A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Tuesday convicted three persons for participating in acts of terrorism and being members of the outlawed Boko Haram sect.
The convicts – Ali Mohammed, Adamu Karumi and Ibrahim Usman – will collectively spend 75 years in jail.
The trio were among the 17 suspected insurgents arraigned before Justice Buba on eight counts of conspiracy to commit terrorism, illegal possession of firearms and being members of the violent sect.
Arraigned along with them but discharged before the conclusion of the trial were Bala Haruna, Idris Ali, Mohammed Murtala, Kadiri Mohammed, Mustapha Daura, Abba Duguri and Sanni Adamu.
Others were Danjuma Yahaya, Musa Audu, Mati Daura, Farouk Haruna, Abdullahi Azeez, Ibrahim Bukar and Zula Diani.
Efforts by one of our correspondents to find out the reason for their discharge yielded no result because the trial had since it started in November 2013 and ended on Tuesday was in secret.
It was gathered that the Attorney-General of Lagos State and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaye, had, by nolle prosequi, discontinued criminal proceedings against some of the accused, hence their discharge .
On Tuesday only Muhammed, Karumi, Usman and Haruna were brought before Justice Ibrahim Buba for judgment.
The judgment was also delivered in camera but a source who witnessed the proceedings later gave journalists the facts on condition of anonymity.
He said that before delivering the judgment, Buba ordered journalists, litigants and lawyers in other matters to vacate the courtroom.
The judge, who had earlier announced that the judgment would be given at 12pm, first sought the views of the lawyers on the position of law on giving the verdict in the open court or in camera.
The Lagos State Director of the Public Prosecutions, Mrs. Idowu Alakija, according to the source, had responded by saying that since the trial was conducted in camera for security reasons, judgment should also be given in the same manner.
But Buba, who said that even judges learn every day, insisted that he would like to know what the law stipulates about giving judgment in camera and how his colleagues in Abuja normally handle such cases.
Saying that he would like to do a short research on the subject, he rose at about 11.30am with a promise to return by 12pm.
At the resumed hearing at 12pm, the judge again asked the parties to address him on the legality of giving judgment in camera.
Ipaye responded by saying that if the trial was conducted in secret, the judgment should also be delivered in secret .
The legal team of the defence maintained the same position.
Buba subsequently ordered everyone, except the parties and the security operatives, to vacate the courtroom .
Journalists had approached the Deputy Chief Registrar and the Administrative Head of the Court, Mr. Bello Okandeji, to complain of their being barred from hearing the verdict .
Okandeji then led journalists to the court but security men told the DCR that they had specific instructions not to allow anyone in.
Mohammed, Karumi and Usman were tried on offences bordering on terrorism said to have been committed on March 21, at Plot 5, Road 69, Lekki Phase I Housing Estate, and No. 24, Oyegbeni St., Ijora-Oloye, Apapa-Iganmu, Lagos.
They were said to have been caught in possession of three packets of explosive construction pipes, 15 detonators, and 11 AK47 rifles with 30 rounds of live ammunition.
The other items said to have been found in their possession were 200 rounds of 7.6 milimetres of live ammunition, two suitcases containing explosives, and a water container filled with explosives.
According to the prosecution, the offences contravened the provisions of Sections 13(2) and 17(b) of the Terrorism Act 2013 as well as Sections 1, 8, 27 (1) (a) and (b) of the Firearms (special provisions) Act, Cap F28, Laws of the Federation, 2004.
Military devises new strategy to halt B’Haram’s expansionist drive
Meanwhile, the military has evolved a new strategy of restricting Boko Haram insurgents to the areas they captured in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
A source said the military was aware of the insurgents’ plan to use old people and children in their captured territories as human shields.
He said, “At the moment, the strategy we have evolved is keeping them at bay and curtailing their expansion plan. We have pushed them back so many times in the last two weeks and this has made their expansion moves impossible.”
“If this had not been done, the insurgents would have added other towns to the already captured ones but now is like we have drawn circles round them and it is difficult for them to venture out. We are only waiting for the right time to take them on but at present we are involved in aerial bombardment of their strongholds.”
A civil rights organisation, Citizens Arise Movement of Nigeria, has however given the Federal Government a 14-day ultimatum to set up a panel to investigate the alleged involvement of a former Chief of Army Staff, Patrick Ihejirika, and ex- Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Modu Sheriff, in the sponsorship of Boko Haram.
CAMON, who also sought amnesty for the 12 convicted soldiers, threatened to commence a nationwide protest if the government failed to meet the deadline.
The organisation said that the Australian negotiator, Dr. Stephen Davis, and the Australian government should be invited to unravel the truth about those financing the terror group.
The Convener of CAMON and former member of the House of Representatives, Dino Melaye, stated these during a news conference and public presentation of the group in Abuja on Tuesday.
CAMON made 22 demands from the Federal Government, including opening up on the $9.3m seized by the South African authorities.
Melaye said, “We declare that if within the next 14 days, the Federal Government fails to respond appropriately to our demands, we shall commence and inspire nationwide protests which shall continue until our demands are met.”