A Federal high court sitting in Abuja on Monday fixed March 18 to rule on a request by the Federal Government to subject three suspected members of Boko Haram sect in Kogi State to secret trial.

The suspects are Dr. Nazeef Yunus, a lecturer at the Kogi State University, Ayingba, Alhaji Salami Abdullahi, a businessman, and one Umar Musa.

They are facing trial before the Federal High Court, Abuja, over their alleged membership of a Boko Haram cell in Kogi State and involvement in ?secret sponsoring? of terrorism.

The judge, Gabriel Kolawole, fixed ruling in the matter yesterday, after the opposing counsel argued than two hours on the constitutionality, fairness and appropriateness of secret trial in a public interest litigation.

Prosecution counsel, Tolu Ogunshina, had moved the application seeking secret trial of the accused persons yesterday in court.

Ogunshina said the motion was brought pursuant to Sections 36 (4) (a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and Section 203 of the Criminal Procedure Act and Sections 33 and 34 of Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act, 2013.

He however prayed the court to order that persons other than the immediate family members and legal representatives of the accused persons, with the exception of accredited members of the press, should be barred from witnessing the trial of the suspects.

The prosecuting counsel pleaded with the court to order that the real names, addresses and identities of prosecution witnesses in the matter should not be disclosed during the trial.

He argued that the request was necessary so that they would not be harmed by supporters and loyalists of the accused persons. But the defence counsel opposed the motion.

First to react to the application was Hassan Liman, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). He was representing Yunus, the first accused.

He said he had filed a 15-paragraph counter affidavit deposed to by one Yunus, and a written address to support the same.

Hassan said he formulated one issue, which was; ?whether the Federal Government has identified a special circumstance for which the prosecution of the accused persons should not be conducted in public.?

According to Hassan, the averments contained in paragraph 3 (E) and (F) of the complainant?s affidavit, was a conclusion that the accused persons? supporters and loyalists were members of the Boko Haram sect.

He, therefore, submitted that the prosecution did not show cause(s) that would warrant the court to grant the application, adding that if the court did that, ?it would infringe on the accused person?s right to fair hearing.?

On his part, James Ocholi, counsel to Alhaji Salami Abdullahi, said he filed a 10-paragraph counter affidavit in opposition to the application.

He submitted that ?the application lacks merit and should be dismissed.?

Ocholi argued that Sections 33 and 34 of the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2013 (as amended), were in conflict with Section 36 (4) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and should be voided.

He said he was opposing the secret trial of his client because, ?it is easier to tell lie in secret than in public?.

He also told the court that his client had consistently claimed in his processes before that there is a gang up by the prosecution to use the witnesses to frame him up.

Mohammed Abdul, representing the third accused person, did not file any process, but was granted leave by the court to reply to the Federal Government?s application on points of law.

He argued that Section 34 (2) (d) of TPA, 2013, did not envisage exclusion of persons from proceedings but proceedings, pointing out that prosecution witnesses whose identities should not be disclosed should be on a day of a particular proceeding and not that the entire proceedings should be conducted in secret.

The counsel described the application as misconceived, submitting that, ?even if the court should grant the application for secret trial, it should not exceed the constitution.?

Replying on points of law, the prosecution counsel held that since journalists would be allowed to cover the trial, it meant that whatever transpired during the trial would be made known to the general public. He, therefore, insisted that the court should order a secret trial of the accused persons.

After listening to the arguments and submissions of all counsel in the matter, Justice Kolawole reserved ruling till March 18.

The suspects, among other charges, were accused of acts bordering on terrorism, and procuring of, and being in possession of, two AK-47 rifles, magazines and 60 rounds of ammunition.

They were also alleged to be recruiting and organising members of the Boko Haram in Kogi State cell, while Alhaji Salami was charged for owning a petrol filing station where members of the dreaded sect planned their activities.


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