Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy Ike Ekweremadu were released on bail following their first appearance in court yesterday over forgery charges.
They were charged along with former Clerk to the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa and his deputy, Benedict Efeturi.
The four pleaded not guilty to a two-count charge of criminal conspiracy and forgery before Justice Yusuf Halilu of the FCT High Court, Jabi.
Count One stated that Maikasuwa, Efeturi, Saraki and Ekweremadu “On or about the June 9, 2015, conspired and forged the Senate Standing Order, 2011 (as amended), an offence punishable under Section 97 (1) of the Penal Code Law.”
Count Two also said the four defendants “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.”
It added that they did this knowing that “the said Order was not made in compliance with the procedure for amendment of the Senate Order ”and by this “committed an offence punishable under Section 364 of the Penal Code Law.”
Maikasuwa was the Clerk of the National Assembly when the alleged offence was committed.
Director of Public Prosecution, office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Muhammad S. Diri opposed the applications bail when they were moved.
At the instance of the prosecution, Justice Yusuf Halilu stood down the matter for one hour to enable the counter affidavit filed by the DPP to be served on the defence.
At the resumed hearing, Ikechukwu Ezechukwu (SAN), Mahmud Magaji (SAN), Paul Erokoro (SAN) and Joseph Daudu (SAN) filed their bail applications for the first, second, third and fourth defendants respectively.
Erokoro, counsel to Saraki submitted that the third defendant’s application for bail is supported by a 28 paragraphs affidavit.
He said during investigation, the police never invited Saraki nor was his statement ever taken.
He added that Saraki had been standing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for over a year and had never been absent at the Tribunal, thus making the prosecution’s counter-motion ridiculous that the third defendant might not appear for trial.
“He is the President of the Senate, where will he run to? He is too big to hide. I urge your lordship to grant the 3rd defendant bail on self recognition”, Erokoro concluded.
Prosecution counsel said prosecution did not intend to oppose the bail application of Saraki because he was the Senate President and not granting him bail would hinder the operation of the legislative. He however said the prosecution “vehemently oppose the bail applications of the 1st, 2nd and 4th defendants”.
He said if the defendants were found guilty based on Section 362 of Penal Code, it might attract a sentence of up to seven years imprisonment. He added that the three defendants evaded the service of charge until the Court orders a substituted service. ranted they might evade trial. He based this argument on Section162 (b) of the Administration for Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).
Daudu, counsel to Ekweremadu (4th defendant) said “We are prepared to go on with trial today”. He added that it was wrong for the prosecution to speculate that the 4th defendant might evade trial.
Justice Halilu in a consolidated ruling said it sufficed to mention that the essence of bail is to ensure the protection of the innocence of the accused person until proven guilty and that the ACJA said an accused person should be granted bail in order for him to prepare for trial.
He ruled that applications for bail, regardless of prosecution’s decision not to oppose the application for bail of Saraki, are granted as soon as the four defendants each provided 2 reasonable sureties who must be Nigerian men or women and owned landed property in Asokoro, Wuse, Maitama, and Garki.
“Failure to meet the bail conditions, they shall be remanded in Kuje prisons”, Justice Halilu ruled.
As early as 8.30 yesterday morning, the court room and the entire court premises were crowded with sympathisers of the principal lawmakers.
Outside the court premises a group of protesters carried placards chanting, “Defend our democracy”, “let democracy prevail.”
Justice Halilu appeared at 9 am, but he retired to his chambers because of the surging crowd in the courtroom to allow senior lawyers alongside court staff to restore order.
When the judge returned to the bench, with half of the people already ushered out of the court room, the court proceedings commenced. The efforts of J. B. Daudu and the court registrar notwithstanding, the congestion was still apparent with more people standing than those sitting with over 30 senators accompanying both Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy Ike Ekweremadu to the court.
The matter was adjourned to July 11th for hearing.