Where is Nnamdi Kanu? The British Separatist Leader Tried in Nigeria Has Vanished

British-Nigerian separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu has been missing for months, amid fears his life could be in danger.

Kanu, leader of the the Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob) and director of U.K.-based Radio Biafra, was arrested in Nigeria's Lagos city in 2015. His group calls for the independence of Biafran territories that were forcibly annexed to Nigeria during British colonization.

Kanu is standing trial on treasonable felony charges. He was released on health grounds in April, but went missing five months later, according to Nigerian media.

His lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, confirmed to Newsweek his client's whereabouts are unknown.

"The last time I spoke with him was on September 13," he said. "We signed a petition with the federal court of Abuja, requesting the court to issue an order to produce our client."

On December 5, the Abuja court adjourned the trial till February 2018. Kanu was not present in court.

Ejofor added he does not know "whether Kanu is still alive or not".

He previously accused the Nigerian army of arresting his client during a raid at his residence in Abia State, but the military denied the allegation, according to the Premium Times.

Nnamdi Kanu
Leader of Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu (C) attends a trial for treasonable felony at the Federal High court in Abuja, on February 9, 2016. Kanu was released on health grounds in April 2017, but went missing five months later, according to Nigerian media. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images

Kanu went missing days after the Nigerian government declared Ipob a terrorist organization. Both the U.S and the E.U. rejected such designation.

An investigation by the Sunday Punch claimed that Kanu and other members of his organization were advised to go into hiding following the government's decision to proscribe Ipob activities.

"We have to apply wisdom to whatever we are doing. We have realized that there is a grand conspiracy against Kanu and other top leaders of our group," an unnamed source was quoted as saying.

Kanu holds a British and a Nigerian passport. Before his arrest in 2015, he lived in Britain with his wife and two children.

"We have sought clarification on the status of a British-Nigerian dual national from the Nigerian authorities after he was reported missing," a Foreign & Commonwealth Office spokesperson told Newsweek.

"Nigeria is a sovereign state and Kanu is a dual national. The U.K. can play an observatory role to ensure justice is done but they cannot influence any process in Nigeria or intervene directly," David Otto a counter-terrorism expert and security analyst with a focus on Africa, told Newsweek.

Independence calls

Nnamdi Kanu
Political activist and leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement, Nnamdi Kanu, wears a Jewish prayer shawl as he walks in his garden at his house in Umuahia, southeast Nigeria, on May 26, 2017. Kanu is standing trial on treasonable felony charges. He was released on health grounds in April, but went missing five months later, according to Nigerian media. MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images

The so-called Biafran territories lie in southeastern Nigeria and are inhabited mainly by the Igbo, one of the country's largest ethnic groups. An Independent Republic of Biafra was declared in 1967 and re-annexed to Nigeria in 1970, after three years of civil war.

During the war, one of the bloodiest in Africa, the Nigerian government fought the separatists and imposed strict blockades on food and medicines in Biafra. It attacked hospitals and facilities run by humanitarian organizations.

Independence calls have gained renewed momentum following Kanu's arrest, with people calling for an end to perceived disenfranchisement. Independentists accuse the federal government of not investing in infrastructure and education and neglecting the Igbo people.

"The rhetoric of the movement and the momentum that Kanu brought is especially attractive among young unemployed, angry and uneducated young men and women in the Southern part of Nigeria," Otto explained.

"It is difficult to have a real understanding of the size of the movement, but one cannot underestimate its strength, the support from diaspora communities and key figures in Nigeria political structure that quietly align themselves with these groups for their own political benefit."


Pro-Biafra supporters hold a placard as they march through the streets of Aba, southeastern Nigeria, to call for the release of key activist Nnamdi Kanuj on November 18, 2015. Independence calls have gained renewed momentum following Kanu's arrest. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images

Protests and rallies calling for a breakaway from Nigeria have resulted in deadly clashes and a crackdown by security forces.

Rights group Amnesty International has released reports alleging abuses against pro-Biafra supporters, claiming security forces had killed at least 150 people "and injured hundreds more during peaceful assemblies" since August 2015.

On one occasion, security forces allegedly "gunned down" 60 people who were holding demonstrations to mark the 50th Anniversary of the end of the Biafra War on May 30, 2016.

The army denied the allegations, claiming it intervened to prevent "ethnic clashes" and accused Amnesty of trying to tarnish its image.

The Nigerian government has always maintained the country's unity was a priority and that while peaceful pro-Biafran protests were welcome, demanding the breakaway of the Biafran territories went against the constitution.

"The shock of the military suppression has made the group go quiet for the past months but they have not been silenced. Sending the group underground without addressing some of the key issues that drive the desire for secession is a tactical victory but it could be a strategic blunder," Otto concluded.