On Monday, November 25, 2019 a judge of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, Justice Okon Abang, gave what was clearly the highest bail amount in Nigeria’s judicial history.
Ruling on the bail application filed by counsel to Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina, embattled former chairman of Pension Reform Task Force Team, Justice Abang granted bail to Maina in the sum of N1 billion and two sureties in the sum of N500 million each.
The judge further ordered that the sureties must be serving Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who have no criminal cases pending before any court of law.
Such Senators, he said, must produce the defendant in court whenever he is required and that the sureties must have landed properties fully developed in Asokoro or Maitama, the elite districts of Abuja, in the federal capital territory. The sureties must show evidence of tax payment and clearance for the past three years.
Maina had been arraigned on a 12-count charge bordering on laundry of the sum of N2.1 billion, which he denied. He was however remanded in the custody of the Correctional Centre Kuje, Abuja, on October 25, 2019.
In granting the application for bail, Justice Abang, observed that the alleged offences were bailable but that granting the bail is within the discretion of the court.
Based on his observation and what the statute provided for, the court discountenanced the submissions of the prosecution counsel who had in his submission vehemently opposed the bail application.
The judge also ordered Maina to deposit all his travel passports especially the American, Nigerian and Diplomatic passports. The court stated that Maina should produce a letter from the Nigerian Immigration Service confirming that he was not issued with any official passport.
The granting of stringent bail conditions has been a topic of heated discussion in learned circles. The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), human rights activists and a host of other bodies have spoken vehemently against the creeping tendency by judges to hand down bail terms that are considered ludicrous.
Some of the cases that have elicited public interest are bail conditions handed out to accused persons like the former Minister for Defence, Muhammed Bello Haliru, former National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd), the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, the accused internet fraudster, Seun Egbeegbe and the publisher of Sahara reporters, Omoleye Sowore, who is still in custody of the Department of State Service, DSS.
We commend the Court of Appeal for showing greater resolve to cub the obnoxious bail term syndrome. In a judgment delivered on the appeal filed by Sambo Dasuki (rtd), the court of appeal has rightly condemned the conditions attached to his bail.
A three-man panel of the Court of Appeal Abuja Division in their unanimous judgment expunged the requirement attached to the bail granted Dasuki to produce a Level 16 civil servant who must own a property worth N100 million within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
That was the second time the Court of Appeal would disagree with the lower courts on Dasuki’s bail conditions. The court had earlier made the first reduction in a unanimous judgment which it delivered on June 13, 2019 on an appeal against the July 2, 2018 judgement of Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court.
The lead judgment delivered by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson, had reduced the bail sum from N200 million to N100 million and also cancelled the condition that he must pay N100 million to the account of the Federal High Court which would be retrievable only after the completion of the cases against him.
Also cancelled was the Federal High Court’s condition that Dasuki’s sureties must submit evidence of tax payments for the years 2015, 2016 and 2017. The appellate court also awarded N5m damages against the Federal Government for the unlawful detention of the ex-NSA.
“The imposition of these stringent terms of bail on the appellant practically amounts to a refusal of bail, thereby keeping the appellant perpetually in custody,” Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson had stated.
“One must put into consideration that this same singular appellant already been granted bail by some other courts with sureties to guarantee such bail,” the Justice added.
We agree entirely with the learned Justice Akomolafe-Wilson that bail conditions are meant to ensure the appearance in court of an accused to stand for the offences charged. “There is, therefore, no justifiable reason for imposing onerous terms and conditions of bail…” on accused persons.
While we commend the government in its determination to rid the country of corruption as well as punish those found guilty of enriching themselves dishonestly, there is a need for the courts to avoid using stringent bail conditions to infringe the rights of accused persons.
Bail conditions must be reasonable and directed solely at ensuring that those standing trial for bailable offences do not jump bail.