Justice John Tsoho of the federal high court, Abuja, has ruled against the application of the federal government to mask its witnesses in the trial of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and director of Radio Biafra.
Tsoho held that masking the witnesses would shield their demeanour from the court.
“There is no gain saying that demeanour of witnesses is very crucial in a trial,” he said.
He also held that sufficient particulars had not been provided by the prosecution to show that the witnesses were being threatened.
Tsoho stated that the Department of State Services (DSS) had already disclosed the names of its witnesses and addresses, indicating that they reside in Lagos, Enugu and Port Harcourt, away from the locality of Kanu.
“It is not correct therefore to assert that many of the witnesses come from the accused persons location,” he said.
However, he ruled that names and addresses of the witnesses would not be made public during the trial.
He thereafter adjourn the case to March 7 and 11 for trial.
Earlier on Friday, Kanu had opposed the application of the federal government to protect the identities of witnesses in his trial, describing them as masquerades.
As the hearing of the application began, David Kaswe, counsel to the Department of State Services (DSS), the prosecution, informed Justice John Tsoho of the federal high court, Abuja, that there was a possibility for witnesses to refuse testifying against Kanu, without protection.
The prosecution emphasised that it was important that witnesses be protected in the trial, explaining that the crux of the application was to seek the protection of witnesses, and not to cause a secret trial.
But Chuks Muoma (SAN), counsel to Kanu, argued that what the prosecution was asking for was a secret trial, and prayed the court to draw a distinction between a closed trial and protection of witnesses.
He added that the application implied that masked individuals would be testifying before the court.
However, the prosecution countered his argument, saying that most of the witnesses were civilians who reside in the location of the accused person, and as such vulnerable to influence. ”
We also ask that these press men will not make public identities and residential locations of these witnesses,” he said.
But Muoma, citing section 364 of the 1999 constitution (as amended), said that there was no provision for “masquerades” to testify as witnesses in a case as such as that of Kanu.
He explained that protection of witnesses could only be applied to terrorism cases, and not to that of his client, who is facing charges of treasonable felony.”
An accused person under our jurisprudence must be confronted with his accusers eyeball to eyeball,” he said. ”My lord, it is compatible and common sense with jurisprudence that you cannot accuse someone in the streets in public and try him in the bedroom.”