THE secret trial of the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu and his co-defendants commenced on Tuesday, with the defendants challenging the competence of the 11-count charge slammed against them by the Federal Government.
The Federal Government is prosecuting Kanu alongside three other pro-Biafra agitators – Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi before Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court in Abuja, on charges bordering on treasonable felony and terrorism.
Though the defendants’ application was not heard at the resumed hearing of the matter on Tuesday, the trial judge ordered the prosecution counsel, Mr Shuaibu Labaran, to file his reply, serve it on the defence and adjourned till tomorrow for adoption of all the processes to enable the court deliver its ruling on the application.
Meanwhile, counsel for 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 the Kuje prison, were arrested and detained by the Department of State Services (DSS) since two months ago.
Ejiofor further informed the court that. “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 subjected lawyers to rigorous questioning and made 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 the lawyers should be allowed access to their client.
The court had, in December last year, granted the request by the Federal Government to protect the identities of prosecution witnesses in the ongoing trial of the IPOB leader and his co-defendants despite objection by the defence counsel.
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 alongside others now at large, on diverse dates in 2014 and 2015, in Nigeria, and United Kingdom.
It told the court that the defendants conspired among themselves to broadcast on Radio Biafra, which was monitored in Enugu and its environs, preparations they were making for states in the South-South zones and other communities in Kogi and Benue states, to secede from the Federal Republic of Nigeria, with a view to constituting same into a Republic of Biafra.
The Federal Government, which identified Kanu as the arrowhead behind the “hate broadcasts,” fingered Onwudiwe as the national coordinator of the IPOB movement.
The defendants had, on November 8, 2016, pleaded not guilty to all the charges preferred against them.
Kanu was previously facing a six-count treason charge with Madubugwu and Nwawuisi before government amended the charges to include Onwudiwe as one of the defendants.
Justice Nyako is now the third judge to handle the trial as the former judge handling the matter, Justice John Tsoho, had, on September 26, disqualified himself from sitting over trial of the defendants.
Justice Tsoho, who earlier denied the defendants bail, premised his decision to hands off the case on a petition pending against him before the National Judicial Council (NJC).
Kanu and his co-defendants had, in their joint petition, alleged that Justice Tsoho indulged in act of “judicial rascality” by delivering conflicting rulings on the same subject matter.
They alleged that the judge summarily reversed his previous ruling that barred the Federal Government from masking all the witnesses billed to testify against them.
The defendants maintained that the judge denied them fair hearing on the day he gave the Federal Government the nod to produce “masquerades” to testify against them.