Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Federal High Court has granted an application by the Federal government to try a former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki on alleged possession of firearms and money laundering in his absentia.
Justice Mohammed Ahmed who gave the ruling, on Monday, said he was empowered by the provisions of section 352 (4) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015 to continue with the trail without the attendance of Dasuki.
He referred to the November 12, 2018 letter by Dasuki wherein he stated that he will no longer appear in court for his trial until the Federal government obey the various valid court orders admitting him to bail.
Dasuki, who had been in detention since 2015, is also standing trial on alleged breach of public trust, diversion of public funds meant for the purchase of arms to fight Boko Haram insurgency amongst others.
The court granted the application following an application by counsel to the Federal government, Oladipo Okpeseyi (SAN).
Okpeseyi had told the court that Dasuki blatantly refused to attend court to stand for his trial.
He made reference to the November 12, 2018 letter by Dasuki wherein he stated that he would not make himself available for any proceedings against him.
Okpeseyi therefore applied that the Federal government be granted permission to prosecute the ex- NSA in absentia in line with the provisions of section 352(4) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
In the alternative, the prosecution asked that the matter be stood down to enable Dasuki to appear.
Efforts by counsel on behalf of Dasuki, Victor Okwudiri to dissuade the court from granting the application failed.
He challenged the affidavit brought by the Federal government on the ground that it was legally defective by the non affixation of the seal of the Nigerian Bar Association as required by Rule 10(1)(3) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Okwudiri equally argued that the Federal government lacked the right to approach the court for an order, having disobeyed several court orders that granted his client bail.
Justice Ahmed noted that he had on April 10 and November 13, directed Federal government to file an affidavit for the trial to be conducted in absentia any day Dasuki failed to appear in court.
Meanwhile, the court yesterday refused an application by the prosecution counsel to compel the attendance of Dasuki in court.
Justice Ahmed had in his ruling on the application which was moved and argued by the prosecution counsel, Oladipo Okpeseyi (SAN), stated ” it is quite unnecessary to compel the defendant in view of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act which permit the court to proceed with the trial in the absence of the defendant (Dasuki).”
He said, “From the content of the defendant’s letter, it is very clear that he has resolved not to appear for his trial.”
Dasuki had in his letter, accused President Muhammadu Buhari of ‘high-handedness and arbitrary violation of both domestic and international laws on human rights.’
He disclosed that he became apprehensive when president Buhari had during a media chat on December 30, 2015 said “I will not be released because the weight of crimes allegedly committed by me against the Nigerian State, are such that if I am allowed to enjoy any form of freedom, I will likely jump bail.”
To justify his apprehension, Dasuki chronicled the various court orders and judgment of the ECOWAS Court, directing the Federal government to release him on bail, but which it failed to obey.
In his November 12 letter, Re-unabated prosecution of Col. Mohammed Sambo Dasuki (rtd) by the Federal Government of Nigeria’ asked the court to absolve him of any obligation of appearing at his trial, since the office of the State Security Service, an agent of government detaining him has also refused to respect the various court order for his bail”.
The letter reads in part, “Prevailing circumstances have prompted me to write this letter to the court, the hope of every Nigerian citizen.
“Unfortunately, it seems to me that the current administration has such much interfered with the judicial system, such that it has become practically impossible for the court to maintain her independence, the administration of justice.
“The resolve to continue detaining me, against the several orders of court and in brazen violation of the constitution is wrongful and arbitrary.
“It has inflicted physical, emotional and psychological torture on my family and me. The decision of the Federal government of Nigeria is not only high-handed, it is also arbitrary and in violation of both domestic and international laws on human rigts.
“At this juncture, it will seem that the Nigerian government is not inclined to yield or obey the orders of any court of law; whether domestic or international.
“Ironically, the Federal government still wants to ride on judicial wings to prosecute me, when it does not comply with orders that proceed from the court, especially in relations to me.
“At this point, I strongly believe that there must be an end to this hypocrisy and lop-sided /partisan rule of law.
“Since the Federal government has resolved not to comply with judicial orders directing my release, it is better for the court to also absolve me of the need to submit myself for further prosecution.
“Justice should be evenly dispensed, as opposed to same, being in favour of the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
When the matter came up yesterday before Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Dasuki was absent from the trial and his lawyer, Victor Okwudiri drew the court’s attention to a letter written and signed by the defendant, stating his intention to stop appearing in court for his trial until the prosecution obey the orders releasing him on bail.
Reacting, counsel to the prosecution, Dipo Okpeseyi SAN, however, urged the court to order that Dasuki be tried in absentia.
Okpeseyi predicated his prayers on the grounds that the cases for which the former NSA has been denied bail are independent of the instant case and described the defendant’s action as an affront to the court.
He lamented that while the prosecution was ready to proceed with the trial, the absence of the defendant has again stalled the day’s proceedings.
In his ruling, trial Judge, Justice Mohammed, held that the court will not grant the prosecution’s request to proceed with the trial in absentia, unless the prosecution depose to an affidavit accusing the defence of willfully avoiding the court.
Justice Mohammed noted that, the court had in its previous ruling on April 10 settled the issue of Dasuki’s alleged refusal to attend court hearing.
The judge further said the decision requested by the prosecution can only follow the applicant’s compliance with the ruling of the court on April 10.
However, Justice Mohammed ordered the defence to properly communicate the court, for the letter to be included in its record.
According to the judge, the court is a court of record which does not accept direct communication from parties.
He subsequently adjourned the matter till November, 19, 2018.