Justice Ademola Adeniyi of the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja on Monday expressed surprise at the decision of prosecution counsel to bring additional charges against the immediate past National Security Adviser (NSA) Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) on a day set aside for definite hearing on the single-count charge against him.
On September 1 this year, prosecution counsel Mohammed Diri told the court that Dasuki was charged with unlawful possession of firearms without a licence, to which the defendant pleaded not guilty.
Justice Ademola then granted Mr. Dasuki bail on self-recognition but ordered that his passport and other travel documents be deposited with the deputy court registrar. He adjourned the matter to October 26 and 27 for the hearing.
On the first day of the hearing today, however, M.S. Labaran, appearing for the prosecution, announced instead that the existing charge was now being expanded to include additional charges relating to illegal possession of various amounts of local and foreign currency in his Abuja residence and family house in Sokoto, in contravention of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011.
Labaran also requested that the trial be conducted in secret to provide special cover for witnesses from using public routes; use of a private witness room; as well as use of face masks; and also that only accredited members of the press be allowed to cover the trial.
Justice Ademola, surprised by the new motions, asked Labaran if he was aware that Monday October 26 and 27 had already been set for definite hearing of the case.
In a counter motion, Mr. Joseph Daudu, one of the counsels to Mr. Dasuki and a former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), objected to the request for special cover for prosecution witnesses in the case on the ground, stating that the case is harmless within a democratic setting and does not require a secret trial. Daudu said that even during military rule, trials of this nature were held openly.
He warned that in a democratic era, the entrenchment of rule of law will be the greatest casualty if a trial of this nature was undertaken in secret.
According to Daudu, the ability of the defence counsel in a criminal trial to confront the prosecution witness is pivotal because if the defence counsel cannot enjoy direct confrontation with a prosecution’s witness and interrogate him in relation to his background and similar issues will weaken the strength of the defence.
He pointed out that the identity of the witnesses which the prosecution sought to hide is already in the public domain, and recalled that even in trials of treasonable felony and coup d'etat the witnesses are not hidden, let alone in a democracy.
"Also for the fact that there have not been cases in this court where witnesses are being molested and in this case it will be a case of injustice if the defence counsel and witnesses are known and the prosecution witnesses who are armed and can protect themselves are shielded. I think all the motions and counter-affidavit has been charged and this is purely an academic exercise."
Daudu also asked the court to release the travel documents of the accused to him so that he would be able to travel abroad for medical check-up.
According to him, Dasuki was billed to travel abroad for medical treatment one day before his arrest, and the arrest and trial have so far prevented him from doing so.
In response to the remarks by the defence, Labaran requested for adjournment to be able to react to the motion for release of Dasuki’s travel documents.
Justice Ademola then adjourned the case to Wednesday, October 28, 2015 for ruling on prosecution’s request for a secret trial, as well as Dasuki’s request for his travel documents to be released to him.