There was a slight drama at Court 7, Federal High Court, Abuja, as application of Department of State Services (DSS), Hassan Liman, to bring witnesses to the ongoing trial of Omoyele Sowore, #RevolutionNow Protest Convener, in camera failed.
Sowore and Olawale Bakare, are accused by the DSS of treacherous crimes, money laundering, among others.
Latest Nigeria News reports that Judge Ijeoma Ojukwu, on October 21, postponed the start of the trial to November 6 and 7, after changing the bail conditions granted to Sowore and his co-defendant Bakare.
Judge Ojukwu had granted the order on the application for variation bond by the duo.
However, NAN reports that on Wednesday, before the trial began, a screen shield had already been installed in the court for witnesses.
But it was dismantled just before Judge Ojukwu sat down.
As soon as the judicial process began, DSS lawyer, Liman SAN, told the court that the agency was ready to begin the trial based on court order in the last session.
However, the lawyer of the first defendant, Femi Falana, SAN, asked the court for a referral to allow them to improve the conditions of bail for defendants.
Falana, who told the court that the security team had made it difficult for the defendants to prepare for the trial, said that even in court, they only had less than five minutes to talk to them.
Citing the law, he said that the defendants should receive adequate time and means for their defense.
Falana hinted that all the bail conditions had been met, but that they needed time to perfect them.
He also accused the DSS of planning a secret runway for his client.
However, DSS lawyer, Liman, SAN, opposed the referral request, stating that the defendant’s lawyer had enough time to perfect the bail conditions and prepare for the trial.
Liman, who disagreed with the fact that the DSS had not given them the opportunity to meet the defendants, said he had unlimited access to them.
Unhappy with Liman’s response, Falana told Judge Ojukwu that the prosecutor had told him before the trial began that his witnesses would be captured by the camera.
He said that Liman’s statement was evident with the installation of a screen protector near the witness box near 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 Clark dismantled the shield,” he said.
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 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 the 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 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 Dec. 5 and Dec. 6 for commencement of trial.