…as court orders trial-within-trial
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Tuesday, commenced a trial-within-trial, to ascertain the veracity of an allegation that the Department of State Service, DSS, tortured a pro-Biafra agitator, Chidiebere Onwudiwe, and forced him to sign an incriminating confessional statement.
Onwudiwe, hitherto faced treasonable felony charge alongside the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu.
The Federal Government had shortly after the IPOB leader was declared “missing”, applied to separately try him and three-other pro-Biafra activist, Bright Chimezie, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi.
In an amended three-count treasonable felony charge it filed before the court, FG, alleged that the quartet, acting with Kanu (now at large) and others at large, “on diverse dates in 2014 and 2015 in Nigeria and London, United Kingdom, did conspire amongst yourselves to broadcast on Radio Biafra monitored in Enugu and other areas within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, preparations being made by you and others at large, 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 and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 516 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004”.
FG further alleged in the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/383/2015, that Chimezie and Kanu, had between the months of March and April, 2015, imported into Nigeria and kept in Ubuluisiuzor in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State, a Radio transmitter known as TRAM 50L, which they concealed in a container that was declared as used household items, contrary to section 47(2) (a) of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
It told the court that Madubugwu had sometimes in the month of October 2015, had in his possession at his house in Ubuluisiuzor in Ihiala LGA of Anambra State, one Emerald Magnum Pump Action Gun with Serial Number TS 870-113-0046 and one Delta Magnum Pump Action Gun with Serial Number 501, as well as forty-one cartridges/ammunition without lawful authority or licence and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 27(b) (i) of the Firearms Act, Cap. F28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.
Meanwhile, at the resumed hearing of the matter on Tuesday, Onwudiwe who is the 2nd defendant, maintained that he was compelled under duress by operatives of the DSS, to write incriminating statements.
Onwudiwe’s lawyer, Mr. Ifeanyi Ejiofor, told the court that his client was blindfolded and was repeatedly struck with a gun.
Consequently, Ejiofor challenged the admissibility of five separate statements of the defendant, which FG sought to tender into evidence before the court.
The prosecution counsel, Mr. M.S. Labaran had applied to tender the statements through an operative of the DSS that appeared as the second witness, PW-2, in the matter.
The witness, whose identity was shielded on the order of the court, testified behind a veil, even as his name was simply given as “Mr. CD”.
In his Evidence-In-Chief, the PW-2, told the court that he was the one that took Onwudiwe’s statement at the DSS national headquarters in Abuja.
He told the court that he was on July 11, 2016, directed by his superior officer, whose name was given as madam Margret Ewa, to record the statement of the 2nd defendant.
The witness said the defendant had between July 11 and 26, wrote five different statements pertaining to what he knew about the activities of the IPOB.
He said: “On July 11, 2016, I was directed to take statement of Chidiebere Onwudiwe. When I got the directive, I took him to my office which I share with other investigators.
“I offered him a chair and administered the word of caution to him. He then proceeded to give his statement by himself. He wrote down his statement.
“After he submitted his statement, I kept it in the case-file and then took him to a superior officer to affirm that he indeed wrote the statement himself.
“The defendant made several statements because whenever he had anything to add, he intimated the handlers who in turn inform the team leader.
“There is a particular department that handle the welfare and take care of suspects. They are the ones we call the handlers.
“In total, he made about five statements. He made the statements on July 11, 13 15, 20 and 26. The statements to the best of my knowledge are all in the case file”.
Following an application by the prosecution to tender the statements, counsel to the 2nd defendant, objected, insisting that it was not voluntarily made.
Besides, Ejiofor alleged that the statements were mutilated.
Consequently, the court ordered trial-within-trial in the matter to ascertain the voluntariness or otherwise of the statements.
Trial Justice Nyako had earlier granted the four defendants bail to the tune of N10million each, with two sureties in like sum.
The Judge directed that the money should be deposited in cash to the Chief Registrar of the Court, even as she ordered the defendants to surrender all their travelling documents and not travel without leave of the court.
Aside asking all the sureties to swear an affidavit of means, the court barred all the defendants from attending any form of rally, press conference or granting of interviews.