Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
A Federal High Court monday in Abuja upheld federal government’s application to shield witnesses who will testify against the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, who is charged with treason.
The decision is aimed at protecting the identity of the witnesses.
But Kanu through his lawyer, Chuks Muoma (SAN), opposed the application by the federal government to conduct his trial in secret.
In dismissing Kanu’s objection, Justice John Tsoho ruled that the request by the federal government for its witnesses to testify behind a witness screen did not amount to going back on the court’s earlier decision prohibiting the prosecution witnesses from wearing masks.
The court upheld the argument of the prosecution led by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mohammed Diri, that the screen would only shield the witnesses from the members of the public present in court.
The judge explained that the use of the screens would not prevent the judge, the accused persons and lawyers to the parties from seeing the witnesses while testifying.
The court equally dismissed the request by Muoma that the court should discharge and acquit the defendants because the prosecution failed to produce its witnesses to enable the trial to commence yesterday.
The judge ruled that the provision of section 351(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 relied on by the defence to ask for the quashing of the charges, did not apply to the circumstances of the case.
According to the judge, the court can only dismiss the charges against an accused person who is present in court when the complainant in the case is not represented in court.
He, however, added that a pre-trial demonstration of the use of the witness protection screens would be held on Wednesday morning before lawyers to parties and the defendants.
The federal gornment had in the application said that all the witnesses billed to testify against Kanu and two other pro-Biafra agitators, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi, who are facing trial with him, declined to appear in court.
It said the witnesses insisted that they would not testify against the defendants unless their safety was guaranteed.
This forced the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Mohammed Diri, to apply for the shielding of the witnesses.
While opposing the application to shield witnesses, the defence counsel argued that the court had on February 19 decided on the federal government’s request to protect witnesses, adding that if the prosecution was not satisfied with the court’s decision, it should appeal against the order.
The suit was adjourned till tuesday for trial.
Kanu who was hitherto the Director of Radio Biafra and Television, has been in detention since October 14, 2015, when he was arrested by security operatives upon his arrival in Nigeria from his base in the United Kingdom.
The defendants were alleged to have committed treasonable felony, an offence punishable under Section 41(C) of the Criminal Code Act, CAP C38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.
The federal government alleged that they were the ones managing the affairs of the IPOB which it described as “an unlawful society.”
Kanu was alleged to have illegally smuggled radio transmitters into Nigeria, which he used to disseminate “hate broadcasts,” encouraging the “secession of the Republic of Biafra,” from Nigeria.
However, the accused persons, pleaded not guilty to the charge on January 20, even as the court ordered their remand at Kuje prison in Abuja.