5 June 2014

Nigeria: Boko Haram - Court Rejects Facial Masking for Prosecution Witnesses

Abuja — A Federal High Court in Abuja on Wednesday dismissed an application seeking the facial masking of the prosecution witnesses lined up to testify in the trial of three suspected members of the Islamic fundamentalist sect, Boko Haram.

The accused persons, who are being tried by the Federal Government on alleged terrorism charges, are an Islamic scholar and a lecturer at the Kogi State University, Dr. Muhammed Yunus, Salami Abdullahi (aka Asta) and Musa Umar.

The Wednesday's ruling was a major setback to the case of the Federal Government, whose witnesses had insisted they would not appear in court without an assurance that their identities would be fully shielded from public view.

The prosecution counsel, Ayanfeoluwa Ogunsina, told Justice Gabriel Kolawole after the ruling was delivered that he needed to make consultations before continuing the case.

Justice Kolawole said: "I will have to make consultations if we have to continue with the case of the prosecution."

The judge also Ogunsina's request to adjourn the matter till June 24 so that the prosecution would complete its consultation before coming to court.

He insisted that trial would start on June 9 and continue on June 10, 24, 25 and 26 as earlier scheduled in previous proceedings.

In his ruling on Wednesday, Justice Kolawole held that the Federal Government's application, the second of such seeking protection for its witnesses, constituted an abuse of court process.

Apart from dismissing the prayer seeking the facial masking for prosecution witnesses, the court also dismissed the two other prayers, asking the court to either set aside or modify its earlier ruling delivered on April 3, 2014.

The prosecuting counsel, Ogunsina, had filed the application dated May 2, 2014, arguing that the earlier ruling of the court, granting a protection for the witnesses, was not exhaustive.

The prosecution argued that its witnesses were still afraid to testify, and had declined invitation to enter the witness box because the screen directed by the court to shield them, would not fully protect them from the view of the public.

But the judge blamed the lapses in the protection offered to the witnesses on the prosecution, which he said failed to suggest specific type of protection it needed in its earlier application.

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