The trial of Nigerian separatist Nnamdi Kanu, a leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra group, has been postponed till October 21 due to his absence in court. The security forces holding Kanu did not produce him in the Abuja courtroom Monday.
Abuja Federal High Court judge Binta Nyako adjourned the trial on Monday, after waiting hours for the State Security Services to provide Kanu, who has been in their custody since his rearrest late last month.
Journalists kept from courtroom
Earlier, supporters, legal teams and journalists were barred from entering the courtroom by security agents.
Kanu was rearrested in Kenya on June 27, almost four years after he evaded arrest and secretly fled the country.
He risks a death sentence for treason and other charges against him, which include terrorism and instigating public violence leading to loss of lives.
Human rights lawyer Martin Obono said the government's hoarding of information about his arrest does not inspire confidence that he will receive a fair trial.
"The circumstances surrounding his arrest are still as sketchy as they are, the government is supposed to be quite open with this kind of information," Obono said.
Nnamdi Kanu leads the decades-long agitation for a separate Biafran nation in Nigeria's southeastern region.
The campaign triggered a civil war in the late 1960s and an estimated one million people on the Biafran front were killed.
Traders show support
On Monday, traders in the large, southeastern Aba Market shut down their businesses in solidarity with the separatist leader.
Obono said, the region is at risk of tension or an insurgency if the trial is not properly handled.
"If anything untoward happens to him then the people of Biafra I'm sure will definitely react," Obono said. "The memory of Mohammed Yusuf of Boko Haram is still very fresh in our minds, so the state basically needs to be very, very careful."
Yusuf, Boko Haram’s original leader, was killed by Nigerian police in July 2009.
Nnamdi Kanu will remain in custody until his next court trial despite concerns about his health raised by his legal counsel in court Monday.
Meanwhile, Yoruba separatist leader Sunday Igboho, who was arrested in Benin last week, appeared in a Beninese court Monday.
Nigerian authorities are trying to track down separatist leaders, but experts said that will not stem separatist movements.