…..we won’t submit to secret trial, defendants insist
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJ – The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Monday, fixed April 25 to decide whether or not the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, should be released on bail pending his trial.
Trial Justice Binta Nyako equally adjourned to rule on separate bail applications by three other pro-Biafra agitators, Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi, who are facing trial with Kanu.
The defendants who are answering to five-count criminal charge the Federal Government preferred against them, through their respective lawyers, prayed the court to grant them bail.
They contended that all the allegations FG levelled against them were bailable offences.
Kanu’s lawyer, Mr. Ifeanyi Ejiofor, stressed that the court had in a ruling on March 1, struck out six out of eleven count charges FG initially slammed against the defendants.
He noted that charges that were struck out by the court bordered on criminal conspiracy and alleged involvement of the defendants in acts of terrorism.
According to Ejiofor, that aspect of the charge having been expunged by the court, there was no basis for both Kanu and the other defendants to still remain in prison custody.
His argument was adopted by counsel to all the other defendants, who maintained that going by the pending charges, they no longer posed security threat to warrant their continued detention.
Meantime, Justice Nyako also fixed April 6 to determine merit of application by the defendants, asking her to vary the order that gave FG the nod to shield identities of all the witnesses billed to testify against them.
The trial Judge not only okayed the witnesses to testify behind a screen, she also granted an order permitting them to use pseudo names.
Though the court agreed to mask the witnesses from the public, it held that the defendants and their lawyers would be allowed to see them.
Dissatisfied with the decision, all the defendants applied for a review of the ruling, saying they would not submit themselves to any form of secret trial.
Kanu had insisted that he would want the public and members of the press to be allowed to see faces of those testifying against him.
“I was accused in public and I must be tried in public. No one can try me in secret! No secret trial! I will not accept that, no way!”, Kanu bellowed from the dock at the last adjourned date.
It will be recalled that Justice Nyako struck out six charges against the defendants on the premise that they were not supported by the proof of evidence FG adduced against them.
The Judge held that none of the six charges established a prima-facie criminal case against any of the defendants.
She said the fact that IPOB was not an organisation registered in Nigeria did not make it an illegal society.
“It may be true that IPOB is not registered in Nigeria, but does that make it an illegal organisation”, the Judge queried.
Whereas the court branded some of the terminated charges as “hollow” and “scanty”, it however sustained five charges against the defendants.
For instance, the court noted that FG failed to produce any evidence to support allegation in count-nine of the charge that the 2nd defendant, Onwudiwe, as National Coordinator of IPOB and Nwawuisi who was serving as MTN field Maintenance Engineer in Enugu State, conspired to install Radio Biafra transmitters on MTN masts sited at Ogun Road near St. Michael Church, Enugu, having agreed for the payment and receipt of N150, 000.
As well as the allegation that Onwudiwe committed an act preparatory to an act of terrorism by carrying out research for the purpose of identifying and gathering of improvised explosives device, IED, making materials to be used against the Nigerian security operatives carrying out their lawful duties.
According to Justice Nyako, FG ought to have charged Onwudiwe before a Magistrate Court over his alleged intention to commit an act of terrorism.
She said FG did not establish any ingredient of crime in its allegation that Kanu had between March and April 2015, imported into Nigeria a radio Transmitter known as TRAM 50L and kept it in a container that was left in custody of the 3rd defendant, Madubugwu, at Ubuluisiuzor in Ihiala LGA of Anambra State.
The court however held that Kanu has a case to answer pertaining to allegation in count-four that he lied that the Radio Transmitter was concealed in a container of used household items which the defendant declared as unused household items.
Whereas the court struck out counts 3, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 11 of the charges, it however sustained counts 1, 2, 4, 5 and 8.
The sustained charges, to which all the defendants entered a fresh plea of not guilty on Wednesday , borders on conspiracy, treasonable felony, publication of defamatory matter and Kanu’s alleged importation of goods contrary and punishable under section 47(2) (a) of the Customs and Excise Management Act, Cap C45, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
In count three of the pending charges, FG alleged that Kanu had in a broadcast he made in London on April 28, 2015, through Radio Biafra, referred to President Muhammadu Buhari as “a paedophile, a terrorist, an idiot and an embodiment of evil”.
Specifically, Kanu who was hitherto the Director of Radio Biafra and Television, is facing four out of the five remaining charges.
FG alleged that Kanu being the leader of IPOB, conspired with his co-defendants and others now at large, on diverse dates in 2014 and 2915, in Nigeria and London, to broadcast on Radio Biafra monitored in Enugu and other areas, preparations for states in the South-East and South-South zones and other communities in Kogi and Benue states, to secede from the Federal Republic of Nigeria, with a view to constituting same into a Republic of Biafra.
They were said to have committed an offence punishable under section 41(c) of the Criminal Code Act, CAP. C38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
Madubugwu was accused of having in his possession at his house, one Emerald Magnum Pump Action Gun with serial number TS 870- 113- 0046, one Delta Magnum Pump Action Gun with serial number 501, and 41 Cartridges/ Ammunition, without lawful authority or licence.