From GODWIN TSA, Abuja
The desire of the Federal Government to bar journalists from covering the trial of the suspected bomber of SOJ Plaza in Kaduna state occupied by ThisDay, The Moment and The Sun newspapers made the government to ask court to stop journalists from covering the trial of Mr. Mustapha Umar, the prime suspect of the attack. Specifically, government lawyer, Simon Labaran applied before a Federal High Court, conducting the trial to that effect.
The arraignment of Mr. Umar was rescheduled for yesterday, following the unavailability of legal representation for the suspected terrorist last Tuesday, when he was first brought to court. The suspect pleaded not guilty to the one-count charge bordering on terrorism. After taking his plea, Mr. Labaran moved the application, seeking to bar journalist from covering the proceedings, pursuant to section 31(3) of the Terrorism Prevention Act of 2011, which according to the Federal Government lawyer, was to protect the interest of public safety, as well as the safety of the witnesses who would be called upon to testify against the suspected terrorist in the course of his trial.
Mr. Umar’s lawyers, Mr. Frank Umai and Mohammed Umar, both of Manga Chambers in Abuja, did not oppose the application. However, the court presided over by Justice Adeniyi Ademola expressed reservations over shutting out the public from the proceedings, noting that the public was interested in the outcome of the matter and have a right to know what took place in the course of the trial.
The court advised the Federal Government lawyer to bring a formal application for the request, even as it suggested some ways by which witnesses’ identities could be protected without having to shut out the journalists, whose duty was to inform the public. Mr. Mustapha Umar, who was charged on a one-count of terrorism related act had told the court last Tuesday that he was arrested and detained since April, 2012, and that he was not allowed any visitor, including family members and requested for a lawyer to be produced for his defence by the Federal Government, which brought him to court.
However, he had legal representation yesterday and it was not clear how or who provided the lawyers to defend him. He was alleged to have driven a white Honda Academy car with registration number AL 306 MKA, with improvised explosives devices (IEDs) into the premises of SOJ plaza and detonated same. Over 10 people were reportedly killed as a result of the attack. The trial judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, subsequently adjourned further proceedings to March 12, 13, 14 and 15. He ordered the prison authorities to ensure that the suspected terrorist’s lawyers have unfettered access to him to enable them prepare for his defence. The court further remanded the suspect in Kuje Prison.