Ade Adesomoju, Abuja
A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Maitama, Abuja, on Tuesday ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to release a former Minister of the FCT, Mr. Bala Mohammed, on bail.
The EFCC was said to have detained the former minister since October 24, 2016, in relation to, among others, alleged fictitious contracts worth N1bn, which he allegedly awarded while in office.
Mohammed subsequently filed a fundamental human rights enforcement suit, asking the court to order the EFCC to release him from custody and award to him N100m compensation for the violation of his rights by the anti-graft agency.
But before the suit could come up for hearing, Mohammed’s counsel, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), filed an application asking the court to release his client on bail pending the hearing and determination of the suit.
Justice Baba Yusuf, in a ruling on Tuesday, upheld the application by granting bail to the former minister pending the determination of the main suit.
The judge agreed with the submissions of the applicant’s counsel to the effect that the suspect deserved to be released on bail as he was constitutionally entitled to his personal liberty.
Justice Yusuf held that bail was the basic constitutional rights of a citizen arrested for non-capital offences.
The judge frowned on the attitude of the respondent (the EFCC) for opposing the bail application after it had earlier granted him administrative bail.
The court granted Mohammed bail in the conditions earlier attached to his administrative bail by the EFCC.
The judge ruled, “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 person in a non-capital offence is denied bail.
“The respondent appears to have taken cognisance of these facts when it 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 averrements.
“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’s establishments, who must provide certificate of landed properties in Abuja and deposit copies of their passports.
“Now, the simple question is whether he provided those sureties. It was averred that 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 conditions 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’s lawyer, Rimansomte Ezekiel, had opposed the bail application, urging the court to dismiss it with a cost of N50m awarded against the applicant.
Ezekiel argued that contrary to the claims by the applicant that he was under illegal detention, the applicant was being detained by competent, valid and subsisting orders of court.
He said besides that, the applicant was discovered to be interfering with investigations by trying to influence EFCC investigators and witnesses.
Justice Yusuf fixed December 14 for hearing of the substantive suit. (Punchng.com)