EFCC boss, Ibrahim Magu
EFCC boss, Ibrahim Magu

A HIGH Court of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, yesterday ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to release detained former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Bala Mohammed, after granting him bail pending the determination of his substantive suit against it. The former minister, who was arrested and detained since October 24, 2016, when he went to honour an invitation by the commission, has filed a N100 million fundamental human right suit against the anti-graft agency over his continued detention. However, before the determination of the substantive suit, his counsel, Chief Chris Uche [SAN] also filed an application praying the court to release him on bail pending the hearing and determination of the suit. Ruling on the bail application yesterday, Justice Baba Yusuf agreed with submissions of counsel that Mohammed deserved to be released on bail so as to enable him enjoy his constitutional right to liberty. Justice Yusuf, who cited relevant constitutional provisions and case laws, held that bail was the basic constitutional rights of a citizen arrested on non-capital offences. Consequently, the judge frowned at the attitude of the respondent [EFCC] for opposing the bail application after it had earlier granted him administrative bail. He further condemned the counter affidavit filed by the commission, saying it contained no prima facie evidence and full of contradictions. The court admitted the former minister to bail to the conditions earlier attached to his administrative bail by the EFCC. Reviewing the relevant provisions of the law, Justice Yusuf relied on the provisions of Section 158 of ACJA, 2015, which provides that “when a person who is suspected to have committed an offence or is accused of an offence is arrested or detained, or appears or is brought before a court, he shall subject to the provisions of this Act, be entitled to bail. “Besides, Section 165 [1] of ACJA provides that ‘The conditions for bail in any case shall be at the discretion of the court with due regard to the circumstances of the case and shall not be excessive – Section 168 of ACJA. “A judge of a high court may direct the defendant in custody in a State or in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja be admitted to bail. Section 35 [1] of the 1999 constitution. “Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty – Section 35 [4] [a] [b] of the 1999 constitution. “Any person who is arrested or detained in accordance to subsection [1] [c] of this section shall be brought before a court of law within a reasonable time, and if he is not tried within two or three months, he shall be released either conditionally or upon such conditions as are reasonably necessary to ensure that he appears for trial at a later date. “Section 36 in the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality.” The judge stated that superior courts had held in a plethora of cases that bail was the basic constitutional rights of a citizen arrested on non-capital offences. “From the foregoing constitutional provisions, it is clear that the right to bail and fair hearing are interwoven and are aimed at allowing the defendant easy access to his counsel so as to prepare for his defence. “Moreover, the presumption of innocence will lose its meaning if an accused in a non-capital offence is denied bail. “The respondent appears to have taken cognizance of these facts when the granted administrative bail to the applicant on October 25, 2016. I am therefore surprised when the respondent opposed his bail application by filling a copious counter affidavit. “However, a clear look at the said counter affidavit revealed that it is self defeatist as many of the paragraphs are false and contradictory. “In addition, there is no prima facie evidence as the exhibits annexed to the counter affidavit are not certified and do not support the averments. For instance, the respondent alleged that the applicant was arrested and detained following a number of petitions written against him. However, they only attached a single petition as evidence. “When all these contradictions in the counter affidavit are analysed, the only conclusion is that they have no evidence against the bail application of the applicant. “It is also on record that on October 25, 2016, the respondent granted administrative bail to the applicant with the conditions that he must provide two directors in the federal government establishments, who must provide certificate of landed properties in Abuja and deposit copies of their international passports. “Now, the simple question is whether he provided those sureties. It was averred that he although he provided sureties, the respondents refused to verify them. I have considered the circumstances and it is my view that the right to bail is constitutional. “It is my view therefore to invoke the provisions of section 168 [b] of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, to direct that the applicant is admitted to bail in the same condition that was attached to his administrative bail that was given to him by the respondent. “I have decided not to tamper with the bail conditions because the applicant has not complained that he would not be able to meet them. The bail conditions shall be processed by this court as provided under section 170 of ACJA.” EFCC pending his arraignment before a competent court of law. In suit marked FCT/ CV/220/2016 filed by his counsel, the applicant is praying the court for an order compelling and directing the EFCC to release him on bail forthwith or immediately arraign him before a competent court of law for trial. The application was brought pursuant to order IV rules 3 and 4 of the fundamental rights [enforcement procedure] rules 2009, sections 159 [1] and [2], 168 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, and section 35 of the constitution and under the inherent jurisdiction of the court. In his 15-paragraphs affidavit in support of the originating motion on notice, the applicant stated that he was invited by the EFCC to report to its office on October 24, 2016 in connection with investigation into alleged “cases of conspiracy, abuse of office and money laundering.” The affidavit deposed to by Umar Aliyu Usman stated that the applicant [Mohammed] voluntarily reported to the EFCC on October 24, 2016, and was promptly arrested and detained till date. He stated that rather than being released on bail, he was merely dumped and abandoned in the respondent’s cell since then, wherein he had suffered substantial deterioration of his health and untold psychological trauma and mental torture. Arguing the motion on notice before Justice Yusuf yesterday, Uche submitted that the arrest and detention of his client more than 30 days without being charged to court amounted to gross violation to his liberty as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution. Uche, who cited the provisions of section 168 of the ACJA, submitted that “a judge of a high court may direct that bail conditions required by a magistrates court or police officers be reviewed or defendant in custody in a state or in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja be admitted to bail.” In addition, the senior lawyer cited section 159 [1] and [2] of the ACJA, which provides that “where a suspect or defendant is detained in a prison, police station or any other place of detention, the court may issue an order to the officer in charge of the prison, police station or other place to produce the suspect or defendant at the time and date specified in the order before the court.” Uche also cited the case of Ani vs the state [2002] 1 NWLR [747] 217 @ 230 to submit that “the general rule is that a person who has not been tried and convicted by a competent court for an offence known to law is entitled to be admitted to bail as a matter of course, unless some circumstances militate against his admission to bail. But after conviction, bail is no longer granted as a matter of course, except upon the existence of special reasons raised by the applicant.” He told the court that there was no averment by the EFCC as to why the applicant ouldnot be released on bail or charged to court, adding that there was also nothing to show that the nature of the investigation was such that it had not been completed or if released he would interfere with investigations. Uche further informed the court that as a former senator and minister, his client was a responsible citizen with responsible surety to take him on bail. In urging the court to grant his application, Uche further referred the court to Order 4, Rule 3 to argue that the court, if satisfied, might hear the applicant’s exparte application and grant bail or release him forthwith from detention and order his production to court. However, counsel to the EFCC, Rimansomte Ezekiel urged the court to dismiss the application with a cost of N50 million against the applicant. Ezekiel argued that contrary to the claims by the applicant that he was under illegal detention, he was being detained by competent, valid and subsisting orders of court. Besides, he informed the court that the applicant was interfering with investigations by trying to influence EFCC investigators and star witnesses. Hearing in the substantive suit has been fixed for December 14, 2016.

READ ALSO  Bribery: Justice Ademola did nothing wrong, NJC tells court