……queries order allowing FG to shield identities of witnesses against him
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—–Detained former National Security Adviser, NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki, retd, on Tuesday, asked the Federal High Court in Abuja to suspend further hearing on the money laundering and illegal arms possession charge the Federal Government preferred against him.
Dasuki urged trial Justice Ahmed Mohammed to hands-off the case to await the outcome of an appeal he filed to challenge a ruling of the court that permitted FG to shield identities of 14 witnesses billed to testify against him.
The trial court had in a ruling on June 15, granted leave for all the prosecution witnesses to give their evidence behind screen.
Justice Mohammed anchored the decision 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 a major ingredient of the charge FG levelled against Dasuki before the court bordered on money laundering.
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 proceeds 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.
FG had shortly after Dasuki pleaded not guilty to the charge, applied through a motion dated June 3, 2016, 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.
Adducing 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, were 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 the 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.
Nevertheless, Raji’s arguments were dismissed by Justice Mohammed.
At the resumed sitting on the case, Dasuki’s lawyer told the court that his client has taken the matter before the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal.
He prayed the court to adjourn further hearing on the matter to enable the appellate court to decide the appeal marked CA/A/523C/2017.
Raji, SAN, predicated the request on section 305 of the ACJA and section 36 of the 1999 constitution, as amended.
However, the prosecution, Mr. Okpeseyi, SAN, opposed the application on the premise that section 306 of the same ACJA forbade granting of stay of proceeding in criminal trial.
He urged Justice Mohammed to dismiss Dasuki’s application and proceed with hearing the oral evidence of three witnesses he said were present in court.
Okpeseyi told the court that whereas two of the available witnesses came from the South South, the third one came from the North East.
After he had listened to all the parties, Justice Mohammed reserved ruling on Dasuki’s application till November 15.