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DSS application to mask witnesses against Sowore failed

by on November 7, 2019
 

There was a mild drama yesterday at Court 7 of the Federal High Court in Abuja.

An application by the Department of State Services (DSS) counsel Hassan Liman (SAN) to take witnesses in camera in the trial of Omoyele Sowore, the Convener of #RevolutionNow protest, failed.

Sowore, alongside Olawale Bakare, is charged by the DSS with treasonable felony, money laundering, among others.

News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, on October 21, adjourned commencement of trial till November 6 and November 7, after varying the bail conditions granted the two defendants.

Justice Ojukwu had granted the order in a ruling on the application for bail variation by the duo.

Before trial started yesterday, a screen shield was 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, Liman told the court that the agency was ready to commence the trial based on the order of the court in the last sitting.

Sowore’s lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) prayed the court for an adjournment of the matter to enable him and his clients perfect the defendants’ bail conditions.

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The Lagos lawyer, 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 had been met but they needed time to perfect them.

The lawyer also accused the DSS of planning a secret trial for his client.

Liman objected to the application for adjournment, saying the defendants’ counsel had been given ample time to perfect the bail conditions and prepare for the trial.

The lawyer, 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.

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He said Liman’s statement was evident with the setting up of a screen shield by the witness box close to the judge’s door.

“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 in camera without our knowledge.

“This is an ambush. But all of a sudden, the court Clark dismantled the shield,” he said.

Falana 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 about what transpired, the DSS lawyer told the court that an application was made to take the witnesses in camera.

He averred that 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.

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Justice Ojukwu summoned the DCR to explain why such arrangement was made without the court’s knowledge.

Ekperobe, who confirmed the development, told the court that the development was 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.”

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The judge asked the prosecution counsel “who is in charge of the court?”

Liman, who responded that the judge was, said they would appropriately apply to the court.

Then the DCR was asked to go.

Justice Ojukwu, who asked the prosecution counsel to call the first witness, ruled that the court should begin trial because when the court granted defendants bail on the last adjourned date, it ordered accelerated hearing on the matter.

Liman then read the charges against the defendants.

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