By Salawudeen Olawale
The Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, has alleged that the Federal Government may have decided to commit its leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, to prison through unconstitutional secret trial.
IPOB claimed the trial judge, Justice Binta Nyako, of the Federal High Court, Abuja may have made up her mind to go on with a secret trial as the court rules on the application today.
IPOB Spokespersons, Dr. Ikenna Chinaka and Mrs. Grace Ukpai, in a statement, yesterday, disclosed that the group would like to place the judicial establishment of Nigeria on notice that the integrity of its entire legal machinery hinges on the outcome of the ruling.
The group said it was prudent to remind Justice Nyako and the entire Nigerian public and the world at large that there are existing legal interpretations of the provisions of the constitution of Nigeria regarding the mode of criminal trials in civil courts which cannot be departed from.
It said: “The provision dealing with fair hearing under section 36 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria is for the protection of all the parties to a case, the plaintiffs and the defendants alike. It will be oppressive to interpret the provision as conferring a protection on just one of the parties to a case.
“It is sufficient to quickly state that at no time during the course of this trial has Mazi Nnamdi Kanu ever been charged with terrorism. Needless to say that the prosecutor’s application was quickly and unconstitutionally granted by Justice Nyako.
“There has never been any contention or dispute as to the sanctity of the imperishable right of an accused person to be tried in an open court with the public in attendance under Nigeria’s criminal jurisprudence. This uncontested right of a defendant in a criminal trial is indeed inviolate and immutable and admission of no derogation.
“The practice of Justice Binta Nyako eagerly seeking to defend the stance of the prosecution, especially regarding the masking of witnesses, runs contrary to the spirit and letter of the law.”
“True indeed, the Terrorism (prevention) (amendment) Act, 2013, by its section 34, provides for the protection of the witnesses in trials of terrorism-related offences.”
“Equally true is the fact that the second defendant only had terrorism count in his charge sheet not Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and the other two accused persons.
“This provided the springboard for the prosecution to successfully apply for the Court to protect its witnesses. No doubt, the ruling of Justice Binta Nyako granting the prosecutor’s application was equally impelled by the terrorism charge preferred against Chidiebere Onwudiwe and not the IPOB Leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and two other co-defendants.
“It is instructive to note that Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi never had any element of terrorism in their charge sheets. The question becomes, why would Justice Binta Nyako seek to impose a mode of trial reserved for terrorism cases on Mazi Nnamdi Kanu who is NOT answering to any terrorism charge?
“Interestingly, it is most sufficient to note that the IPOB Leader, through his lead Counsel, robustly challenged the validity of the charges preferred by the prosecutor against the Defendants. It is noteworthy that on the 1st day of March, 2017, Hon. Justice Nyako saw reasons in the forceful contention of the IPOB Leader and consequently quashed six out of the eleven count charges against the IPOB Leader and others, affirming that there is no prima facie evidence to sustain the spurious charges against the defendants.
“Chief among the charges quashed by the court is that same terrorism charge against the 2nd defendant Chidiebere Onwudiwe. Based on the prevailing circumstances, the prosecutor amended the charge to reflect the severance of the spurious counts rightly quashed by the court. Consequently, the defendants were re-arraigned on the amended charge.
“It therefore stands to reason that the same court which ruled in favour of protecting the prosecutor’s witnesses based on the terrorism charge brought against Chidiebere Onwudiwe only, would now make haste to vacate the said ruling since the terrorism charge which impelled the prosecutor to table the application before the court is now no more.
“Not vacating that earlier ruling would definitely give the court away as a Kangaroo tribunal reminiscent of the darkest days of military dictatorships.
“We hasten to reiterate that the constitutional right of an accused person to be tried in public is unquestionably unassailable and must never, under any circumstances, be abridged or asphyxiated by Justice Binta Nyako’s court.
“We make bold to say that secret trial in whatever form or guise, under the Nigerian criminal jurisprudence, has no constitutional foundation.
“It is an anathema in every democracy worth its name. What Justice Nyako is attempting to do is to cloth justice in darkness thereby turning her court into a Kangaroo court.
“The Nigerian Supreme Court has severally warned against this bizarre method. Justice Nyako should be advised by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.”