The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Friday, rejected an application filed by the Federal Government to be allowed to mask all the witnesses that are billed to testify against convener of #RevolutionNow protest, 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, rather than by constitutional means.
The Federal Government had midway into the testimony of its first witness, PW-1, 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, their cohorts or members of the ‘Revolution Now’ protest group across the country.
However, the defendants challenged the application dated March 5, which was moved by the Federal Government’s lawyer, S. Bagudu, on Friday.
The defence team, led by human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, and Abubakar Marshall, urged the court to dismiss the application, insisting there was nothing in the charge to warrant the exception of members of the public from observing their trial.
Falana argued that by virtue of section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the defendants, are entitled to a public trial.
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.