By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Federal High Court in Abuja has deferred ruling on the bail application Senator Ali Ndume filed to secure his release from the Kuje Correctional Center, till Friday.
Trial Justice Okon Abang adjourned ruling on the application after he entertained arguments from both Ndume’s lawyer, Mr. Marcel Oru and counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar.
The court had on Monday, remanded the lawmaker who is representing Borno South Senatorial District in custody following his failure to produce the former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, whom he stood surety for.
Maina is facing 12-count money laundering charge the EFCC preferred against him and a firm, Common Input Properties & Investment Limited, had since September 29, refused to attend his trial.
Satisfied that he jumped bail, the court issued bench warrant for his arrest, even as it remanded his surety in prison custody.
The court ordered the surety to either produce Maina for the continuation of his trial, or forfeit the N500million bail bond he signed on behalf of the Defendant.
Alternatively, the court directed the sale of Ndume’s property situated at Asokoro in Abuja to raise the N500m it said should be paid into the Federation Account.
Justice Abang said the surety should remain in custody pending the fulfilment of any of the conditions, even as he gave the Prosecution the nod to try the Defendant in absentia.
Ndume had since lodged 12 grounds of appeal to challenge his remand by the trial court.
Aside from his notice of appeal, the embattled lawmaker brought an application before the trial court, seeking to be released on bail, pending the hearing and determination of his appeal.
He predicated the bail request on section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and section 179 of the Administration of Justice Act, 2015.
Moving to the bail application on Thursday, Ndume’s lawyer, Marcel Oru, described Maina’s action that led to his client’s remand as “highly despicable”.
Oru admitted that his client indeed signed an undertaking and swore to an affidavit to forfeit the N500m bail bond should the Defendant jump bail.
He however argued that the forfeiture proceeding the EFCC initiated against the lawmaker was not completed before the court made the remand order.
Counsel to the detained surety maintained that the trial court denied his client fair hearing since he was not allowed the opportunity to show cause why he should not be punished over Maina’s misconduct.
Ndume’s lawyer said he approached the trial court with the bail application in view of the fact that it could take about six months to determine “serious issues of law” his client has raised before the appellate court.
He contended that allowing the Applicant to remain in prison custody for that long, would amount to allowing him to inadvertently serve a punishment prescribed by law, for an offence he has not been convicted for.
More so, the lawyer prayed the Court to have sympathy on Senator Ndume, noting that he has already spent four days in custody over Maina’s action.
He drew attention of the court to the fact that Ndume regularly attended the proceedings even when it was obvious that Maina had jumped bail.
Condemning Maina’s conduct, Oru said: “My lord, from going by what has played out in this case, only God knows from the lesson learned, whether a Nigerian with a good heart will ever stand surety for anyone anymore”.
He urged the court to in the interest of justice, grant the surety bail pending the conclusion of the case he filed before the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
However, the EFCC, through its counsel, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, opposed Ndume’s bail application.
The Prosecution argued that granting the application would amount to the trial court sitting on appeal over its own ruling.
Abubakar noted that though the court has the jurisdiction to entertain the application considering the fact that the record of appeal has not been duly compiled, he maintained that circumstances sorrounding the case was not such that could allow the trial Judge to grant bail to the detained surety.
“When an appeal has been lodged, the trial court ceases to have jurisdiction over application for bail pending trial. Granting this application will amount to this court sitting on appeal in this matter.
“In which case, this court does not have such jurisdiction”, the Prosecution added.
Besides, EFCC told the court that selling of property at Asokoro would be dependent on Ndume’s failure to pay the N500m bail bond.
“Until he informs us of his inability to raise the money, we cannot go ahead to sale the property. This is to forestall double payment of the bail sum. We can go ahead to sale the property now, only for the Applicant to show evidence of payment of the bail bond into the federation account”, Abubakar added.
He therefore urged the court to decline jurisdiction to grant Ndume’s bail request.
After he had listened to both sides, Justice Abang reserved his ruling, stressing that its delivery on Friday would be “subject to the availability of judicial time”.
EFCC had in the charge before the court, alleged that Maina used account of his firm and laundered funds to the tune of about N2billion, part of which he used to acquire landed properties in Abuja.
It told the court that the ex-Pension reform boss used fictitious names to open and operate various bank accounts, as well as recruited his relatives that were bankers to operate fake bank accounts through which illicit funds were channelled.
The prosecution had on Wednesday, disclosed that Maina also stole over N14billion from the federal pension account, using names of fake pensioners and non-existent biometric contracts.