Mohammed Yunus and two others are accused of being members of the Boko Haram.
A Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday granted an application brought by the Federal Government seeking a secret trial of three Boko Haram suspects.
The three accused persons are Mohammed Yunus, Musa Umar and Salami Abdullahi. Mr. Yunus is a lecturer in the Department of Islamic Studies, Kogi State University, while the second accused is a millionaire oil merchant and the third an Islamic teacher.
The government had on March 7 filed an application asking for leave of the court for the trial to be conducted in secret.
Ruling on the matter on Thursday, Justice Gabriel Kolawole held that it was necessary to grant the application so as to balance the conflicting interests of fair trial as prescribed by the constitution.
He said the court was also mindful of unjustly exposing ordinary citizens who have decided to give evidence on behalf of the state to danger.
“If the court fails to give minimum comfort to witnesses, it will get to a stage where the state will no longer find witnesses.
“It also appears none of the accused persons’ counsel is opposed to Order 2 of the application because no argument was canvassed.
“It is accordingly granted as prayed. The witnesses shall not give their residential addresses or places of work. We shall use the SSS as their contact address’’, Kolawole said.
The judge, however, said he would not shut down the entire court room, but shall make adequate provisions to shield the identities of the witnesses.
This, he said, would include their personal securities and those of their families who need to be concealed from the general public.
Earlier, the prosecution counsel, N. B. Jones Nebo, argued in the application that the secret trial was necessary to protect the identities of prosecution witnesses.
Ms. Nebo also said the prosecution’s motion was brought pursuant to the provisions of sections 33 and 34 of the Terrorism Prevention Act 2013, as amended, and Section 115 of the Evidence Act.
She said the application was also filed pursuant to the provisions of sections 36 and 203 of the Criminal Procedure Act which necessitated the non-disclosure of identities and names of witnesses.
The counsel to the first, second and third accused persons, Hassan Liman, James Ocholi, and Abdul Mohammed, respectively, had opposed Mr. Nebo’s application in separate counter-affidavits.
They also prayed the court to dismiss the said application for lacking merit and being incompetent.
“This application is in conflict with Section 36 (4) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, which pertains to fundamental rights and fair hearing.
“It is easier for a person to tell a lie in secret than in public as there will be nobody to correct them in secret and also where there is no publicity, there’s no justice,” Mr. Ocholi had argued.
The accused persons were arraigned on an eight-count charge bothering on terrorism. The suspects were arrested in October 2013, for allegedly holding various meetings aimed at carrying out insurgency across the country and had been remanded in prison.
All the accused denied the charges. The university lecturer had said that he believed he was being set up by the Boko Haram whom he had preached against in his public sermons.
Mr. Kolawole had refused to grant the accused persons bail and ordered them to be remanded in Kuje Prison, while opting for their accelerated trial.
The judge adjourned the case to May 6, 7 and 14 for accelerated hearing.
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