The Federal High Court has barred journalists and members of the public from attending proceedings in terrorism-related cases.
The court’s Chief Information Officer, Catherine Christopher, announced the new ‘Practice Direction’ in a statement on Thursday.
The statement said the Chief Judge of the court, John Tsoho, issued the directive in the exercise of his constitutional powers as enshrined in Section 254 of the Nigerian Constitution.
Under the new directive, which takes immediate effect, the trial of terrorism-related offences is to henceforth be conducted in camera.
“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,” the document says.
The rules also make provision for the exclusion of “any person other than the parties and their legal representatives” from terrorism proceedings.
Except where the trial judge grants permission, media coverage will be prohibited, the new rule says.
“The coverage of proceedings under these Practice Directions is strictly prohibited, save as may be directed by the Court,” the document says.
It empowers the trial court to “make an order as to any electronic devices that would be allowed during the proceeding.”
The directive comes amidst the ongoing terrorism prosecution of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (BIAFRA).
Mr Kanu, who is being tried before Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court in Abuja, is accused of various offences, including treasonable felony and terrorism, offences he allegedly committed in the course of his separatist campaigns.
The federal government had sought the secret trial of the IPOB leader in the past, but Mrs Nyako declined the request.
Consequence of violation
The document also provides that anyone who violates the practice directions is deemed to have committed an offence under the terrorism law.
“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).
“These Practice Directions shall be cited as the Federal High Court Practice Directions (On Trial of Terrorism Cases) 2022,” it says.