Senator Mohammed Aliyu Ndume
A Federal High Court in Abuja Tuesday granted an application by Senator Mohammed Aliyu Ndume, to proceed to Saudi Arabia to perform lesser Hajj.
It granted him an order to exit from Nigeria for the purpose of performing lesser hajj, Umrah, from August 1 to 31.
Ndume is standing trial on a four-count charge of sponsoring the Boko Haram sect and withholding information which could lead to the arrest of members of the sect from security agencies.
Justice Gabriel Kolawole said Ndume had a right to his faith and that the Federal Government had not shown that the Senator would not return to the country to face his trial if allowed to travel on pilgrimage.
He held that the onus was on the state to prove that releasing Ndume’s passport to enable him travel to Saudi Arabia to perform the lesser Hajj, Umrah, would jeopardise the efforts of the security agencies to curb the ravaging activities of the Boko Haram sect which had caused the death of many Nigerians in the last 14 months.
This onus, the judge said, was not discharged by the prosecution.
Justice Kolawole however warned that an accused person who had been charged before a court of law for an indictable offence and had been granted bail by the court could not rely on the provision of the constitution which stated that an accused person should be presumed innocent until his guilt had been proven.
According to him, Ndume’s rights have been circumscribed by the fact that he had been charged before a court of law and that he needed to place verifiable materials before the court to enable the court to exercise its discretion in his favour.
He said: “An accused standing trial is still presumed innocent until proven guilty but this however does not mean that there was no prima facie evidence linking him to the crimes, presumption of innocence supposes that one who is alleged to have been committed a crime and was arrested should be charged to court and the accused had been so charged.”
In exercising the court’s discretion in favour of Ndume, Justice Kolawole stated that the accused applicant had requested to attend to his religious obligation as well as attend his routine medical checks and noted that prosecution had not responded on how releasing his passport to travel would prejudice this trial.
The judge said: “He had been admitted to bail and there is prospect or certainty that the accused will attend his trial. His request was for a specified time frame, and a mere assertion by the prosecution that the accused will not return for his trial, cannot be taken like a magic wand, reasonable materials to that effect ought to have been placed before the court.
“Ndume’s application is based primarily on his personal religious faith which the court should treat cautiously. Moreso, only the living can perform umrah, so the submission of the prosecution that Ndume can always perform the religious rites after his trial holds no water, as the prosecution cannot say for certainty that Ndume would be discharged and acquitted at the end of his trial.
“The offence for which he is standing trial carries a jail term of 10 years and there is no law which permits someone serving term to travel for religious rites.”
Justice Kolawole ordered Ndume to file within 24 hours upon his arrival an affidavit deposing to having received any medical attention in the course of his trip for religious rites and to return his travel documents back to the court immediately on arrival.