Court begins trial of IPOB leader Wednesday, says witnesses can be shielded
• Defence may contest ruling
Contrary to its earlier ruling, the Federal High Court yesterday upheld Federal Government’s submission to shield witnesses against the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the director of Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, for security reasons.
The court also adjourned trial till March 9 at the instance of the Federal Government to enable it produce its witnesses.
The issue of whether or not witnesses should be protected from public knowledge was the bone of contention yesterday before Justice James Tsoho.
At the resumed hearing, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Federal Ministry of Justice, Mohammed Diri, prayed the court for variation of its earlier order against shielding of witnesses.
Diri promised the court that should it uphold the submission for shielding of witnesses, he would produce them on Wednesday to begin trial proper against Kanu.
He also urged the court to decline the submission of Kanu’s counsel, Chuks Momah (SAN), whereby he urged the court to discharge and acquit his client on the ground that the Federal Government was not ready for prosecution.
Diri maintained that should the court refuse his submission on the ground that it has earlier ruled on it, he would have no option than to make fresh application to ensure that witnesses were protected from harm.
Diri’s submission also fell in line with allegations made by a staff of the Directorate of State Service(DSS)that he was threatened by one of Kanu’s supporters.
But counsel to Kanu, Momah said the entire scenario was a script devised by the Federal Government to delay justice while they orchestrate his client who has been remanded in custody in spite of earlier bails granted him.
Stressing that Federal Government has exhibited high level of impunity and not shown any commitment to prosecute the defendant, Momah prayed the court to dismiss the case , discharge and acquit his client.
He insisted that the plea for variation of order should not happen in the same court after earlier ruling was made unless the prosecution decides to approach a higher court.
Momah added that shielding of witnesses was alien to him and would want the prosecution to demonstrate same before commencement of the day’s proceeding, else, he would have no option than to appeal the ruling.
On the alleged threat reported by the DSS officer, Momah wondered if the court was going to act based on hearsay, noting that there was no place for sentiments and emotions in court .
He also recalled how Kanu was on October 19, 2015 taken to the Magistrate Court and was granted him bail that day.
According to him, the bail conditions were met but the DSS disobeyed the order without consequences in a nation ruled by the Constitution and rule of law, stressing that Kanu had been granted bail on two other instances, yet, had been remanded in prison custody till date.
“It appears the Federal Governmet is not ready for prosecution but persecution”, Momah alleged.
But Justice Tsoho , after listening to the parties upheld the government’s submission that the witnesses shall testify under cover when they appear on March 9.
The same court had on February 19 dismissed govrnment’s application for a secret trial of Kanu.
Justice Tsoho then held that the application was not appropriate in the circumstances as the matter before the court was not a terrorism case.
He however barred the press from disclosing names and addresses of witnesses who will be testifying in the course of the trial.
The judge also retained an earlier order of February 9, which granted the request to allow family members and interested members of the public to attend the trial subject to the capacity of the court and security check of the people.
This was after Momah objected to the application of the Federal Governmet on the grounds that masking witnesses would amount to accusing someone in the open and trying him in secret.
According to him, it was tantamount to robbing the defendants of direct view of their demeanors, thereby denying the defence, fair hearing.
He also submitted that the protection of witnesses procedure can only apply in terrorism cases except by the express provision of the National Assembly, and not in treasonable felony, unlawful possession of firearms and belonging to unlawful society.
Kanu was arraigned on a six-count charge bordering on treasonable felony and terrorism alongside Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawusi.