Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday fixed December 13 to rule on whether to allow secrecy of witnesses in the state’s case against Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) leader Nnamdi Kanu and others. She also refused to grant him and his associates bail.
This is the third time a court has refused Kanu and others bail since they were arrested last year.
Justice John Tsoho (also of the Federal High Court, Abuja) refused a similar application for bail earlier this year. The Court of Appeal, Abuja later upheld Justice Tsoho’s decision. It ordered the accused to submit themselves for trial.
Rather than agree to trial before Justice Tsoho, Kanu and others accused the judge of bias and asked him to withdraw from the case. Justice Tsoho did. The case was re-assigned to Justice Nyako, before who they were arraigned on an 11-count charge and their bail applications heard
Ruling on their bail application yesterday, Justice Nyako said the offences for which they were being tried “are very serious in nature”, and therefore not ordinarily bailable. She added that irrespective of what the charge is, the court has to exercise its discretion, but that some of the charges could attract life imprisonment if proved by the prosecution.
The judge dismissed the contention by the defendants that President Muhammadu Buhari had openly directed that they should not be released on bail.
She said the President, as a Nigerian citizen, was at liberty to exercise his right to freedom of speech.
The judge said the President’s comment was incapable of influencing the decision of the court. She said the defendants did not place any new fact or law capable of persuading the court to reverse an earlier ruling (by Justice Tsoho) in which they were equally denied bail.
Justice Nyako noted that the offences are serious in nature and carry very severe punishment, if proven. “I hereby therefore refuse bail of the applicants.”
The judge later ordered accelerated hearing in the case.
He urged the court to allow the prosecution witnesses testify behind a shield to be supplied by the court.
Labaran also sought an order preventing the disclosure of the names and other details of the witnesses in the open court for security reasons.
The defendants opposed the application, contending that granting such requests would amount to a gross violation of their rights to fair hearing.
Kanu’s lawyer Ifeanyi Ejiofor said: “We vehemently oppose secret trial of the defendants. They were accused in the open; we also request that they be tried in the open. The defendants need to see those testifying against them eye-ball-to-eye-ball. We are ready for this trial,” he said.
Another defence lawyer, Maxwell Okpara, told the court that most of the proposed witnesses were foreigners allegedly imported by the government from neighbouring countries.
“My lord, we have uncovered their plan to bring Ghanaians and people from Cameroon to appear in this court to testify against the defendants.
“We as Nigerians will resist that plot. It cannot work. That is why they are insisting that they should testify behind screen. That plot has failed, it will not work,” Okpara said.