An atmosphere of tension pervaded the Federal High Court in Abuja and its surroundings on Tuesday after Justice Binta Nyako granted the Federal Government’s request for the protection of its prosecution witnesses lined up against the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, and his co-accused persons.
While Kanu’s lawyer, Mr. Ifeanyi Ejiofor, expressed his dissatisfaction with the ruling shortly after the judge delivered it. The defendants also protested inside the dock.
The judge, in reaction to the attitude displayed by the accused persons in the dock, warned them against being unruly inside the court.
The judge cautioned them that they should know what to do if they were dissatisfied with the court’s ruling instead of resorting to unruly conduct during proceedings.
After the judge rose, Kanu and his co-defendants also expressed their dissatisfaction with the ruling to their lawyers.
Some of the defendants’ supporters, who were allowed into the court building, engaged prison warders and other security operatives in a scuffle over the development.
Some of the pro-Biafran agitators, who were waiting for the accused persons at the foot of the staircase leading outside the court building, welcomed the defendants with pro-Biafran songs.
One of the accused persons, holding onto a support in the rear part of the prison’s pick-up van and with his head shooting above the roof of the vehicle, repeatedly said, “All hail Biafra, death to Nigeria!”
The crowd around the vehicle applauded him.
Some minutes afterwards, he was pushed into the back of the vehicle by prison officials.
Outside the gate, policemen barricaded a large number of pro-Biafran supporters at a distance from the court premises.
They burst into songs amidst clapping as the prison vehicles drove the accused persons out of the court premises at about 1.55pm.
Justice Nyako had in her ruling granted “leave to the prosecution witnesses to be protected by giving evidence behind the screen that is to be provided by the court.”
The judge also held that “the identities of all the prosecution witnesses will not be disclosed in any record or report of proceedings, which are accessible to the public.”
The judge also made an order “permitting all the prosecution witnesses to be addressed with pseudonyms in the course of proceedings.”
The Federal Government, through the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, had filed its application predicated on the fear that its prosecution witnesses could come under security threat if the details of their identities were released to the public.
In granting the application, Justice Nyako ruled that while the faces of the witnesses would be shielded from the court audience, the shielding would be done in such a way that the defendants and their lawyers would be able to see the witnesses while testifying.
She ruled, “l hereby order that the names of the prosecution witnesses, who are security operatives, should appear in a 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.”
Kanu’s lawyer, Mr. Ifeanyi Ejiofor, had at the hearing of the Federal Government’s motion on December 1, 2016, maintained that granting the application would violate his client’s right to fair hearing because the defence would not have the opportunity to watch the demeanour of the prosecution witnesses while testifying.
The rest of the defence lawyers, Mr. I. Adoga, Justin Ahauranoye and Maxwell Okpara, also urged the court to dismiss the motion.
Justice Nyako ruled that though the case started de novo (afresh) before her, there were no new facts and circumstances that could warrant her to grant bail to the accused persons as the charges preferred against them were “serious offences.”
She said as alternative to granting bail to the defendants, she preferred to order accelerated hearing of the case.
The judge on Tuesday, adjourned till January 10, 11 and 12 for trial.
Kanu and three others comprising, the National Coordinator of IPOB, Mr. Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi, are being prosecuted by the Federal Government on 11 counts, including treasonable felony.
The defendants are also accused of managing an unlawful society, publication of defamatory matter, illegal possession of firearms and improper importation of goods.