The Federal High Court, Abuja, has fixed September 13 for ruling on whether or not witnesses should be allowed to testify behind screen in the trial of former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd).
Yesterday’s motion was the second time the Federal Government was approaching the court seeking secret trial of Dasuki.In the motion argued by the prosecuting counsel, Chief Dipo Okpeseyi (SAN), government prayed the court to allow witnesses give evidence behind the screen, which was to be provided by the court.
The basis of his argument was that Dasuki has a large number of loyalists across the country, who may jeopardise the trial.Okpeseyi further submitted that Dasuki had in the recent past held the highest security office in the country and has loyalists in the security circle, whose loyalty has been transferred to personality and whose actions might be inimical to prosecution witnesses some of whom are still in the service.
Okpeseyi, who cited the case of the government witness who was involved in a serious accident, resulting in multiple fractures and injuries, however, stated that in as much as he would not allude that Dasuki has a hand in the accident, it heightens the need to have the witnesses protected by the court.
He further submitted that in the highest military office where Dasuki served last, loyalty was the first, second and the last rule, and because of the peculiar nature of loyalty, some persons find it difficult to distinguish between loyalty to state and that of individual.
He said that since the witnesses were those of the court whose primary duty was to assist the court arrive at a just conclusion, the issue of security must be viewed with a serious concern.
His words: “This is necessary because of the fate the earlier application suffered before the court and the fact that the application is now more serious in view of the fact that one of the principal witnesses was involved in a very serious accident with multiple fracture and injuries.
“In as much as we are not alluding that the defence has a hand in it, it further heightens our need to have these witnesses protected.“The simple reason was that the defendant has held the highest security office in this country and at that level, he has garnered a lot of followership within and beyond the security service, and loyalty is the first, second and the last rule in the military.
“And so, we, as officers of the court, have brought this application to ask for this seemingly harmless order to protect these witnesses. This court has the power to grant that the witnesses give evidence behind screen in order to protect them, their families and their carriers.”
He, therefore, urged Justice Adeniyi Ademola to screen the witnesses from the public in the interest of justice and to protect them, their family members and career.
The prosecution’s application was quickly opposed by the defence counsel, Joseph Daudu (SAN), who argued that it would breach the principle of fair trial.
Daudu told the court that the defence has filed a 20-paragraph counter-affidavit. According to him, the application carried a disadvantageous content and that the very fact that prayers two and three of the old application have been abandoned did not take away the sting of the application.
The defence counsel, who noted that the proper thing for the prosecution to have done was to appeal the ruling of April 19 against similar application, said: “All of us have gone on appeal at one point or the other in this case. So, the appeal process is there, he can explore it.
“This is a very simple charge, it is not treasonable felony and there is nothing in the charge that affects the security of this nation.”Daudu further argued that open trial is the minimum requirement in a criminal trial and as such, any attempt to opt for a secret trial in the instant case, which is not a capital offence, will run contrary to Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution on fair trial.
He, therefore, asked the court to discountenance the claim made by the prosecution on the issue of loyalty in the military circle, stressing that such claim was a mere speculation and not backed by facts.Justice Ademola, after taking arguments from both parties, fixed ruling and continuation of trial for September 13, 14 and 15.