The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja yesterday dismissed the appeal filed by the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mr. Nnamdi Kanu and two other pro-Biafra agitators, David Nwawusi and Benjamin Madubugwu.
The three had approached the Court of Appeal to challenge what they described as a ‘strange procedure’ adopted in their trial by the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Kanu and the other two are facing trial on a six-count treason charge levelled against them by the Federal Government.
In their consolidated appeal, the applicants/appellants alleged bias in their trial by Justice John Tsoho, who they said not only declined to grant them bail but also permitted the prosecution to shield the identity of eight witnesses billed to testify in the matter.
Justice Tsoho had equally rejected an application praying him to discharge and acquit the three defendants in line with Section 351(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
In their unanimous judgment, the three-man panel of justices of the appellate court led by Justice Abdul Aboki, dismissed the appellants’ appeal as “grossly lacking in merit”.
The court further declined to order the release of Kanu and others on bail on the ground that allegations against them are “grievous”.
Justice Aboki, who read the lead judgment, held that it was not in doubt that Kanu has dual citizenship.
He maintained that Kanu’s possession of both Nigerian and British passports increased the likelihood that he could jump bail if released from detention.
On the procedure adopted by the trial court, the Appeal Court panel ruled that Justice Tsoho had the discretion to decide how the proceeding should be conducted.
“The lower court has the power to exercise its discretion on the matter and the exercise of such discretion by the trial judge did not amount to denial of fair-hearing to the defendants.
“The issues are resolved against the appellants. Ruling of the trial court is hereby upheld”, the court held.
Kanu and his co-agitators, through their counsel, Chief Chuks Muoma (SAN), had argued before the appellate court that the trial judge, 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, suddenly varied the said order in the ruling delivered on March 7 on a mere oral application by the respondent.”
The counsel maintained that the variation order was made on the basis of a mere oral application by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Mohammed Diri, who had informed the trial court that witnesses scheduled to testify against the defendants said they would not appear unless they were allowed to wear masks or their identities shielded from both lawyers and people observing the proceeding.
Diri had said: “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 had also told the court that DSS operatives billed to testify in the matter equally made similar request on the basis that they were investigating terrorism case and would not want their identities exposed. Following his application, Justice Tsoho gave an order permitting the witnesses to testify behind a screen, stressing that the decision did not amount to a variation of a previous ruling that prohibited the witnesses from appearing in mask.
The three defendants had earlier opposed Federal Government’s application for secret trial as they queried the rationale between the court allowing masquerades to testify against them.