Despite vehement opposition from the federal government, an Abuja High Court at Jabi yesterday released the Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki, his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, former clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa and his deputy, Mr. Benedict Efeturi, on bail.
However, Senate President Saraki has vowed to continue to protect the tenets of the nation’s democracy even if it entails going to jail.
The quartet was docked before the court on a two- count forgery charge the federal government entered against them.
The defendants were alleged to have masterminded the usage of a bogus Senate Standing Rules for the July 9, 2015, election, through which both Saraki and Ekweremadu took over the leadership of the Senate.
The federal government maintained that the defendants had by their conduct committed an offence punishable under Section 97 (1) and 364 of the Penal Code Act.
However, though the federal government, which was represented by the Director of Public Prosecution, DPP, Mr. Mohammed Diri, did not oppose Saraki’s bail request, it however urged the court to deny the other defendants bail.
The DPP told the court that Ekweremadu and the other defendants previously evaded service of the charge on them.
“We urge this court to be cautious in handling the bail of the first, second and fourth defendants. This is also considering the fact that the charge against them is very serious,” the DPP insisted.
He noted that the three defendants evaded service until the court granted an order for substituted service of the charge on them by pasting it at the National Assembly notice board.
“My lord, what this means is that if granted bail, the defendants may not be seen again for trial,” Diri added.
He said FG’s decision not to oppose Saraki’s bail application was to ensure that legislative business in the Senate was not hampered.
However, delivering a bench ruling on the matter, trial Justice Yusuf Halilu stressed that the essence of bail was to ensure the liberty of an accused person who under section 35 of the 1999 Constitution is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“The law is trite that considering whether or not to grant bail is within the discretion of the court and exercise of such discretion must be done judiciously and judicially,” the judge held.
He observed that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, equally “lends supports that an accused person standing trial shall be granted bail to enable him prepare defence.”
The judge also said the concept of “presumption of innocence” under the constitution entailed that an accused person should be afforded the facility and time to prepare to defend the charge before the court.
“Consequently, and having considered the applications for bail and submissions by counsel to the defendants, Mr. Ikechukwu Ezechukwu (SAN), Mahmud Magaji (SAN), Paul Erokoro (SAN), and J.B. Daudu (SAN); also having considered the counter-affidavit from the DPP, I shall allow the first, second, third and fourth defendants to go home today.
“However, the first, second and fourth defendants shall provide two reasonable sureties each,” Justice Halilu ruled.
He maintained that the sureties must be owners of landed properties in the highbrow areas of Asokoro, Maitama, Wuse II or Garki in Abuja.
The court subsequently fixed July 11, 2016, to commence trial of the defendants.
Meanwhile, there was heavy security presence within perimeters of the court which shares boundary with the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, where Senator Saraki is also answering to another 16-count charge bordering on alleged false/anticipatory declaration of assets.
Supporters of the embattled lawmakers thronged the court premises in their numbers to observe the proceeding.
Whereas Saraki, who appeared calm all through the proceeding, wore his usual white caftan with matching cap, Ekweremadu on the other hand wore traditional Igbo attire.
Earlier, armed security operatives barred photo- journalists from gaining entrance into the court premises, a development that led to protest by the journalists.
It took the intervention of lawyers to persuade the mobile policemen to grant the camera men entry into the premises.
The two-count charge which the defendants took turns to plead to on Monday read: “That you, Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa, Benedict Efeturi, Dr. Olubukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu, on or about, the 9th of June, 2015, at the National Assembly complex, Three Arms Zone, Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this court, conspired amongst yourselves to forge the Senate Standing Order, 2011 (as amended) and you thereby committed the offence of conspiracy, punishable under Section 97 (1) of the Penal Code Law.
“That you, Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa, Benedict Efeturi, Dr. Olubukola Saraki and Ike Ekweremadu, on or about the 9th of June, 2015, at the National Assembly complex, Three Arms Zone, Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this court, with fraudulent intent, forged the Senate Standing Order 2011 (as amended), causing it to be believed as the genuine Standing Order, 2015 and circulated same for use during the inauguration of the 8th Senate of the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria when you knew that the said order was not made in compliance with the procedure for amendment of the Senate Order. You thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 364 of the Penal Code Law.”
The charge marked CR/219/16 and dated June 10 was okayed by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), before the court.
I’m ready for jail – Saraki
Meanwhile, barely few hours after Senate President Bukola Saraki was granted bail by an Abuja Federal High Court, he had vowed not to surrender in the face of alleged witch-hunting by the federal government.
This was made known in a statement signed by the Senate president where he said his trial is a cross he “is ready to carry in the interest of democracy in the country.”
Saraki further reiterated that if the trial was the price he had to pay for not yielding to the “nefarious agenda of few persons in government,” he was ready to go to jail.
He noted that what had become clear was that there was now a government within the government of President Muhammadu Buhari that had seized the apparatus of executive powers to pursue their nefarious agenda.
Saraki, his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu and two others are facing trial for allegedly forging the Standing Rule of the Senate last year.
The Senate president said he would remain true and committed to the responsibilities that his citizenship and office imposed on him.
“If unyielding to the nefarious agenda of a few individuals who are bent in undermining our democracy and destabilising the federal government to satisfy their selfish interests is the alternative to losing my personal freedom, let the doors of jails be thrown open and I shall be a happy guest.
“Today, we the leaders of the Nigerian Senate reiterate our innocence against the charges filed by the Attorney General of the Federal Government of Nigeria at the Federal Capital Territory High Court on the allegations of forgery of the Senate Standing Rules document.
“In our view, the charges filed by the Attorney General represent a violation of the principle of separation of powers between the executive branch and the legislative branch as enshrined in our constitution.
“Furthermore, it is farcical to allege that a criminal act occurred during Senate procedural actions and the mere suggestion demonstrates a desperate overreach by the office of the Attorney General.
“These trumped up charges is only another phase in the relentless persecution of the leadership of the Senate.
“This misguided action by the Attorney General begs the question. How does this promote the public interest and benefit the nation?
“At a time when the whole of government should be working together to meet Nigeria’s many challenges, we are once again distracted by the executive branch’s inability to move beyond a leadership election among Senate peers.
“It was not an election of Senate peers and executive branch participants.
“Over the past year the Senate has worked to foster good relations with the executive branch. It is in all of our collective interests to put aside divisions and get on with the nation’s business.”