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Court throws out EFCC’s plea to screen witness in Maina’s trial

The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday dismissed the application by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to screen its fourth prosecution witness (PW4) in the current trial of Abdulrasheed Maina, ex-Pension Reform boss.

Justice Okon Abang gave the order after listening to arguments of counsel to the parties in the case.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the screening of a witness in a case is to enable the witness testify under shield to protect him or her from public view.

At the resumed trial on Tuesday, the anti-graft agency’s lawyer, Farouk Abdullahi, urged the court, shortly after the third witness completed its evidence in chief, to grant his request for the PW4 to testify in camera.

“I apply that my next witness be screened in accordance with Section 232 Sub-section 4c of ACJA.

“The application will not prejudice the trial of this case. I am not making the application to waste the judicial time of this honourable court,” he said.

But Maina’s lawyer Mohammed Monguno objected to the application.

Monguno, who described the case as just a criminal trial, said the prosecution had breached Section 232, subsection 2 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).

He argued that the identity of the proposed witness was no longer hidden as the witness’ name, address and phone number are in the proof of evidence, which had already been circulated to the clients, the counsel, the registry, etc.

“More so, no reason was given for the application for the screening of the witness,” he added.

The lawyer also argued that the EFCC counsel did not inform them of his plan to have the witness screened.

Adeola Adedipe, Counsel to the second defendant (Common Input Property Investment Limited), supported Monguno’s submission.

“I adopt the submission of the counsel to the first defendant. We are here to give full cooperation to the court.

“The prosecution has failed to comply with the mandatory provision of Section 232, Sub-section 2 of the ACJA. It is an application predicated on nothing,” he added.

Justice Abang adjourned the trial continuation till January 15, 2020.

Abdullahi, who admitted that the identity of the witness had already been made known, said their application was for the witness to be screened from gallery and not from the bar.

“Yes, my lord, it is correct that we have listed the name of the proposed witness in our list of witnesses. The penal legislation has not said that when a proposed witness is named, the witness cannot be screened.

“Our application is that the witness should be screened from gallery and not from the bar.

“The court is a court of justice and it has the power to do that. We want the witness to be heard and not to be seen. I, therefore, urge this honourable court to grant our application,” he said.

Abdullahi also regretted that the defence lawyers were not informed about the decision to screen the proposed witness.

In his ruling, Justice Abang said he had carefully considered the argument of the defence counsel, arguing that the prosecution had breeched Section 232, Sub-section 2 of ACJA.

He said he had also considered the argument of the prosecution in his reply on point of law.

But the judge said that “the provisions of Section 232 Subsections 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of ACJA guides the court on how to exercise its discretion as to whether or not a particular witness ought to be screened.”

He said for a witness to be screened, the prosecution must comply with the mandatory provision of Section 232 Subsection 2 of ACJA.

Justice Abang then adjourned the trial continuation until January 15, 2020.

 
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