The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has granted the federal governmentâ€™s application seeking for the protection of prosecution witnesses in the trial of former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.).
The trial judge, Justice Ahmed Rahmat Mohammed, granted the application in a ruling he delivered Thursday in Abuja.
Dasuki is standing trial on a seven-count criminal charge bordering on illegal and unlawful possession of firearms, as well as for money laundering offences brought against him by the federal government.
By the ruling of the court, witnesses billed to testify in court will be allowed to give their testimonies behind a screen that will be provided by the court.
They would however not be shielded from lawyers in the court throughout the trial.
According to the judge, the screen would be used in such a way that it would not shield the witnesses from being seen by him (the judge), the defendant, and members of the prosecution and the defence teams. However, the public will not be allowed to see the witnesses.
In his ruling, in a motion on notice argued by Mr. Dipo Okpeseyi (SAN) for the defence, Justice Mohammed said that the request for the witnesses to testify behind the screen was granted because part of the charges against Dasuki have to do with money laundering.
The judge said though a similar request had been presented before the court in 2015 and rejected by it, he held that the decision to allow the use of a screen was granted because of the nature of the case.
Justice Mohammed, also in the ruling, dismissed the objection of the defence to the application and held that the application was in order since Section 232(4) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) allows the use of such screens for prosecution witnesses in cases involving economic and financial crimes.
The judge ruled that â€œSection 232(4) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act permits the use of a screen in a charge of economic and financial crimes; and money laundering is part of the charges instituted against the defendantâ€.
He also held that the prosecutionâ€™s request for witness protection was in order, as this would not prejudice the defendant.
Justice Mohammed further dismissed the objection raised by Dasukiâ€™s lead counsel, Ahmed Raji (SAN), who argued that the application constituted an abuse of court process, because a similar one filed by the prosecution in the same case had been dismissed by the former trial judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola.
He said that the fresh motion argued by Okpeseyi did not constitute an abuse of court process because the prayers in the old and the fresh one were not the same.
The government through Okpeseyi had insisted that Dasuki, being a former military officer, former aide de camp (ADC) to a former president, former NSA and a crown prince of the Sokoto caliphate, was a potential threat to its witnesses lined up to justify the charges against him.
Okpeseyi told the court that the witnesses who are operatives of the Department of Security Service (DSS) carry out their work across the country and could be attacked by sympathisers and well-wishers of Dasuki unless their identifiers were protected.
The counsel submitted that Dasuki was once the boss of the witnesses and that they (witnesses) could be jeopardised unless their names are not placed in the public domain, adding that the ex-NSA will not be prejudiced in any way if the request for the witness protection was granted.
However, counsel to Dasuki described the governmentâ€™s application as cheap blackmail against his client and urged the court to dismiss the request for being speculative, baseless and unmeritorious.
Raji said the ex-NSA was not charged for a terrorism offence to warrant protection for any witness, adding that several operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had testified against Dasuki in two other courts without any complaint of a threat to their lives.
The application seeking witness protection, the second filled by the prosecution, asked the court not to allow the names and addresses of the witnesses to be made public in the course of the trial.
But the ex-NSA, in a counter affidavit, argued that there was no justification for the federal government to have brought the motion for a secret trial for the second time having lost in the first motion.
Among others, the federal government, in the charges against the former NSA, alleged that he (Dasuki), on or before July 17, 2015, was in possession of prohibited firearms without a licence, and by so doing had committed an offence contrary to Section 3 of the Firearm Act Cap F28, Laws of Federation of Nigeria 2004.
The former NSA pleaded not guilty to all the charges preferred against him.
The matter was adjourned till September 20 and 21 for trial.