lex Enumah in Abuja
Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja, will on June 15 decide whether to allow the prosecution witnesses billed to testify against the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), to be screened or not.
The judge fixed the date after listening to the submissions of counsel on the merit and demerit of the application.
Â Dasuki is standing trial on allegations of money laundering and illegal possession of firearms preferred against him by the federal government.
He was first arraigned before Justice Adeniyi Ademola who is still on suspension by the National Judicial Council (NJC) over allegations of receiving gratification in the course of discharging his duties.
Ademolaâ€™s suspension is yet to be lifted even though he has been discharged and acquitted of all the charges, the case was transferred to Justice A. R. Mohammed.
At the resumed hearing yesterday, prosecution counsel, Ladipo Opeseyi, who moved the application, told the court that it was dated June 3, 2016 and had been argued by both counsel and the judge was on the verge of delivering ruling before the case was transferred.
He said the application for screening the witnesses was pursuant to Section 232 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).
While claiming that the application is harmless, he prayed the court to grant it in the interest of justice.
However, defence counsel, Ahmed Raji (SAN), Â held that the offences which witnessed are to be screened or masked as contained under section 321, are not among charges his client is standing trial for.
He said terrorism, trafficking in persons, and economic crime charges under which the witnesses can be screened have been expunged from charges against Dasuki hence there was no need to screen or mask witnesses.
Â He noted that a similar application was filed by the prosecution earlier and there was ruling on it.
â€œA well-deserved ruling was given, so the current application is an abuse of court process. What my learned silk is asking the court to do is to sit on appeal on the decision of this court, when the court of appeal is just a few meters away.
â€œThe current application is an abuse of court process.Â What the prosecution is saying is that you sit on appeal by court of same jurisdiction.
â€œThe application now is predicated on the old charge which was withdrawn.
â€œThere is no life in the present charge, it died with the old charge and buried with it,â€ Raji said.
Â Addressing the issue of likely harm to the witnesses, Raji said it was speculative.
He said it was based on assumption, that something will happen to somebody, which is speculative.
â€œAll this time he has been in court has anything happened to anybody?
â€œThe witnesses are already named one by one so what are you hiding again. It is a cheap blackmail, refuse the application my Lord, Raji summed.
Responding, Okeseyi said: â€œThe court is not a father Christmas that grants what has not been asked for.
â€œOur application is that they be screened to give evidence not masked. There is a big distinction between the present application and past.
â€œScreening and masking are two different things. If the court has defined screening and masking that means the court is not sitting as appeal court over its judgment.
â€œDespite the amendment the charges have not changed. The same charges have been filed since inception,â€ he said.
He said the screening would not bar the defence counsel from seeing the witnesses or take away the rights of the defendant to fair hearing.
After listening to the arguments from both sides, Justice Mohammed reserved ruling till June 15.
Dasuki was accused of being in possession of prohibited firearms without requisite licence in July 2015, contrary to Section 28 of the Firearms Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
He was specifically alleged to have been in possession of five Tervor rifles at his residence in Asokoro, Abuja.
Besides the firearms, Dasuki was also accused of money laundering and was specifically said to have been in possession of $40,000, N5million and 20,000 pounds, allegedly found in his house in July 2015.
According to the charge, the money was said to be proceeds of an unlawful act contrary to Section 15 (3) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act.
The amended charge also indicated that $150,000 and another N37million, being proceeds of an unlawful act was also found in his Sokoto residence in July 2015.
Dasuki pleaded not guilty to all the seven counts.