JUSTICE John Tsoho of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Tuesday, disqualified himself from the trial of suspected members of the dreaded Boko Haram insurgents.
The Federal Government is prosecuting the Boko Haram suspects on an 11-count charge bordering on alleged kidnapping and murdering of 11 foreign nationals between 2011 and 2013 in the Northern part of the country.
The defendants are Mohammed Usman (aka Khalid Albarnawi), described as leader of a Boko Haram splinter group, Mohammed Bashir Saleh, Umar Bello (aka Abu Azzan); Mohammed Salisu (Datti); Yakubu Nuhu (aka Bello Maishayi), Usman Abubakar (Mugiratu) and a lady, Halima Aliyu.
Delivering a ruling on the request of the defendants for transfer of their case, Justice Tsoho disqualified himself from presiding over the trial and added that since the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th defendants had an alleged bias, the honourable thing to do is to disqualify himself from hearing the case.
Justice Tsoho noted that the Boko Haram suspects are alleging bias and loss of confidence because of the order that they are kept in the custody of the Department of State Services (DS) against its earlier ruling.
Though, Justice Tsoho observed that his order delivered on April 25, 2017, has not been appealed he, however, withdrew from the trial and added that “As admitted by the Federal Government’s lawyer, justice is rooted in confidence; the position taken by the affected defendants is very clear and fundamental in law.
“In keeping with the demand of the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th defendants, this court is minded to disqualify itself from moving ahead with the trial.
“The case file will be returned to the Acting Chief Judge for re-assignment to another court,” Justice Tsoho declared.
Recalled that Justice Tsoho had on March 14, 2017, ordered that the defendants be remanded in Kuje prison custody and instead of obeying the remand order made, the prosecution counsel returned to court with an application seeking the court to vary its earlier directive.
After taking arguments from prosecution and defence counsel, the court, on April 25, succumbed to the pressure of the Federal Government and ordered that the defendants be kept under the custody of the DSS.
Earlier, the affected defendants had informed the court that the 1st defendant had complained bitterly that he was unfairly treated under DSS custody, having been separated from his co-defendants.
Abah specifically told Justice Tsoho that the 1st, 4th and 6th defendants had alleged bias on the part of the court, and have sought transfer of the trial to another judge.
Also, Elisha Oloruntoba, representing the 5th defendant; and Aliyu Momoh, counsel to the 7th and 8th defendants all informed Justice Tsoho that their clients are accusing him of bias.
However, the prosecution counsel vehemently opposed the application of the defendants, saying that, it was a ploy to delay the trial and to dramatise proceeding.
The charge named the murdered foreigners as; Christopher Mcmamus (Briton), Franco Lamoliara (Italian), Francis Colomp (French) and Edgar Fridz Rampach (German), who were said to have been killed by their abductors after being kidnapped from a construction site in Birnin Kebbi.
They foreigners were abducted on May 12, 2011, and detained at the Mabera area of Sokoto State until March 8, 2012, when they were allegedly killed by their abductors.
The seven other victims namely: “Carlos Bou Azziz, Brendan Vaughan, Silvano Trevisan, Konstantinos Karras, Ghaida Yaser Sa’ad (F), Julio Ibrahim El-Khouli and Imad El-Andari, were abducted on February 18, 2013, and taken to Sambisa forest where they were kept for ten days before being murdered.