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B’Haram: Witness refuses to testify in open court

A prosecution witness on Thursday refused to testify against suspected members of the Boko Haram sect after an Abuja Federal High Court rejected an application brought by the Federal Government to restrict members of the public from the courtroom during the trial.

The witness was slated to testify in the trial of a university don, Dr. Nazeef Yunus, and other alleged members of a Boko Haram cell in Kogi State – Alhaji Salami Abdullahi and Umar Musa.

Witnesses involved in recent prosecutions of members of the terrorist sect testified with masks, and their identities were not disclosed, in line with a Federal Government initiated witness-protection programme.

Also, members of the public, apart from accredited journalists, are barred from courtrooms during proceedings in terrorism trials.

However, following the arraignment of the suspected members of the Kogi Boko Haram sect, their lawyers opposed an application in which the Federal Government sought to have their trial conducted in ‘secret’.

Shortly before the witness was called to testify, the presiding judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, delivered a ruling in which he upheld the argument of the defence lawyers, and ordered that “the trial of the accused persons should be conducted publicly,” although he also held that the “identities and names of the witnesses to be called by the prosecution shall be kept secret.”

Justice Kolawole noted that by the ruling, the court was protecting the interest of the state, the witnesses and the accused persons.

“I am mindful to shield the identities of the witnesses in a sensitive case like this, which borders on alleged terrorism.

“The general public can only hear the voices of the witnesses but will not see their faces,” he said.

In order to shield the witness, a cubicle, which was intended, shield him from people in the courtroom while he gave evidence. He was mounted at the witness stand.

But the witness, who was afraid that the device would not effectively shield him from members of the public in the courtroom, requested to come out with a mask, a move which was opposed by the lawyers of the suspected Boko Haram members, who argued that the ruling given by the court did not state that witnesses should be masked.

As a result of the development, the witness refused to testify.

Prosecution counsel, Mrs. C. I. Nebo, informed the court that the witness, who was ready to testify earlier, has refused to appear without a mask.

The judge, thereafter, advised the prosecutor to either appeal against the ruling, or apply for its alteration to enable the court address the issue of masks for the witnesses.

The case was subsequently adjourned to May 6.

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