Legal fireworks was on display on Monday as a Federal High Court ruled that witnesses lined up by the Federal Government to prove allegations of treasonable felony against Nnamdi Kanu, leader of Indigenious People of Biafra, IPOB, and his two co-accused can testify behind a screen.
The Judge also rejected application by defence counsel, Chuks Muoma (SAN) to dismiss the charges against Kanu and his co-accused and made an order that the Department of State Security Services should not arrest or arraign them on the same or similar charges.
Justice James Tsoho made the order following fresh applications by the prosecution for protection of the witnesses. Mohammed Diri, who is prosecuting the case on behalf of the Federal Government, on Monday morning when the case was about to start.
The prosecution counsel who is a director of Public Prosecution at the office of the Attorney General of Federation had told the court that the witnesses he intended to call to prove the allegations against the Biafran agitators said they will not come into the court until it is agreed that they will be shielded from members of the public who may come to witness the trial.
The prosecutor told the court that the witnesses said they are already receiving threats from the associates of the defendants that they will be dealt with.
“They said they are prepared to come and give evidence, but they love their lives the more. They request that their identity be shielded from members of the public who might be interested in coming to watch the proceedings,” Diri told the court.
He added that operatives of Department of State Security Services scheduled to testify in the case are also requesting for protection as they are already investigating other terrorism cases and don’t want their identities to be known.
The prosecutor further drew the attention of the court to an incident which happened between one of the defence lawyers and operatives of the DSS at the gate of the court earlier in the day.
Diri, who said he did not witness the event however read details of the altercation from a small piece of paper which he claimed officials of DSS involved wrote details of the incident.
The DSS officials had alleged that a lawyer in the defence team had contrary to the order of the court tried to forcefully bring in everybody that came to court to support Kanu into the courtroom, even after 13 family members of the IPOB leader have been allowed in.
This, he said, was in contrast to the ruling of the court that only close family members of the defendants should be allowed to witness the trial.
The DSS operatives also alleged that plans are being made to abduct Kanu during the trial.
The allegation however degenerated into controversies as Chuks Muoma (SAN) counsel to Nnamdi Kanu opposed Diri’s version of the event that took place at the gate of the court.
Muoma pointed out that it was Ifeanyi Ejiofor, a member of the defence team who was involved in the altercations with operatives of DSS at the court premises.
He subsequently called Barrister Ejiofor to tell the court what really happened.
The lawyer told the court that he was called by members of Kanu’s family to come to the gate of the court following refusal of the DSS men positioned at the entrance to the court to let them in.
But he claimed that some operatives of DSS had threatened to kill him in the course of his intervention.
“One of the DSS officials said he will kill me if I come out again and I draw the attention of the court to that. I only went to tell them to allow the family of the defendant to come in. Let it be on the record of the court that if anything happens to my life tomorrow, they should be held responsible,” said Ejiofor.
“This is the first time I am hearing that a lawyer is being threatened in the court premises. I have seen a lot of days in the Bar and I will not be part of the erosion of the majesty of the court. Once a lawyer is disrespected, nobody will be safe. If they don’t want to continue the case, let them say so,” Muoma said in support of his junior counsel.
Justice Tsoho however lamented that the trial has witnessed a lot of distractions, with a lot of time being taken to talk about security and so on.
He added that if everybody is feeling unsafe, then angels may be invited to try the case. The Judge ruled that while the court will not go into trial over whether a threat has been or not, the complaint made by the defence lawyer has been put on record.
Justice Tsoho consequently adjourned proceedings for one hour to enable the defence counsel respond to the application that the witnesses against Kanu and his co-accused should be allowed to testify behind a screen.
While opposing the application, Chief Muoma noted that the Court had ruled on the issue on 19 February when it refused government’s application for a secret trial.
He therefore said the court cannot rule on the same issue again and that the only remedy available to the prosecution counsel is to go on appeal.