The trial of the Publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, at the Federal High Court in Abuja, was on Wednesday stalled due to the failure of the federal government to produce a detailed witness statement.
At the commencement of the trial on Wednesday, the judge, Ijeoma Ojukwu, had ordered the prosecution to call their first witness despite a pending application in which they sought to mask their witnesses.
Mr Sowore’s lawyer, Femi Falana, had opposed the application for the prosecution’s witness, Rasheed Olawale, to be masked.
But Ms Ojukwu adjourned to rule on the prosecution’s application and asked the prosecution to call its witness.
While giving evidence, Mr Olawale, an operative of the State Security Services (SSS), said he is a “principal staff officer in charge of surveillance and communication intelligence.
“As part of my duties, I am charged to prevent and investigate any threat against national security.”
Describing how he met the duo standing trial, Mr Olawale said his team was directed to arrest the defendant after they “received an intelligence report that he ( Mr Sowore) had planned to carry out a revolution on August 5, 2019, by revolting along with his associate against the democratic government of Nigeria throughout the federation.”
The SSS operative said the activist was later arrested around 1 a.m. at Montana Residence and Hotel at 16 Oduduwa Road, GRA Ikeja, Lagos.
Speaking further, the witness said their “investigation report revealed that Sowore was in Maryland with his associates and cohorts, making graphic inscriptions tagged #RevolutionNow on the wall of Maryland bridge.
“He was sensitising passers-by of the particular day for the protest and what they planned to do. He also claimed that the government of the day would cease to exist through the procession.”
It was at this point that Mr Falana raised an objection. He said the witness was starting to give evidence not contained in his earlier statement which was served on the defence team.
While Mr Rasheed was still testifying, Mr Falana interjected and said that, “the defendant is entitled to know the entirety of the case,” which was why they demanded the full statement of the witnesses as enshrined in section 36(6) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. He said allowing the evidence would amount to an “ambush” against his client.
The senior lawyer urged the court to direct the prosecution lawyer to limit the witness to his earlier statement.
“The witness is giving evidence outside his written evidence and it makes a mockery of the essence of serving us with witness statement,” Mr Falana said. “If he is allowed to give evidence on matters not in the quote, then in a way, the defence is being ambushed.
“We apply that the court limits the witness to his statement as nothing has been added to the statement served to us on March 9, 2020,” Mr Falana said.
Responding, the prosecution lawyer, Aminu Alilu, argued that the law allows them to only serve a “summary” of a witness statement on the defence. He urged the court to allow the witness to continue with his evidence as the defence would also get the opportunity to cross-examine the witness.
In a short ruling, Ms Ojukwu held that the witness was giving his testimony outside the scope of his written statement made earlier.
The judge said although the witness does not have to use the exact words used in his written statement, he is limited to the scope of evidence adduced.
Consequently, she ordered the prosecution to go back and reproduce the statements of all the witnesses. The judge also said she would rule on the application seeking witness protection on the next adjourned date.
The matter has been adjourned to April 1 and 2 for continuation.
Mr Sowore is being prosecuted alongside a co-defendant, Olawale Bakare, on two counts of treasonable felony.
The defendants were arrested in August last year for calling for #RevolutionNow protest, which the federal government said was aimed at toppling the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Messrs Sowore and Bakare had insisted that the protest was aimed at demanding good governance.
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