Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Was public trial objection waived in Nigerian mass court-martial?

Sebastine Hon, SAN
Sebastine Hon, a senior Nigerian lawyer, has criticized a recent mass court-martial on the ground that it was illegally closed to the public. He is quoted here as saying defense counsel failed to object:
“The trial and conviction of the 54 soldiers should be assumed not to have taken place,” Mr. Hon said.
He drew attention to Section 36(3) of the 1999 Constitution which provides that all criminal trials be conducted in public, noting that the secret trial of the suspects, amounted to gross violation of the law.
“Let it be sounded out in crystal clear terms that Section 36(3) of the 1999 Constitution has guaranteed certain inalienable rights termed fundamental rights.
“Superior courts of records in Nigeria, including the Supreme Court, have held that these rights are above the ordinary laws of the land, in this case, including military laws and rules,” Mr. Hon said.
He cited the cases of Randome-Kuti vs. Attorney-General of the Federation (1985) 2 NWLR (Pt. 6) 211 SC; WAEC vs. Adeyanju (2008) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1092) 270 at 304 SC; and Essien vs. Inyang (2012) All FWLR (Pt. 628) 951 at 967 CA, etc, to buttress his argument.
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Mr. Hon said the Supreme Court in a recent ruling in a case of the Nigerian Army vs. Aminu-Kano (2010) All FWLR (Pt. 528) 1805 at 1832 SC, had held that the fundamental rights provisions of the Constitution apply to all Nigerians, including members of the Armed Forces.
He said, “It is in the light of the above that I submit on most firm grounds that the secret trial and conviction of 54 soldiers by a military tribunal is null and void on the ground that it infringes on Section 36(3) of the Constitution.
“Be it noted that this Subsection has specifically outlawed secret criminal trials by a “court or tribunal.” A military tribunal, without any iota of doubt, is covered by these provisions.”
Mr. Hon, however, argued that the failure of the defence counsel, Femi Falana, to raise an objection against the secret trial by the military tribunal has robbed him of the opportunity to do so at the appellate court.
He expressed optimism that the trial, conviction and sentence of the 54 soldiers will be voided at the Court of Appeal.

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