kanu prefers
not to name for reasons of privacy—was delivered safely on January 4.
Okwu-Kanu says that she last heard from her husband earlier in February
and was reassured that he was in good health. She says that the support of
members of IPOB—who view her husband as a divinely-ordained leader sent to
bring about the actualization of Biafra—has helped her through Kanu's
absence. “The fact that they're all behind me has strengthened me. Knowing
that people are behind my husband, it gives me strength every day. That's
probably the reason why I'm still alive, the fact that he is loved by the
people,” she says.
The declaration of Biafran independence by former Nigerian military
officer Odumegwu Ojukwu in 1967 sparked a three-year civil war between the
Biafran and Nigerian forces. More than one million people died, many due
to starvation after the Nigerian forces blockaded Biafra's borders.
Despite having spent her entire married life in the U.K., Okwu-Kanu says
she and her family would move to Biafra in an instant were it to be
re-established. “Biafraland is a blessed land,” she says. “We have
everything in season.”
The Nigerian government has declined repeated requests by Newsweek for
comment on Kanu's detention. In December 2015, Buhari warned that the
British-Nigerian activist posed a flight risk and that he should face
justice in Nigeria.
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