By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, who is facing a six-count treason charge, has opposed an application by the federal government to conduct his trial in secret.
FG had in the application it filed before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, decried that all the witnesses billed to testify against Kanu and two other pro-Biafra agitators, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi, who are facing trial with him, have declined to appear in court.
It said the witnesses insisted that they would not testify against the defendants unless their safety was guaranteed.
Consequently, government lawyer, Mr. David Kaswe, prayed trial Justice John Tsoho to issue an order protecting the identities of the witnesses by allowing them to either wear facial mask or to testify behind screens.
FG equally applied for an order excluding persons except journalists from witnessing the proceedings.
“The measure is to safeguard the lives of prosecution witnesses who live in the geographical region where the defendants come from. Since their arrest, there has been violent protests for the defendants to be released.
“The witnesses have already indicated fear to give evidence in view of perceived backlash. My lord, they have categorically informed us that unless they could be guaranteed some form of protection by the court, they would not come to testify.
“In the light is this, the case of the prosecution will be greatly affected should there be any reason for the witnesses not to come to court”, Kaswe submitted.
Meanwhile, Kanu, through his lead counsel, Chief Chuks Muoma, SAN, vehemently opposed the application which he said grossly lacked merit.
He argued that section 36(4) of the 1999 constitution made no provision for masquerades to testify in a trial involving an alleged act of treason.
“An accused person under our jurisprudence and justice administration must be confronted with his accusers eye-ball to eye-ball.
“My lord we operate an accusatorial system of procedure under the common law. Justice must not only be done but must be seen to have been done.
“It is not within common sense to malign and accuse someone in public and apply to try him in the bedroom. Having been accused in public we want to also be tried in public.
“We therefore urge this court not to allow masquerades to testify before it. We want to see their faces and ask them questions. As masquerades, how will the court be able to gauge their demeanour and body language? Is it by the rhythm of their dance steps?
“The tenets of justice outweigh this application and we urge my lord to reject it. It has no merit whatsoever. Secret trial is for terrorism charge, it is not for the type of offence for which these defendants were charged.
“Secret trial does not apply in a case of treasonable felony or involvement in alleged unlawful society. During the trial we will prove to them that we are not an illegal organisation”, Muoma added.
After listening to the parties, Justice Tsoho stood down ruling on the matter till 2pm.
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 to Nigeria from his base in the United Kingdom.
The defendants were 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.
FG alleged that they were the ones managing the affairs of the IPOB which it described as “an unlawful society”.
Specifically, Kanu was alleged to have illegally smuggled radio transmitters into Nigeria, which he used to disseminate “hate broadcasts”, encouraging the “secession of the Republic ofBiafra”, from Nigeria.
However, the accused persons, pleaded not guilty to the charge on January 20, even as the court ordered their remand at Kuje prison in Abuja.