An Abuja Federal High Court on Monday granted the Federal Government’srequest to prosecute in ‘secret’ Kabiru Sokoto, an alleged Boko Haram leader suspected of masterminding the December 25, 2011 bombing of St. Theresa’sCatholic Church in Madalla, Niger State.
The Federal Government had in an application dated April 24, 2013, askedthe court to exclude persons other than the parties, their legal representatives and members of the press from witnessing the trial.
As a result of the development, only the accused person, his lawyers, prosecution counsel, and accredited journalists, would be allowed into the courtroom during the proceedings.
Also, the names and addresses of prosecution witnesses would not be disclosed in the course of the proceedings. The presiding judge, Justice Ademola Adeniyi, gave the order while ruling on the application moved by the prosecuting counsel, Mrs. Chioma Onuegbu.
The prosecution had argued that the application was prompted by the need to protect the witnesses.
The defence counsel, Mr. Adamu Ibrahim, did not oppose the application.
Also on Monday, the court dismissed an application in which Sokoto sought to quash the charges brought against him on the grounds that the court lacked the jurisdiction to try him.
Sokoto’s lawyer, Ibrahim, had in the application dated May 3, 2013, asked for an order of court quashing the charges against the accused person for want of jurisdiction.
The defence counsel argued that Sokoto should be discharged on the grounds that the court lacked the jurisdiction to try the case and that the prosecution did not establish any primafacie evidence against the accused person.
Ibrahim stressed that it was unlawful to try Sokoto in the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, whereas the alleged offences for which he was charged to court were committed in parts of Sokoto and Niger states.
But the prosecution insisted that the court had the jurisdiction to hear and determine the case.
Citing the provisions of section 19 of the FHC Act, prosecuting counsel, Onuegbu, argued that the FHC had jurisdiction over the entire country and that the various divisions were created for purely administrative purposes.
She added that section 70 of the Criminal Procedure Act also empowered the court to try an accused person in any division where it was most convenient to try him.
Onuegbu maintained that it was more convenient to prosecute Sokoto inAbuja, especially as he was arrested in Abuja, where he was resident, eventhough he committed the alleged offences in Sokoto and Niger states.
The prosecution counsel equally insisted that a prima facie case had been established against Sokoto.
Ruling on the application, Justice Adeniyi held that the court had thejurisdiction to try Sokoto.
He also upheld the prosecution’s argument that a prima facie case had been established against the accused person.
Justice Adeniyi noted that section 32 of the Terrorism Prevention Act2013 stipulates that a FHC in any part of the country has the jurisdiction totry any charge emanating from offences committed in any part of the country.
“Accordingly, the court has the jurisdiction to try the accused person,Kabiru Umar, alias Kabiru Sokoto. The prosecution has established a prima facie case against the accusedperson to warrant his trial.
“The motion on notice dated May 3, 2013 is hereby dismissed,” he said.
The defence counsel equally moved an application, asking the court togrant Sokoto bail.
However, the prosecution opposed the application, citing the fact thatSokoto escaped from the custody of the police when police officers went tosearch his residence in Abaji, a town on the outskirts of the Federal CapitalTerritory.
Justice Adeniyi, who wanted to stand down the matter for some hours inorder to deliver his ruling on the bail application later on Monday evening,had to adjourn the case to May 9, 2013, to rule on the motion after defencecounsel, Ibrahim, complained of tiredness.
The judge also ordered that the prosecution would call its firstwitnesses on that day.
Sokoto had during his arraignment on April 19, 2013, denied the two-countcharge brought against him by the Federal Government.
Apart from the charge that he had prior knowledge of the St. Theresa’sCatholic Church bombing, Sokoto was also accused of planning to bomb theheadquarters of the police force in Sokoto State as well as other governmentorganisations in the state.