Stories by Vivian Okejeme Abuja
Justice Binta Nyako of a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, will tomorrow rule on whether to review an order she had earlier made to shield witnesses to testify in the case involving leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu and three other defendants.
Justice Nyako had December 13, 2016, ruled that witnesses that would testify for the prosecution against Kanu, Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi, on trial for conspiracy to broadcast materials tended to secede from the Federal Republic of Nigeria and create a Biafra state will be shielded from the public.
Th e Defendants are currently facing an amended 11-count charge slammed against them by the federal government. At the last adjourned date, counsel to Kanu, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, argued that since terrorism charge has been struck out, among others, against the defendants there was need to review the ruling which gave the prosecution the right to shield witnesses.
He argued that terrorism act seeks leave to protect witnesses but now that that charge had been struck out from among charges the defendants are been tried, it was necessary for court to set aside the order of December 13, 2016. “An accused who is not standing trial on off ences not mentioned in that section can be tried in the open court.”
Counsel to the third defendant, Emmanuel Esene, cited section 36 (4) of the 1999 Constitution as amended as saying that defendants standing trial on criminal cases should be tried in open court. “When the order to shield witnesses was made, terrorism charge was included now you my Lordship struck out the charge against the defendants, that order should be vacated,” he said.
Arguing in support of other counsel, Chukwuma Ozougwu, counsel to the fourth defendant, urged the court to note that everybody before the court was equal and should be treated equally. “On what basis is the prosecution opposing the application for open trial.
Th e prosecution counsel has not given enough reasons why my application should be refused. No basis, no foundation for opposing the application. Justice should not only be seen to be done but should not also be clouded in darkness. For interest of justice, I urge the court to grant my application,” Ozougwu said. Opposing the application,
the prosecution counsel, S. M Labaran urged the court to dismiss the defendants’ application, saying that it is frivolous, lacking in merit and an attempt to slow down the progress of the case. In his submission, he drew the attention of the court to Section 232 (4) of the Administration of the Criminal Act which gives a judge discretionary power under which the December 13, order was made.
He held that if the court should set-aside the order, the defendants would have succeeded in making incursion into the power. After listening to the arguments of both parties, the trial judge adjourned till tomorrow, April 25 for ruling on the application