There was a mild drama at Court 7, Federal High Court, Abuja, as the application by the Department of State Services (DSS) counsel, Hassan Liman, to take witnesses in the ongoing trial of Omoyele Sowore, Convener, #RevolutionNow Protest, in camera failed.
Sowore, alongside Olawale Bakare, is charged by the DSS with treasonable felony and money laundering, among others.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu had, on October 21, adjourned commencement of trial till November 6 and November 7, after varying the bail conditions granted Sowore, and his co-defendant, Bakare.
Justice Ojukwu had granted the order in a ruling on the application for bail variation by the duo.
However, on Wednesday before the commencement of the trial, screen shield was already set up in the court for witnesses to be taken.
But it was dismantled shortly before Justice Ojukwu took her seat.
As soon as court proceeding started, the DSS counsel, Liman (SAN), told the court that the agency was ready to commence the trial based on the order of the court in the last sitting.
However, the counsel to the 1st defendant, Femi Falana (SAN), prayed the court for an adjournment of the matter to enable them perfect the defendants’ bail conditions.
Falana, who told the court that the security outfit had made it difficult for them to have access to the defendants to prepare for the trial, said even in court, they were only given less than five minutes to converse with them.
Quoting the law, he said defendants are expected to be given adequate time and facilities for their defence.
Falana hinted that all the bail conditions have been met but they needed time to perfect them.
He also accused the DSS of planning a secret trail for his client.
However, the counsel to the DSS, Liman, objected to the application for adjournment, saying the defendants’ counsel had had ample time to perfect the bail conditions and prepare for the trial.
Liman, who disagreed that the DSS had not given them opportunity to meet the defendants, said they were given unrestricted access to them.
Unhappy with Liman’s response, Falana told Justice Ojukwu that the prosecution counsel had told him before the commencement of the trial that their witnesses would be taken in camera.
He said Liman’s statement was evident with the setting up of screen shield by the witness box close to the judge’s door.
According to Falana, “I was told that the witnesses will come in through My Lord’s door to the screen shield where they will testify.
“They have made arrangement with the deputy chief registrar to take the witnesses on camera without our knowledge.
“This is an ambush. But all of a sudden, the court clerk dismantled the shield.”
The lawyer said when Liman discovered that the plan did not work, he approached him for cooperation.
He said the act was meant to embarrass the court and the defendants.
When Justice Ojukwu asked Liman on what transpired, the DSS told the court that an application was made to take the witnesses in camera.
He said though it was not a judicial arrangement, an administrative arrangement was made in that regard through the Deputy Chief Registrar (DCR) of the court, Mr Femi Ekperobe.
Justice Ojukwu, therefore, summoned the DCR to explain why such arrangement was made without the court’s knowledge.
Ekperobe, who confirmed the development, told the court that such arrangement is meant for high profile cases.
He said: “The prosecution counsel made an application to the effect to which an approval was given in view of high profile nature of the case.”
The judge, who was unaware of the arrangement, asked the prosecution counsel “who is in charge of the court?”
Liman, who responded that the judge was in charge of the court, said they would appropriately apply to the court.
Then the DCR was asked to go.
However, Justice Ojukwu, who asked the prosecution counsel to call the first witness, ruled that the court was of the view to commence trial because when the court granted defendants bail in the last adjourned date, the court ordered accelerated hearing on the case.
Liman then read the charges against the defendants.
While he was about to call the 1st witness, Falana objected to the move.
Falana, in response, told the court that the DSS had not served them with the witnesses’ statements and the video recordings to enable the defence counsel prepare for the trial contrary to the ACJA Act.
The human rights lawyer, who described the act as plans by the security agency to ambush them, said the DSS was not ready for the trial.
Justice Ojukwu assured them that justice would be done in the case despite the decision to continue with the case.
“This court does not condone frivolity. Neither the prosecution nor the defence counsel can control this court.
“The court has final decision whether anyone has made arrangement or not,” she said.
Ojukwu said that every trial has a constitutional background.
The judge, therefore, asked if the prosecution counsel had served the defence counsel with the documents and attached the video recordings.
She said the prosecution counsel ought to have served the defendants with all the documents that would assist them in the defence.
The judge, who said it was the right of the defence counsel to request for any document that would assist them, said no one can waste the precious time of the court.
On his part, Liman said there was no legal requirement that required the defence to be served the written statements of witnesses since they would have been served with their names and briefs.
The judge asked if they were not entitled to the documents and Liman gave a ‘yes’ response.
The DSS counsel, therefore, applied for more time to continue the trial and Falana did not object it.
Justice Ojukwu adjourned the matter till December 5 and December 6 for commencement of trial.