A Human Rights Lawyer and activist, Mike Ozekhome, SAN has faulted some aspects of the new practice direction of the Federal High Court, with a vow to challenge it legally.
The senior advocate who gave the hint after Friday’s proceeding described the move as unconstitutional, saying it would only give room for rumour milling.
The Federal High Court Abuja it will be recalled gave indication of the new practice directions on hearing of terrorism cases in a press release by the court Chief Information Officer, Dr. Catherine Oby Christopher.
The directive dated April 5, 2022 which was endorsed by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria, Justice John Terhemba Tsoho, stipulated expeditious and fair trial of persons suspected of having committed acts of terrorism.
The new development which according to the statement was enshrined in section 254 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), barred any person other than the parties and their legal representatives shall also be excluded from the proceedings, including Journalists and other members of the public completely from the trial.
Ozekhome in his reactions wondered why the media, which is the Fourth Estate of the realm under Section 22 of the constitution, would now be shut out of covering proceedings bordering on terrorism charges in the country.
He said, “I will by the grace of God challenge some portions of the new practice directions as being unconstitutional and against so many sections of the Nigerian constitution.
“If you stifle information, the wrong information can emanate from the rumour mill, fake information will begin to germinate and that is the more dangerous aspect.
“So when you prevent the media from covering a trial, it may lead to generation within the rumour mill of things that never happened, which again may jeopardise such trials.”
He added however, that he had no problems about witnesses being screened, saying it was a good decision capable of safeguarding them.
On the location aspect, he said, “I’m not therefore against shifting of the venue which is fair enough, but am against the issue of making it look like a secret trial. It should be a public trial which the whole world must watch.”
The new practice direction stipulates that court proceedings of offences of terrorism, subject to the provisions of section 232 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and section 34 of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011 (as amended), shall be held in camera or as may be ordered by the Court.
It reads, “The coverage of proceedings under these Practice Directions is strictly prohibited, save as may be directed by the Court.
“A person who contravenes an order or direction made under these Practice Directions shall be deemed to have committed an offence contrary to section 34(5) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011 (as amended),” the statement partly reads.