Nigeria’s ‘secret prison’ in Kenya raises questions

Nigeria’s ‘secret prison’ in Kenya raises questions

The West African nation of Nigeria has claimed that it has a secret prison in Kenya, as it defended what many rights activists have called the kidnapping of separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu.

And it is a confession that puts Kenya in an awkward situation and raises questions about how the Federal Republic of Nigeria was allowed to have such a facility in Nairobi. 

For a moment, it sounds like the Federal Republic of Nigeria is just bluffing until it dawns on one that the confession is contained in an affidavit by a senior official of that country’s office of the Attorney and the Ministry of Justice.

Zekery Friday, a litigation officer in the Chambers of the Attorney General informed the Federal High Court of Nigeria that the claims by Mr Kanu’s defence team that he was violently abducted in Kenya by Nigeria’s security agents and kept in a non-descriptive place were not true.  

Instead, Mr Friday told the court that Mr Kanu was kept in a facility in Kenya run by Nigerian security agents. 

“The applicant upon being intercepted consequent to his aborted attempt to escape justice as stated above was taken to a facility of security agents of the Respondent’s preparatory to returning him home to face his trial,” Mr Friday stated in the affidavit.

Neither Kenya’s Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amb. Macharia Kamau nor the Nigerian High Commission in Nairobi responded when the Nairobi Law Monthly reached out to them. 

Mr Kanu’s lawyer, Aloy Ejimakor, however, described the claim by Nigerian authorities as “not only criminal but is also a grave violation of the sovereignty of Kenya and international law.”

Though host countries allow Embassies and High Commissions to run their affairs without interference as guided by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, establishing a detention facility in a foreign country would require a different agreement with the host nation. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) retains such ‘black sites’ in several countries across the globe mainly for keeping and interrogating terrorists who are foreign nationals. But the ‘black sites’ are based on agreements with host
countries.

Mr Kanu was arrested in Nairobi in June 2021 and kept in a secret location for eight days before he was repatriated to his home country in Nigeria to stand trial for multiple charges, including treason. The political activist leads the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), an organization aimed at securing a referendum for Biafran sovereignty, independent from Nigeria, but which the Nigerian military has labelled a terrorist organisation.

Kenya has been accused of leading the abduction of Mr Kanu at the underground parking lot at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi. Mr Kanu is also a citizen of Britain who has also demanded answers on how their national ended up in Nigeria.

“We are seeking clarification from the Nigerian government about the circumstances of the arrest and detention of Nnamdi Kanu,” Tariq Ahmad, a junior minister at Britain’s Foreign Office told Reuters back in July 2021.

Following the arrest in June 2021, Nigeria’s attorney-general and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami, reported that Mr Kanu’s arrest was planned and executed by the Nigerian security and intelligence agencies, with the Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA) taking the coordination lead. 

The UN has also voiced its disapproval of the abduction, repatriation and trial of Mr Kanu by Nigerian authorities. 

The UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in a July 2022 report stated that they sought clarifications from the governments of Nigeria and Kenya regarding a communication concerning Mr Kanu. 

“The Government of Nigeria replied to the communication on 25 January 2022 while the Government of Kenya did not reply,” the Working Group reported.

The Working Group stated in the report that Mr Kanu was lawfully present in Kenya when he was arrested at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by Kenyan Security Forces on
June 19, 2021.

“According to the source, Mr Kanu was swiftly taken to an undisclosed and unknown location, which was not a police station or any of the conventional Kenyan security detention facilities. The Kenyan Special Forces reportedly subjected Mr Kanu to eight days of severe torture and ill-treatment, which caused him physical injuries and mental anguish,” the Working Group reported.

The Working Group recommended referring the Kanu case to the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, for appropriate action.

“…throughout Mr Kanu’s detention in Kenya and transfer to Nigeria, no family members knew about his location or could access him, and Mr Kanu was not permitted to contact his family during this detention. These allegations have not been contested by either Government. The Working Group stresses that, under international human rights law, all detained and imprisoned individuals have the right to communicate and be visited by their families. The right to receive visits applies to all detainees, “regardless of the offence of which they are suspected or accused.”

Kenya has often maintained that it was not responsible for the arrest and repatriation of Mr Kanu as there were no extradition proceedings conducted. Moreover, Mr Kanu’s arrest was never recorded in any police station and there is, therefore, no Occurrence Book number. (

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