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Breaking: Biafra: Kanu, others ask court to stop trial

Detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, on Wednesday, asked the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja to stay further proceeding on his trial. Kanu and two other pro-Biafra supporters who are facing trial with him-  Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi- urged trial Justice John Tsoho to hands-off their case and await the outcome of an appeal they have lodged before the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal.

The trio who are answering to a six-count treason charge, made the application on a day the federal government was to open its case ‎against them. ‎It will be recalled that the court had on Monday, ‎declined to quash the charge against the defendants, even as it permitted the prosecution to shield the identity of eight witnesses that are billed to testify in the ‎matter. The court equally refused to discharge and acquit the three defendants as it was prayed to do under ‎section 351(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.‎

Meanwhile, at the resumed sitting on Wednesday, the defence lawyer, Chief Chuks Muoma, SAN,‎ informed Justice Tsoho that he has taken the case before the appellate court to challenge what he described as “strange procedure” adopted in the trial of the defendants. On his part, the Director of Public Prosecution, DPP,  Mr. Mohammed Diri, who is handling the trial on behalf of the government, admitted that a copy of the motion for stay of proceeding was served on him before the court commenced sitting. ‎He ‎applied for time to enable him to respond to the motion. ‎Consequently, Justice Tsoho adjourned hearing of the defendants’ motion for stay  of proceeding to April 5. Meantime, there was heavy presence of armed security men within perimeters of the court premises on Wednesday. ‎

The Department of State Service, DSS, had at the last adjourned date, alleged plot by some pro-Biafra agitators to invade the court and forcefully free the defendants. ‎The DPP told the court that the DSS had commenced investigation on the planned invasion. ‎

Besides, the prosecution informed the court that witnesses scheduled to testify against Kanu and the others, said they would not appear unless they were allowed to wear masks or their identities shielded from both lawyers and people observing the proceeding. “My lord this is because they are already receiving threats from associates of the defendants that they will be dealt with. The witnesses said they love their lives and requested that their identities be shielded from people who are coming to witness the proceeding”, Diri added. He said DSS operatives also billed to testify in the matter, made similar request on the basis that they are investigating terrorism cases and would not want their identities exposed. Sequel to his application, Justice Tsoho gave an order permitting the witnesses to testify behind a screen.

The judge insisted that the decision did not amount to a variation of a previous ruling that prohibited the witnesses from appearing in mask.‎ The defendants had‎ on February 9, opposed FG’s application for secret trial, even as they queried the propriety of the court allowing ‎”masquerades” to testify against them. Even though the trial Judge maintained that the order he made on Monday was in tandem with the ruling of February 9, the defence lawyer, Muoma, SAN, vowed to challenge the revised order for the identities of the witnesses to be protected. ‎

Muoma, SAN, ‎contended that the trial court had become functus-officio on the matter, having earlier ruled on the previous application by the prosecution.‎ It was his argument that FG ought to have appealed against that the ruling instead of re-approaching the same court with a similar application. ‎Kanu who was hitherto the Director of Radio Biafra and Television, ‎has been in detention since October 14, 2015, when he was arrested by security operatives upon his arrival to Nigeria from his base in the United Kingdom.

The defendants were alleged to have committed treasonable felony, an offence punishable under Section 41(C) of the Criminal Code Act, CAP C38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria. FG alleged that they were the ones managing the affairs of the IPOB which it described as “an unlawful society”. Specifically, Kanu was alleged to have illegally smuggled radio transmitters into Nigeria, which he used to disseminate “hate broadcasts”, encouraging the “secession of the Republic ofBiafra”, from Nigeria. The accused persons however pleaded not guilty to the charge on January 20, even as the court ordered their remand at Kuje prison ‎in Abuja.‎‎

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