A Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday granted the Federal Government leave for its witnesses to testify behind screen in the treasonable felony trial of Nnamdi Kanu.
Kanu, the acclaimed leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, is standing trial alongside Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi.
Delivering the ruling, Justice John Tsoho held that the witness screen was a device positioned in the courtroom to shield witnesses from public glare.
Soho held: “The Federal Government’s request for its witnesses to testify behind a witness screen does not translate to them wearing masks.
“It does not also translate to secret trial as the device allows the defendants, their counsel, the judge, the clerks of the court and the prosecuting counsel to see the testifiers.
“The application does not even amount to a new plea as the relief was part of a decision of the court in a ruling delivered February 19 on similar matter.”
The judge said it was wrong for the defendants’ counsel to have objected to the application based on Section 351 (1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
He added: “Section 351(1) of the ACJA gives leverage to the defendants to demand the striking out of a suit against them on account of continued absence of the prosecution team in court.
“It is not so with this case.
“The Attorney-General of the Federation is prosecuting the case on behalf of the Federal Government and the prosecuting counsel is in court.
“So, the question of striking out the suit on account of non-diligent prosecution does not arise.
“The key issue is simply the call by the prosecuting counsel to allow the witnesses to testify behind the screen on account of fears raised by the witnesses.
“In the light of the clarification given to the issue, the court is therefore disposed to granting this application.
“The Federal Government is allowed to present its witnesses to testify from behind the screen.
“The case is adjourned until March 9 for pre-trial rehearsal.”
The News Agency of Nigeria recalls that the court had earlier issued a ruling prohibiting the prosecution witnesses from wearing mask during the trial.
Mohammed Diri, had, thereafter, approached the court with the oral application when he could not present the prosecution witnesses as ordered by the court.
Diri argued that the witnesses had raised fears to testify in the public glare, adding that some of them were issued threat messages.
The prosecuting counsel, however, said the court should protect the witnesses by permitting them to give evidence behind a screen.
“My Lord, the use of the screen will not prevent the judge, the accused persons and lawyers to the parties to see the witnesses while testifying,” he had argued.
Opposing the application, Chief Chuks Muomah (SAN), counsel to the defendants, said granting such application was an invitation on the court to vary its earlier decision that negated all forms of secret trial.
Muomah, therefore, went on to pray the court to strike out the suit on account of lack of diligent prosecution.
He argued: “My Lord, the inability of the prosecution to bring the witnesses to court shows clearly that the allegations were unfounded.
“Our argument has always been that since the defendants were accused openly, any witness coming to testify must be prepared to testify openly too.”