•Court bars journalists, others from session
From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Amid heavy security and protest, the secret trial of the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu and his co-defendants commenced yesterday before the Abuja division of the Federal High Court.
Meanwhile, Kanu told the court that he was no longer safe in Kuje Prison as most of his visitors were allegedly arrested and killed by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS).
Kanu, alongside three other pro-Biafra agitators, Mr. Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi are standing trial before Justice Binta Nyako on charges bordering on treasonable felony and terrorism.
But they are challenging the competency of the 11-count charge slammed against them by the Federal Government.
Kanu was brought to court in an enclosed Hilux van while an open Hilux with prison officers followed closely.
Before their trial commenced, a group of pro-Biafra protesters in Jewish garments besieged the court, demanding an open trial of the defendants.
A team of security operatives had to prevent the rampaging protesters from accessing the court complex.
In the process, journalists were barred from entering the court. Thereafter, some journalists had hectic time with security operatives before gaining entry into the court for the coverage of the trial. Inside the courtroom, however, the witness box was shielded with fabric structures to protect the witnesses from public view.
Justice Binta Nyako had ordered the prosecution counsel, Mr. Shuaibu Labaran to file his reply, on the motion challenging the competence of the charge.
The court directed that the prosecution should serve his reply on the defence and adjourned till tomorrow (Thursday) for adoption of all the processes to enable the court deliver its ruling on the application.
Meanwhile, counsel to the Biafra leader, who is the first defendant in the matter, Ifeanyi Ejiofor informed the court that some of the relatives of the defendants who visited them at Kuje Prison were arrested and being detained by the DSS since two months ago.
“The information we are getting is that most of them have been killed by operatives of the DSS. My client is no longer safe in custody.
“The DSS counsel, Mr Labaran should make their corpses available to us for burial. The matter is before the court and the DSS must respect the court,” Ejiofor stated.
One of the defence counsel, Mr Maxwell Okpara, in his submission accused the DSS of making the process of visiting the defendants cumbersome.
According to him, the DSS subjects lawyers to rigorous questioning and make lawyers fill two separate forms with detailed information before being allowed to see their clients in prison custody.
Okpara, therefore, prayed the court for a pronouncement on the visiting procedures for easy access to their clients.
Other defence counsel aligned themselves with the submissions of the first and second defence counsel, praying for a pronouncement to the effect that lawyers should be allowed access to the defendants.
Responding, the prosecution counsel told the court that he was not aware of what the defence counsel had alleged, adding that, “all these things they are saying are alien to me and I consider that as a ploy to frustrate the proceedings of the matter.”
Labaran urged the defence to detach him from the hostility they claimed to be encountering in the hands of the DSS, saying his brief was to prosecute the matter diligently.
While adjourning the matter, Justice Nyako told the defence counsel to bring all the issues raised against the DSS properly before the court.
“If you said some relatives of the defendants were arrested and some of them killed, put the allegation in writing, you know what to do for the court to make pronouncement,” the Judge held.
Justice Nyako asked the prosecution counsel to prevail on the DSS to treat the case against the defendants like any other case and that the lawyers should be allowed access to their clients.
The Federal Government had, in the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/383/2015, alleged that the quartet conspired to commit treasonable felony contrary to and punishable under section 516 of the Criminal Code Act, CAP. C38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2014.
Government alleged that they committed the offence along with others now at large, on diverse dates in 2014 and 2015, in Nigeria, London and United Kingdom.
The defendants had on November 8, 2016 pleaded not guilty to all the charges preferred against them.