Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Federal Government of Nigeria on Wednesday opened its case against the publisher of news site Sahara Reporters, Mr Omoyele Sowore, and his co-defendant, Mr Olawale Bakare, on a shaky note.
The case commenced with the first prosecution witness (PW1), Rasheed Olawale, a Principal Staff Officer with the Department of State Security Service (DSS), whose testimony was, however, cut short by the defence legal team.
Specifically, lead counsel to the defendants, Mr Femi Falana (SAN) objected to the testimony of the witness on the ground that he touched on issues that were not contained in his summary of his statement served on his clients.
He noted that the witness was giving oral evidence on issues that were outside his written statement that was served on the defendants.
Though the prosecution counsel, Mr Aminu Halilu, insisted that copies of summary statement of the witness were duly served on the defendants, Justice Ojukwu, however, upheld Falana’s objection.
Justice Ojokwu held that it would be wrong for the court to allow the witness to depose to a four-paragraphed statement and then proceed to give a shred of 10-page oral evidence.
She consequently directed the prosecution counsel to serve full statements of all the proposed witnesses on the defendants, even as she adjourned the matter to April 1.
The court equally deferred hearing of the motion the Federal Government filed to shield the identities of other witnesses it intends to produce against the defendants.
The prosecution counsel had requested for time to respond to a counter-affidavit that Sowore and Bakare filed to challenge the Federal Government motion to conduct their trial in secret.
The defendants had urged the court not to allow the Federal Government to mask the witnesses, insisting there was nothing in the charge against them that should also warrant the exception of members of the public from observing their trial.
Sowore told the court that the identities of all the proposed witnesses are already in the public domain.
The prosecution had in a five-paragraph affidavit that was deposed to by one Noma Wando, a litigation officer in the Department of Public Prosecution, Federal Ministry of Justice, told the court that the witnesses “are afraid of giving evidence, unless they are protected, for fear of being murdered by the defendants, his cohorts or members of the ‘Revolution Now’ protest group across the country.”
The defendants, who were initially charged on seven-counts were on February 12, were re-arraigned on a two-count amended charge.
By the amended charge, the two defendants are now facing a treasonable felony charge.
Count one of the charge read thus: Conspiracy to commit treasonable felony, contrary to section 516 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap. C38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and punishable under the same section of the Act.
Count two – Treasonable felony, contrary to section 41(a) of the Criminal Code Act Cap C38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and punishable under the same section of the Act.
The defendants were accompanied to the court on February 12 by a large crowd of sympathisers including a former lawmaker in the Senate representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District Senator Shehu Sani, and Nobel laureate Prof Wole Soyinka.