By Ise-Oluwa IGE
ABUJA — The authorities handling of Thursday’s arraignment of seven persons in connection with the Independence Day bomb blasts has sparked angry reactions from the bar and the civil society which say the development is anti-democracy.
The NBA took exception to what it called “an embarrassment to trial procedure in Nigeria” by the State Security Service, SSS, and the trial Chief Magistrate, Mrs Oyebola Oyewumi.
In arraigning the accused persons including Charles Okah, his son Boloebi and five others, the SSS prevented lawyers, journalists, and court workers from gaining entry to the court premises. Even lawyers briefed by the accused persons were not spared.
Streets adjoining the areas were also barricaded and the residents unduly molested.
The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Joseph Daudu (SAN) who spoke on the issue in Abuja, said the conduct of both the SSS and the trial chief magistrate in the arraignment process had “tainted a bona fide criminal proceeding irretrievably”
Describing arraignment as a foundation work to a criminal trial he said: “Only yesterday, Thursday, the airwaves were awash with news that operatives of the SSS prevented suspects of the October 1, 2010 bomb blast at Abuja, representation in court as lawyers hired by them were not allowed access to court.
“This morning, the print media reported the same news. I have again confirmed from counsel representing the said suspects about the news regarding their access into their work place (the court room) and I was told that they were denied access.
“The implication of the conduct of these overzealous or misguided operatives is manifold.
“Firstly, denial of right to counsel is a grave breach of the accused’s fundamental rights as well as an assault of the due process of law. It is a monumental embarrassment to the trial; procedure in Nigeria that our officials can by such misbehavior taint a bonafide criminal proceeding irretrievably
“Secondly, the exclusion of journalists from criminal proceedings no matter how serious deprives Nigerians of their ruight to freedom of information
“Thirdly, the magistrate ought not to have engaged in judicial proceedings where it was apparent that his court had been barricaded with counsel excluded. What he has unwittingly acceded to is to render the entire proceedings a farce devoid of the minimum standards of a criminal trial
“Fourthly, the state security services cannot act as policemen or prosecutors in a criminal trial. There is according to the constitution only one police force. The SSS cannot and is not a police force. This action is hereby confounded. We hope that there will be no repeat of this ludicrous incident,” he added.