The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Friday, rejected an application the Federal Government filed to be allowed to mask all the witnesses that are billed to testify against convener of #RevolutionNow protest, Mr Omoleye Sowore, and his co-Defendant, Olawole Bakare.
Sowore, who was the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, AAC, in the last general election and Bakare are answering to an amended two-count treasonable felony charge.
The Defendants were alleged to have conspired to stage a revolution campaign on August 5, 2019, tagged “#Revolution Now”, aimed at removing President Muhammadu Buhari from office as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria during his term of office, otherwise than by constitutional means.
FG had midway into the testimony of its first witness, PW-1, Mr Rasheed Olawale, who is a Principal Staff Officer of the Department of State Service, DSS, pleaded the court to shield identities of other pending witnesses.
It told the court that the remaining witnesses “are afraid of giving evidence, unless they are protected, for fear of being murdered by the Defendants, his cohorts or members of the ‘Revolution Now’ protest group across the country”.
“That the prosecution witnesses who are Officers of the Department of State Service, who investigated this case, are reluctant to come and give evidence for fear of being attacked by the other members of the Revolution Now’ protest group across the country”, FG added in a five paragraphed affidavit that was deposed to by one Noma Wando, a litigation officer in the Department of Public Prosecution, Federal Ministry of Justice.
However, the Defendants challenged the application dated March 5, which was moved by FG’s lawyer, Mr S. Bagudu, on Friday.
The defence team, led by human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, and Mr Abubakar Marshall, urged the court to dismisses the application, insisting there was nothing in the charge to warrant the exception of members of the public from observing their trial.
Sowore’s lawyer, Falana, SAN, argued that by virtue of section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the Defendants, are entitled to a public trial.
He told the court that identities of all the proposed witnesses are already in the public domain.
“If the trial will not be public, cogent and convincing reasons must be adduced by the Prosecution.
“In the list of witnesses and Exhibits filed by the Prosecution, the names of the witnesses were listed by them.
“The Prosecution has already disclosed the identity of each of their witnesses, together with their statements and the roles they played in this case.
“We, therefore, submit that this is not one of those cases where the Prosecution chooses to hide identity of their witnesses for security reasons.
“One of the witnesses has already given evidence in the open court without any fear, intimidation or harassment.
“In situation where such application was granted, the witnesses were given pseudo names.
“Prosecution that has disclosed identities of witnesses are estopped from making application of this nature, midway into the trial”, Falana, SAN, added, even as he urged the court to dismiss the application he said was tantamount to wasting judicial time.
Meanwhile, in her ruling, trial Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu held that though the court has the powers to grant such request, she said the Prosecution failed to adduce any evidence that #RevolutionNow is a proscribed group that has been involved in acts of violence.
Consequently, though the court declined to shield identities of the witnesses, it limited the number of people to be allowed to participate in subsequent proceedings in the matter, to 20 persons.
Justice Ojukwu said the decision was in line with Covid-19 protocols approved in practice direction of the court.
The case was later adjourned to January 25, February 4 and 5, 2021.
Meanwhile, earlier in the proceeding on Friday, the court admitted the statement of the PW-1, Mr Olawale, in evidence and marked it as Exhibit 1.
Under cross-examination, the witness said he was part of the team that arrested Sowore on August 3, 2019.
He told the court that Sowore was arrested around midnight, in his hotel room in Lagos.
The witness said he later heard that the 1st Defendant was transferred to Abuja the next morning.
“I am not aware that he was tortured or that he was denied access to his lawyer. He was arrested around midnight because he was not stationary. It was by that time that we identified where he was staying.
“He was arrested because he was propagating #RevolutionNow and was sensitizing passersby.
“Intelligent report revealed that the 1st Defendant stated that there will be a revolution in the country on August 5”.
Asked if he knew that protests held in different states on August 5, 2019, the witness said: “Yes my lord. I heard about it”.
Asked if Sowore participated in the protest, the witness said: “My lord the 1st Defendant was in custody in the national headquarters of the DSS in Abuja. He could not take part in the protest because we had already arrested him”.
Asked if there was a revolution in any part of the country on August 5, 2019, the witness said: “My lord, the mastermind was arrested before the incidence”.
At this juncture, Sowore’s lawyer, Falana, asked the witness: “Are you aware that General Buhari, in 2011, called for a revolution in Nigeria, like the Egyptian revolution?”.
“That is not to my knowledge my lord”, the witness replied.
“Are you aware that there was an overthrow of the democratically elected government of President Shagari on Dec 31, 1983?”, Falana asked him.
Though FG’s lawyer queried the relevance of the question to the trial, Falana insisted it was relevant to defence of his client
In his response, the witness said: “My lord I was a teenager then, and I was not aware. I am presently 42 years. As at that time, I should be in primary two. I cannot recall if there was change of government or not.
“It was in secondary school and in higher institution that I got to know about it. It is part of our history”.
Asked again by Falana if he knew that “it was General Muhammadu Buhari that led the coup, the witness said: “It is historical revelation”.
“Do you know if the said General Buhari was charged with treason?”, Falana further queried, to which the witness replied: “My lord I can’t recall”.
The witness further stated that he was not aware that some persons that were arrested and charged to court for participating in the #RevolutionNow protest, have all been discharged and acquitted.
He said he was not also aware that two telephones that the DSS had yet to return back to Sowore, two handsets that were seized from him by the team that effected his arrest.
The witness said he was not part of the team that arrested the 2nd Defendant, Bakare, adding that he was not aware that revolution took place in any part of the country on August 5, 2019.