Federal Government has asked the Court of Appeal in Abuja to dismiss an appeal filed by the detained leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu and two other pro-Biafra agitators, David Nwawusi and Benjamin Madubugwu, who had gone before the appellate court to challenge what they termed “strange procedure” adopted in their trial.
The trio who are answering a six-count treason charge, have urged the court to stay further hearing on the case against them pending the determination of their consolidated appeal.
Specifically, they alleged bias against trial Justice John Tsoho who not only declined to quash the charge against them, but also permitted the prosecution to shield the identity of eight witnesses billed to testify in the matter.
The Judge 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.
The defendants, through their lawyer, Chief Chuks Muoma, SAN, contended before the appellate court that trial Justice Tsoho erred in law “when having refused the application for the witnesses of the prosecution to testify behind screens, or masked” on February 19, 2016, “suddenly varied the said order in the ruling delivered on March 7, 2016, on a mere oral application by the respondent”.
They noted that the variation order was made on the basis of a mere oral application by the Director of Public Prosecution, DPP, Mr. Mohammed Diri.
The DPP had 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.
Though Justice Tsoho maintained that the order he made on Monday was in tandem with the ruling of February 9, the defence lawyer, Muoma, SAN, went on appeal to challenge the revised order for the identities of the witnesses to be protected.
Muoma 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 the Federal Government ought to have appealed against that the ruling instead of re-approaching the same court with a similar application.
He is praying the appellate court to direct the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to transfer their case to another Judge for trial.
Nevertheless, federal government, in a counter-affidavit it filed before the appellate court, sought the dismissal of the appeal which it said lacked merit.
The DPP, who endorsed the appeal, argued that the March 7 order of the High Court did not amount to a variation of the previous order of the court.
The federal government insisted that Kanu and the others were never denied fair-hearing by Justice Tsoho to warrant re-assignment of the case-file to another Judge.
Besides, it accused the defendants of attempting to use frivolous interlocutory appeals to delay their trial.
Whereas Justice Tsoho has fixed April 5 to hear the motion seeking his disqualification from the matter, the appellate court on the other hand has slated April 25 to commence hearing on the appeal.
President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa had earlier constituted a three-man panel of Justices to hear the appeal. The appellate court panel will be presided over by Justice Moore Adumein.
The Department of State Service, DSS, previously alleged plot by some pro-Biafra agitators to invade the trial court and forcefully free the defendants.
The DPP told the court that the DSS had commenced investigation on the planned invasion.

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