Nigerian separatist Nnamdi Kanu has pleaded not guilty to charges brought against him by authorities. The leader of secessionist group The Indigenous People of Biafra, or IPOB, was captured in Kenya in June and repatriated to Nigeria to face trial.
The start of the trial in Federal High Court on Thursday was the first time Kanu has been seen in public since he was captured in late June.
Kanu was brought to an Abuja courtroom by state security agents in a heavily guarded convoy. The trial began shortly afterward but journalists, lawyers and supporters were denied access to the courtroom.
Kanu is charged with terrorism, treason, involvement with a banned separatist movement, inciting public violence through radio broadcasts, and defamation of Nigerian authorities through broadcasts.
Kanu denies the allegations, and his lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, told reporters the dismissal of charges is being sought.
“We’re challenging the seven-count amended charge.” Ejiofor said. “Once the court hears it and rules in our favor, that’s the end of the case and he’ll walk out of court a free person.”
Justice Binta Nyako adjourned the trial to November 10 and declined an application by Kanu’s counsel for the defendant to be transferred to a correctional facility in Abuja, where he’d be more accessible, instead of the state security custody.
The IPOB, led by Kanu, wants the southeastern region of Biafra to break away from Nigeria. An attempt to separate in 1967 triggered a civil war that killed more than one million people, mostly Biafrans.
Nigerian authorities consider the IPOB’s activities to be a threat and banned the group in 2017.
But the IPOB continued to win supporters, especially in the southeastern region, where the movement is most active.
The IPOB has launched a security arm, the Eastern Security Network, ESN, which authorities blame for unrest in the region and the killing of more than 120 people this year.
The IPOB has denied the allegations. Public affairs analyst Abu Mohammed, a supporter of the separatist movement, said the Nigerian government’s failures are motivating separatists.
“Today they’re calling for another system of government that may not work and that is why people are agitating,” Mohammed said. “If we’re supposed to get to so-so place and we haven’t gotten there, definitely there should be separation for us to go because maybe we have our vision.”
Southeastern Nigeria was largely shut down on Thursday after the IPOB called for a “sit-at-home” strike to show solidarity with Kanu.