Ade Adesomoju, Abuja
The Federal Government, on Thursday, urged the Federal High Court in Abuja to allow its prosecution witnesses to testify behind the screen in the trial of a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.).
Justice Ahmed Mohammed said he would, on June 15, rule on the application which was opposed by Dasuki’s lawyer, Mr. Ahmed Raji (SAN).
The lead prosecuting lawyer, Mr. Dipo Okpeseyi (SAN), while addressing the court on Thursday, stated that there was possible threat to the witnesses’ lives by virtue of Dasuki’s current and previous positions.
Dasuki’s lawyer, Raji, however, urged the court to consider the alleged threat as a mere “speculation” without any evidence supporting it.
But the prosecutor, in his further argument, insisted that the threat was real, alluding to an alleged inexplicable accident which he said had virtually incapacitated the principal prosecution witness in the case.
Okpeseyi added, “The principal witness in this case can no longer appear in court due to an accident he was involved in.
“The circumstances surrounding his accident are still unknown. He was just saved by God. He sustained multiple fractures from his head to his leg.
“So, life must be protected before it is lost.”
The prosecution had, on April 6, 2017, re-arraigned Dasuki on amended charges of money laundering, stealing of prohibited firearms and illegal possession of firearms.
The defendant pleaded not guilty to all the seven counts instituted against him.
At the hearing of the prosecution’s application for witness protection on Thursday, Okpeseyi argued that there was a need to shield the identities of the prosecution witnesses from the public.
He said this was because the witnesses were operatives of the Department of State Services “carrying out covert operations on behalf of the Federal Government in various parts of the country and even beyond.”
Okpeseyi also noted that Dasuki’s status as a former senior military officer, an ex-Aide-de-Camp to a sitting President, a former NSA and a crown prince (of Sokoto Caliphate), collectively conferred on the defendant large followers.
He stated, “What we seek is for them to give evidence behind a screen to be provided by the court.
“The defendant was once their boss and the defendant had been a senior military officer, a former Aide-de-Camp to a sitting President, a former NSA and a crown prince, who has large followers.
“It is for these reasons that, even without his (Dasuki’s) knowing, harm may come the way of the witnesses.”
He also distinguished between the application and the one earlier filed by the prosecution and dismissed by the former trial judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, from whom the entire case was transferred to the current trial judge.
Okpeseyi said Section 232(b) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act provides for “screening” or “masking” as the options for witness protection which the prosecution could seek for its witnesses.
He added that the screen, if allowed by the court, would not take away the right of the defence to cross-examine the witnesses or prevent the defence lawyers as well as the defendant from seeing the prosecution witnesses behind the screen.
But in response, Raji insisted that the alleged threat to the prosecution witnesses’ lives was speculative as no harm had been done to any of the prosecution witnesses who had been testifying without a screen in the two criminal cases pending against Dasuki in the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Maitama, Abuja.
He also argued that a similar application had been dismissed by the former trial judge, adding that if the court granted the application, it would amount to Justice Mohammed sitting as an appeal court over the previous ruling.
He argued that Section 232 of ACJA was applicable to the trial as some of the offences instituted against the defendant fell under economic and financial crimes as provided under section 232(4)(c) of the Act.
Justice Mohammed fixed June 15 for ruling. (Punchng.com)