………fixes September 20 for trial
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Thursday, okayed request by the Federal Government to shield identities of 14 witnesses billed to testify against detained former National Security Adviser, NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki, retd.
The court, in a ruling that was delivered by trial Justice Ahmed Mohammed, granted leave for all the prosecution witnesses to give their evidence behind screen.
Justice Mohammed anchored the ruling on section 232 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, which he said permits the use of screen in the prosecution of cases involving economic crime.
The Judge noted that one of the charges FG levelled against Dasuki before the court borders on money laundering.
Dasuki who served as the NSA under ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, is facing four-count charge bordering on money laundering and his alleged illegal possession of firearms.
FG had in the charge before the court, alleged that Dasuki was on July 17, 2015, at his house situated at No. 13, John Khadiya Street, Asokoro, Abuja, found to be in possession of various range of firearms without requisite license, an offence punishable under section 27 (1)(a) of the Firearms Act Cap F28 LFN 2004.
He was accused of retaining the sums of $40,000, N5millon and another $20,000 in the same house and same date, contrary to section 15 (2)(d) of Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011.
FG further alleged that the ex-NSA had on July 16, 2015, at his residence at Sultan Abubakar Road and Sabon Birni Road, Sokoto State, retained another $150,000 and N37.6m being part of proceedings of unlawful act, contrary to Section 15 (3) of the Money Laundering Act 2011.
It listed the alleged illegal arms it found at Dasuki’s residence in Abuja as five Tavor Assault Rifles, 1 Macro Uzi with serial No 60244(Rifle), 20 magazines (Ammunition), 1 packet of MOD (Ministry of Defence) APG calibre gun, Luger No 033375 ( gun), small magazine containing 16 rounds of ammunition, and bigger magazine containing live rounds of ammunition.
Shortly after Dasuki pleaded not guilty to the charge, FG, via a motion dated June 3, 2016, applied for the witnesses to be allowed to testify behind a screen that will be provided by the court.
Government lawyer, Mr. Dipo Okpeseyi, SAN, also applied for the witnesses to use acronyms or alphabet such as “XYZ”, in place of their real names.
Giving reasons why identities of the witnesses should be protected, FG, told the court that Dasuki is a crowned prince of the Sokoto caliphate who has large followers both within and outside the country that may be aggrieved.
It disclosed that most of the witnesses, being security operatives, are scared that they could be hunted by people that are sympathetic to the defendant.
Besides, FG alleged that Dasuki imported sophisticated firearms while he held sway as the NSA, saying most of the firearms have not been accounted for and could be in th possession of those sympathetic to the defendant.
However, Dasuki, in a counter-affidavit he filed on June 23, 2016, urged the court to dismiss the application for being a gross abuse of the judicial process.
Dasuki’s lawyer, Mr. Ahmed Raji, SAN, stressed that FG had earlier filed the same application and it was rejected by the court.
Raji noted that FG had on October 12, 2015, sought the same reliefs, a request he said the previous trial Judge in the matter, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, dismissed on April 19, 2016, as lacking in merit.
The defence counsel argued that the motion having been rejected previously, could not be re-filled before the same high court since it has become functus-officio in the matter.
Raji contended that the fresh application by FG was incompetent since names and identities of all the witnesses were revealed in the court processes and are already within the public domain.
He told the court that one of the proposed witnesses, Mr. Emmanuel Ogwu, on May 18, 2015, commenced his testimony before the former trial Judge, saying the witness have not been murdered or harassed in any way since then.
It will be recalled that Justice Ademola who earlier refused to allow FG to shield identity of the witnesses, later withdrew from Dasuki’s trial after he was arrested and prosecuted by on an 18-count charge, but subsequently absolved of all the allegations against him.
Though Justice Ademola gave Dasuki bail on self recognition, operatives of the Department of State Service, DSS, re-arrested him at the entrance to Kuje Prison in Abuja, on December 29, 2015, immediately he perfected bail conditions handed to him by two different courts.
Meanwhile, Justice Mohammed has fixed September 20 and 21 for FG to open its case against Dasuki.