Justice James Tsoho ruled that the application for a stay of proceedings lacked merit and ordered that the trial should proceed in the mode earlier directed by the court.
In his ruling on Tuesday, Justice Tsoho, said he would not yield to any blackmail in the handling of the case. He however condemned the use of what he described as “intemperate language” by the defendants’ lawyer, Mr. Ifeanyi Ejiofor, who signed and filed the application.
Referring to how the words “prudence” and “common sense,” were used in the application, the judge said “virulent attacks on courts do not constitute a yardstick for the success of counsel.”
The judge added, “The logical inference to be drawn from this is that if the order of stay is not granted, then this court lacks prudence or common sense. Be that as it may, this court will not yield to blackmail.”
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 a 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 in camera.
Kanu and his co-accused contended in their appeal before the Court of Appeal, Abuja, that the order permitting the Federal Government’s witnesses to testify behind the screen was granted without jurisdiction, because it was against the court’s earlier ruling of February 19, which rejected the prosecution’s motion for witness protection.
But in dismissing the defendants’ application on Tuesday, Justice Tsoho relied on the provisions of Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, which prohibits courts from entertaining motions for a stay of proceedings with respect to criminal cases.
The judge ruled that contrary to the contention by the defendants’ lawyer, Chuks Muoma (SAN), who argued the application, the provision of Section 306 of ACJ Act could not deny an accused person a fair hearing.
He said though he conceded that Section 306 of ACJ Act “encroached” on a judge’s discretion to grant a stay of proceedings in criminal trial, it never denied the right of appeal guaranteed an aggrieved party 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, which an accused person was entitled to under the constitution.
“Section 306 of ACJA removes hitches to speedy trial which is a 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 a 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 a 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 a stay of proceedings was granted, adding that such issue 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 a stay of proceedings is not founded on lack of intrinsic jurisdiction of this court but on mode of procedure to be adopted in the trial.”
He ruled that the trial would proceed in the manner earlier directed by the court except there was a contrary directive or order from appropriate authorities.
He said, “At this juncture, I hold with due respect and without any prejudice that, the circumstances of this application are not deserving of an order for a stay of proceedings.
“Consequently, the applicants’ application for an order of stay of proceedings in this case is refused and struck out.
“The effect is that the trial in this case shall be proceeded with in the manner ordered by this court, except there is contrary directive or order from appropriate authority.”
The judge after dismissing the application adjourned till June 20 to 23 for commencement of trial.
Meanwhile, the appeal by Kanu and his co-accused, in which they also asked for the withdrawal of their trial from Justice Tsoho and re-assignment to another judge was on Monday fixed for May 5 for hearing.