Nnamdi Felix / Abuja
Nigeria’s Federal Government on Tuesday applied to a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja to bar journalists from covering the of Mr. Mustapha Umar, the suspected bomber of SOJ Plaza in Kaduna state occupied by ThisDay, The Moment and The Sun newspapers.
The application was made by Mr. Simon Labaran, the lawyer leading the prosecution team at the trial.
The arraignment of Mr. Umar was rescheduled for today 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 journalists from covering the proceedings pursuant to section 31(3) of the Terrorism Prevention Act of 2011, which according the Federal Government lawyer, is to protect the interest of public safety as well as the safety of the witnesses who will be called upon to testify against the suspected terrorist in the course of his trial.
Mr. Umar’s lawyers, Mr. Felix Umai and Mohammed Umar, both of Manga Chambers in Abuja, did not oppose the application. However, Justice Adeniyi Ademola expressed reservations over shutting out the public from the proceedings, noting that the public is interested in the outcome of the matter and has 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 witness identities can be protected without having to shut out the journalists whose duty is to inform the public.
Mr. Mustapha Umar who is charged on one count of terrorism 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 today 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 into the premises of SOJ plaza and detonated same.
Over ten persons were reportedly killed as a result of the attack.
The trial judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, subsequently adjourned further proceedings to 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th of March.
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 suspected terrorist to Kuje Prison.