Biafra: Court Okays Shielding of Witnesses as IPOB Kicks

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Alex Enumah in Abuja

A mild drama ensured tuesday at the Headquarters of the Federal High Court in Abuja as supporters of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) clashed with security operatives attached to the court over a ruling of the court that protects witnesses from public view in the case against IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, and three others.

Kanu, Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi, are currently facing an amended 11-count charge bordering on treasonable felony, illegal possession of fire-arms as well as terrorism.
They pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Consequently, their counsel, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, applied for their bail, which the prosecution vehemently opposed.
However, trial judge, Justice Binta Nyako, denied the defendants bail on the grounds that what they are being accused of is a serious offence.

She ordered that they be remanded in prison pending the determination of the matter.
Justice Nyako, however, ordered an accelerated trial of the matter.
Prosecution counsel however prayed the court to protect its witnesses, stating that a lot of them are afraid to testify in the open.

Delivering ruling on the application yesterday, Justice Nyako granted the request of the federal government that the witnesses can testify with their faces shielded from the public and their names also coded since they are security operatives.

“I hereby ordered that the names of the prosecution witnesses who are security operatives should appear in combination of alphabets and such witnesses will be given screens which will be provided by the court.
“The defendants and their counsel will be able to see the witnesses who will be given special access to and from the court,” the judge held.

The decision however did not go down well with the defendants as they and their supporters openly expressed anger over the court’s decision.

Right there in the dock, Kanu and his co-defendants vehemently told their counsel in the open court that they were opposed to the court’s ruling. The move resulted to a rowdy session as their supporters joined in the uproar, giving security operatives a hard time to contain.

The situation further degenerated outside the court’s premises as it turned into a free-for-all when security operatives prevented some of the leaders from addressing the press.

The federal government had earlier requested that all testifiers be shielded from the public.
It also prayed the court not to reveal the identities of witnesses in any record of the proceedings.
But, the defendants opposed the application on grounds that such request would amount to a gross violation of their rights to fair hearing.

“We vehemently oppose secret trial of the defendants. They were accused in the open; we also request that they be tried in the open. The defendants need to see those testifying against them eye-ball-to-eye-ball,” Kanu’s lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor submitted.

The matter has been adjourned till January10, 11 and 12, 2016 for commencement of trial.