The full hearing in the judicial review challenge against the Foreign Secretary, brought on behalf of Nnamdi Kanu, will take place tomorrow, 15 November 2022.
Mr Kanu is the British national leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a group that calls for self-determination for Biafra Land. The challenge, brought by his family, relates to the former Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss’ unwillingness to reach a decisive view that Mr Kanu was a victim of extraordinary rendition and other human rights abuses by the Nigerian government, an approach still maintained by her successor, James Cleverly. Despite admissions by the Nigerian government itself, damning findings by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Nigerian Court of Appeal, it remains the UK government’s position that it simply cannot decide how Mr Kanu was brought to Nigeria, what happened to him en route, and whether he has been detained arbitrarily and, if so, what action the UK should take.
On 19 June 2021, Mr Kanu was abducted from the airport in Nairobi, Kenya, and then detained and tortured for around ten days in Kenya. In documents filed in Nigerian court proceedings, the Nigerian government admitted its agents ‘intercepted’ and detained Mr Kanu. They do not claim this was authorised by a court or any specific law. Mr Kanu was then flown by private plane from Kenya to Nigeria on around 27 June 2021.
Ever since then, Mr Kanu has been detained in solitary confinement in a tiny cell at the headquarters of the Department of State Services, the Nigerian intelligence agency, in Abuja, Nigeria. He has been repeatedly denied access to medical assistance and to his legal team. Mr Kanu has requested consular assistance from the British government, but in the past 16 months, British High Commission officials have been permitted to visit him on only four occasions.
In domestic proceedings brought in Nigeria, the Nigerian Court of Appeal recently ruled that Mr Kanu was a victim of extraordinary rendition and that he should be acquitted of all charges against him and released. This ruling followed a finding by the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in July 2022, that Mr Kanu has been subject to extraordinary rendition and continuing arbitrary detention, as well as a ruling by the Federal High Court of Nigeria in October 2022 that the Nigerian government did unlawfully render Mr Kanu and violate his human rights.
The Nigerian government has appealed the Court of Appeal’s ruling. But ever since learning of his detention, Mr Kanu’s family have asked the British government to take steps to secure his release on the grounds there was no lawful basis for bringing him to Nigeria, and his detention is arbitrary, and so an ongoing human rights abuse. Their legal team argues that, in order to lawfully determine what steps should be taken, if any, to assist Mr Kanu, the Foreign Secretary must first reach a concluded view on whether he has suffered a violation of his rights and freedoms guaranteed by international law. Such views have been repeatedly reached and made public on other cases.
Thus far, the Foreign Secretary has been unwilling to reach any firm view as to whether Mr Kanu has been subject to extraordinary rendition, despite the ruling of the Nigerian Court of Appeal and condemnation by the UN.
This case will set an important precedent on whether the British government is permitted to avoid making a decision on whether a British national is subject to fundamental breaches of international law, in spite of overwhelming evidence of violations of their rights.
Highlighting the importance of the case in a preliminary ruling, Mr Justice Richie said:
The right to life of a British subject is at the centre of this judicial review in which allegations of unlawful rendition and torture are made against the Nigerian government, which allegations at Court of Appeal level have apparently been upheld by the Nigerian Courts.
In advance of tomorrow’s hearing, Kingsley Kanu, who has brought the challenge on behalf of his brother, said:
I am very pleased that my brother’s plight will be heard in the High Court tomorrow and that a British judge will consider whether the Foreign Secretary has acted lawfully to date in refusing to reach a firm view on his extraordinary rendition. The Nigerian courts have shown that they uphold the rule of law and are willing to hold the Nigerian government accountable. I believe the British government must act equally decisively when the serious violations of the human rights of British citizens abroad are concerned.
Shirin Marker, solicitor at Bindmans LLP who represents Mr Kanu’s family, said today:
It is impossible to understand the position of successive Foreign Secretaries on this case. They have become mired in a culture of compulsive procrastination in the face of overwhelming evidence of serious human rights abuses, rather than responding in a principled and decisive way and fulfilling the most basic function of a state, which is to protect its own citizens from harm.
Mr Kanu’s family is represented by John Halford and Shirin Marker of Bindmans LLP, together with Charlotte Kilroy KC of Blackstone Chambers and Tatyana Eatwell of Doughty Street Chambers.
Read the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s report here.