A Federal High Court in Abuja will, on April 25, rule on whether to review its earlier order permitting the Federal Government to shield the identities of its prosecuting witnesses while testifying in the trial of the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, and his co-defendants.
Justice Binta Nyako fixed the date for ruling on Thursday after hearing the prosecution and the defence that filed the application for review.
The judge had, on December 13, 2016, granted an application by the prosecution permitting it to use some protective measures for its witnesses while testifying.
The accused persons charged along with Kanu were the National Coordinator of IPOB, Mr. Chidiebere Onwudiwe; an IPOB member, Benjamin Madubugwu; and a former Field Maintenance Engineer seconded to the MTN, David Nwawuisi.
After the judge struck six out of the 11 counts preferred against the defendants on March 1, 2017, the defendants are left with five charges, including conspiracy to commit treasonable felony by allegedly conspiring among themselves to broadcast on Radio Biafra agitating for the secession of the Republic of Biafra from Nigeria.
They were also accused of treasonable felony, “improper importation of goods, illegal possession of firearms and publication of defamatory matter by allegedly referring to the then Maj-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd) and now President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as “a paedophile, a terrorist, an idiot, and an embodiment of evil” in a broadcast on Radio Biafra on April 28, 2015.
Arguing his client’s application on Thursday, Kanu’s lawyer, Mr. Ifeanyi Ejiofor, said since the terrorism-related count had been struck out, there was the need to review the order of witness protection earlier granted the prosecution by the judge.
“An accused who is not standing trial on offences not mentioned in that section of the Terrorism Act can be tried in the open court,” Ejiofor said.
Another defence lawyer, Emmanuel Esene, cited Section 36 (4) of the 1999 Constitution as providing that the defendants standing trial on criminal cases should be tried in open court.
He said, “When the order was made (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.”
However, the prosecuting counsel, Shuaibu Labaran, urged the court to dismiss the defendants’ applications, adding that it was frivolous.
He maintained that the applications lacked in merit and were merely an attempt to delay the trial.
He referred to Section 232 (4) of the Administration of the Criminal Act which he said gave the judge thediscretionary power under which the earlier order of December 13, 2016 was made.
The judge adjourned ruling until April 25.