A Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday dismissed an application by the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, and his co-accused, David Nwawusi and Benjamin Madubugwu, asking for stay of proceedings in their ongoing trial.
Justice James Tsoho ruled that the application for stay of proceedings lacked merit and ordered that the trial would proceed in the mode earlier directed by the court.
Kanu and his co-defendants are being prosecuted before the court on six counts of treasonable felony, unlawful possession of firearms and other offences bordering on their agitation for secession of the Republic of Biafra from Nigeria.
They had asked for stay of proceedings on the basis of the appeal which they had filed against the March 7, 2016 ruling of the court varying its earlier decision of February 19, 2016, by permitting prosecution witnesses to testify behind screen.
In dismissing the defendants’ application on Tuesday, Justice Tsoho relied on provisions of section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, which prohibits courts from entertaining motions for stay of proceedings with respect to criminal cases.
Contrary to the contention by the defendants’ lawyer, Chuks Muoma (SAN), Justice Tsoho held that the provision of section 306 of ACJ Act could not deny an accused person fair hearing or right of appeal guaranteed an aggrieved party in a criminal case in section 241 of the Constitution.
The judge held that rather, the provision of the ACJ Act was to enhance the right to speedy trial guaranteed an accused person in the Constitution.
“Section 306 of ACJA removes hitches to speedy trial which is component of fair hearing,” Justice Tsoho ruled.
The judge also distinguished the trial of the Biafra agitators from that of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, in which the Supreme Court last year after the advent of the ACJ Act, granted an order for stay of proceedings in his (Saraki’s) trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
Justice Tsoho held that the prevailing circumstances informing the decision of the Supreme Court to grant stay of proceedings in Saraki’s case were not available in the instant case.
He said in Saraki’s case, the issue of whether the cases entertained by the CCT were criminal in nature or not was to be determined by the Supreme Court when the order of stay of proceedings was granted, was not available in the case before him.
He explained that it was not in doubt that the Federal High Court had jurisdiction to hear criminal cases.
The judge ruled, “It is more so, given that the application for stay of proceedings is not founded on lack of intrinsic jurisdiction of this court but on mode of mode of procedure to be adopted in the trial.”
The judge after dismissing the application held that the trial would proceed in the mode he had earlier directed on March 7.
The trial was adjourned till June 20 to 23.