A Federal High Court in Abuja has turned down the request by the Federal Government that prosecution witnesses in the trial of leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu be allowed to wear masks to shield their identity from the public.
Justice John Tsoho refused the application on the ground that the use of mask will deny the court in assessing the demeanour of witnesses which he said is very crucial in the trial.
“Demeanour of witnesses is very crucial in a trial and it can only be assessed from the looks of a person’s face. Facial appearance of a witness is easily assessed than behavioural aspect. Demeanour is better observed by direct facial contact and this cannot be achieved by the use of mask”, the judge said.
Rather, the court granted the request of prosecuting counsel Mohammed Diri that the names and addresses of the witnesses should not be made public.
In the application filed by the Director of Public Prosecution, DPP, Mohammed Diri, he said the move was “to allow our witnesses who are civil servants residing in the geographical entity of the defendant.”
He said “We take judicial notice that since after the arrest of the defendant, there has been one form of protest and violence.”
The DPP informed the court that the witnesses have already indicated fear of insecurity over testifying against Kanu.
“They categorically informed us that unless they can be guaranteed some form of protection by the court, they are unwilling to come and testify.” Diri also prayed the court to order the media not to reveal the identity of the prosecuting witnesses.
The application was vehemently opposed by counsel to the defence, Chuks Mouma, who said: “We do not want the court to grant the application.” Mouma argued that the constitution has no provision for masquerades to testify against an accused person.
The defence counsel also informed the court that all cases cited by the prosecution are related to terrorism, which are not applicable to the on-going proceedings.
In his ruling, Justice Tsoho agreed with defence counsel that the sections of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 relates to terrorism and not the instant case.
On the issue of protection of witnesses, the court held that the prosecution has not placed sufficient particulars of threat to the lives of prosecution witnesses.
Besides, Justice Tsoho held that state has all the means and capability to protect her witnesses.
The court said it was not true that the proposed witnesses are all residing in the territory of the defendants as alleged by the prosecution as most of them reside in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt.
After the ruling, defence counsel, Mouma complained to the court that some properties belonging to the 2nd defendant (Benjamin Madubugwu) and his wife including vehicles, car keys and others that were carted away by operatives of the Department of State Security Service are no where to be found.
On this, the prosecution counsel promised to investigate the allegations and report back to court. The matter has been adjourned till March 7th and 11, for accelerated hearing.
It will be recalled that Justice Tsoho had on January 29, denied bail to Kanu and two other pro-Biafra agitators, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi, who are facing trial with him. The trio are facing a six-count treason charge that was preferred against them by the federal government. 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 in the charge 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.