Trial of Mr. Mustapha Umar, the suspected terrorist and member of Boko Haram, fingered in the April 26th, 2012 bombing of SOJ Plaza in Kaduna state which houses the offices of Thisday, Sun and Moment Newspapers, continues Tuesday at a Federal High Court sitting in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.
At the hearing today, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, granted the request made by federal government to restrict persons other than journalists as well as legal representatives of the suspected bomber from witnessing the trial. The federal government, represented by Mr. Simon Labaran, had made the amended application following the court’s refusal to deny journalists access to the proceedings at the trial.
Labaran told the court that the purpose of his fresh application was to safeguard and protect the identities of witnesses who will be giving evidence at the trial. Despite the objections of Mr. Umar’s lawyers led by Mr. Nureni Sulyman, the court granted the order restricting any other person other than journalists and the legal team of the accused person from witnessing the trial and excused other parties that were in court before the trial commenced.
Justice Ademola noted that section 35 of the constitution as well as section 31(3) of the Terrorism Prevention Act exempts certain trials from the public for the protection of public safety and peace. He agreed with Mr. Sulyman that another trial on terrorism charges was ongoing in a sister court and in public, but nevertheless, held that each case must be determined on its merit.
Soon after the issue was resolved in favour of federal government, Mr. Labaran called his first witness who appeared in a mask obscuring his identity and gave evidence under the name of Ismail, not his real name.
The masked witness told the court how he, as a privileged member of the public came upon a gathering of people on the day of the bombing incident, trying to pull out the accused from one Honda car which was rammed into the walls of SOJ Plaza. He told the court how he joined the crowd to rescue the accused person from the car thinking that he was involved in an accident.
According to the witness, ” we all tried very hard to pull the accused out of the car thinking that he was involved in an accident. The doors of the car were locked from inside and the suspect was trapped inside the car on the driver’s side with the door firmly pressed unto the wall. We had to damage the door on the passenger’s side and pulled him out of the car”.
He told the court that upon rescuing the suspected bomber from the wreckage of the car, the suspect started yelling in Hausa language that he was carrying a bomb which will go off any moment. Many of those who had helped the suspect out of the car ran back in fear but some courageous ones, who probably thought the man was lying, apprehended the suspect and ordered him to bring out the bomb.
“Those who stood their ground held him and started beating him and ordered him to bring out the bomb from the car. The suspect then brought something that looked like a fire extinguisher from the car and threw it into the premises on the plaza and we heard two very loud explosions which killed three persons instantly. In the midst of all these pandemonium, the suspect ran into the premises of the plaza trying to escape. Unfortunately for him, as he was trying to scale through the fence of SOJ plaza, the youths who had gathered there caught him. He had some blood gushing out of a wound on his face then but the police then arrived at the scene and the suspect was handed over to the police by the youths”
He further told the court that soon as the police drove away with the suspect, that some of the youths started protesting and throwing stones at people in anger. They wanted to lynch the suspect rather have the police take him into custody.
According to the masked witness, one of the angry youths who spoke to him told him that they preferred to lynch the suspect instead of the police arresting him because it is people like the suspect who are Boko Haram members that are desecrating the name of the Islam religion.
Attempts by the defence lawyer to discredit the witness’ testimony failed as the masked witnessed was consistent in his graphic account of the bombing incidence.
He also told the court that after the police took the suspect away from the scene, that the angry mob set the car which was still trapped inside the walls of the plaza ablaze and that this caused two further explosions to erupt from within the car which was later discovered to contain six camp gas cylinders inside and another six inside the booth of the Honda car, all wired to the car’s steering wheel.
The fire, according to the witness, was later put off by men of the fire service before the police took the wreckage of the burnt car away.