Biafra: Court dismisses govt application for witnesses to wear facial masks

By The Citizen

The Federal High Court on Friday in Abuja dismissed an application filed by the Federal Government seeking leave for its witnesses to wear facial masks to testify in Nnamdi Kanu's trial.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Kanu, acclaimed leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), is seeking the actualisation of the State of Biafra.

Giving the ruling, Justice John Tsoho held that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act did not support the relief for witnesses to wear masks in this kind of trial.

'This is not a terrorism related case and the law is clear with the kinds of charges that could attract special protection of witnesses.

This particular case does not fall into that category.

'The demeanour of witnesses is important element in determining the truthfulness of evidence by witnesses.

'The court and the defendants' team require the mannerism and facial expressions of the witnesses to ascertain the veracity of their testimonies,'' Tsoho held.

Tsoho also said the court could not comprehend the submission of the prosecution on allegations of threat made to scare the witnesses from testifying.

He held that such allegation ought to have been properly deposed to, adding that a mere claim of threat on the witnesses' lives without proves amounted to hearsay.

Tsoho further held that the court was not convinced by the prosecution's argument that all the witnesses resided in the Southeast of the country believed to be the stronghold of the defendants.

'From the process filed by the prosecution, some of the witnesses reside in Lagos.

'The court also takes judicial notice of the fact that the names and addresses of the eight witnesses are already in the public domain, so the entire process is no longer a secret.

'It is the disposition of the court to dismiss this application. The relief seeking the masking of the witnesses is hereby refused,'' he held.

The Judge also said: ' The trial is open for all accredited journalists, the relations of the defendants and all counsel involved in the case.''

Earlier, Mr David Kaswe, who held the brief of the prosecuting counsel, Mr Mohammed Diri, argued that the application was simply to guarantee the safety of the prosecution witnesses.

According to him, some of the witnesses have received threat messages from people believed to be supporters of Kanu.

'My Lord, it is only when the prosecution witnesses come to testify that justice could be served.

'As it stands, our witnesses are already afraid in view of the threat and attacks they have been exposed to since they agreed to give evidence against the defendants.

'We are not asking for a secluded trial but a special protection where the witnesses could be masked before they give their evidence,'' he said.

Opposing the application, Chief Chuks Muoma (SAN) prayed the court to dismiss the application for lacking in merit.

Muoma said that application was a call for a secret trial, adding that it was incumbent on the prosecution to concede to a public trial since the defendants were accused of the crimes publicly.

'My Lord, you cannot accuse somebody in the market of stealing only to turn around to apologise to him in his bedroom.

'The country's administration of justice system frowns against such clandestine mode of trial.

'The witnesses should be arrogated any special status of protection. My Lord what about the security of the Judge and the rest of us,'' he asked.

Muoma further said the Federal Government had the capability to provide security for its witnesses and the rest of us.

'I therefore want the court to take judicial notice of the fact that the case is not terrorism related and so nobody could claim his or her life is in danger.

'The defendants are in custody and do not have the propensity to influence or mobilise violence against the witnesses,'' he said.

Kanu was arraigned on Jan. 20 for treason, conspiracy and unlawful arms possession alongside Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi.

Tsoho adjourned definite trial to run between March 7 and March 11. (NAN)