The Federal High Court, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, on Thursday, granted the request of the prosecution to take the evidence of Miss Ese Oruru in private at the resumed pre-trial hearing in the case involving Yunusa Dahiru, alias Yellow.
Ese is the 14-year-old girl, allegedly abducted by Yunusa Dahiru in August 2015 from Bayelsa State and taken to Kano where she was forced into a marriage.
Following the launch of #Free Ese Campaign by Punch Newspapers and public outcry that followed the abduction, the police freed her from where she was held captive in Kano in March 2016.
Yunusa is standing trial at the court on five counts of alleged criminal abduction, illicit sex, sexual exploitation and unlawful carnal knowledge of a minor (Ese).
In granting the application, Justice Aliya Nganjiwa premised the ruling of the court on the provisions of Section 36 subsections 4 (a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
Justice Nganjiwa said, “The evidence of Miss Ese Oruru will be taken by the court in private and in chambers excluding all other persons other than the prosecution, the defendant’s counsels, court clerks and prison officials and any other persons if the accused person does not object.”
Justice Nganjiwa said the defence counsel failed to show what injury or harm the accused person would suffer on account of private hearing for the victim, Ese Oruru.
He added that it was only the evidence of Ese that would be taken in private as other trials would be done in open court.
Justice Nganjiwa, who adjourned the matter until June 2, for hearing on the substantive suit corrected the impression that the private hearing would not jeopardise the hearing of the substantive suit since other trials would be conducted in public.
According to the judge, victims, including those of rape and child trafficking that fall in that category can also be protected by the court.
The judge further affirmed that the mother of the now heavily pregnant Ese has been able to show the court that her daughter was less than 18 years.
“What will the accused suffer if the victim‘s evidence is taken in private? I hereby order that the evidence should be taken in private and in the court chambers. The application hereby succeeds,” Ngajiwa said in his ruling.
But in his argument, lead lawyer to the defendant, Mr Kayode Olaosebikan, had earlier maintained that there was no merit in taking Ese’s evidence in private.
He contended that what the lead counsel to the complainant, Kenneth Dike, was seeking to prevent had already happened with the victim’s pictures already all over the Internet, print and electronic media.
Dike, who headed the police prosecution team, however, insisted that what the prosecution was seeking was the constitutional right of the victim to fair trial, noting that in the interest of justice, Ese’s image and future must be protected.
Outside the courtroom, Olaosebikan told journalists that there was nothing unusual about Justice Nganjiwa’s ruling, affirming that he was comfortable with it.
“The court has given a superior opinion why the evidence should be taken in camera. We have also filed an application for varying the bail condition. There’s nothing unusual about that,” the lawyer said.
He lamented that the accused has not been able to leave prison custody as a result of the stringent bail conditions.
He lamented, “The court said that a traditional title holder and a level 12 civil servant from here should stand as surety. But when you look at the demography, they are most likely to be Bayelsans.
“When you get somebody and they know that it’s Yunusa Dahiru that they are standing for, they say ‘is it not the boy that stole our daughter?’’
Meanwhile, the Urhobo Progressives Union and the Federation of Women Lawyers, have intimated the court to their readiness to provide legal services for the victim, Ese Oruru and her parents.
The UPU counsel is led by Albert Akpomudje, SAN, while FIDA legal team is headed by Mrs. Dise Ogbise.
Akpomudje, who is also the National Secretary of UPU, said they had applied to the state Commissioner of Police to be joined in the matter and were still waiting for the reply.