Court Grants Former FCT Minister Bail, Orders EFCC to Release Him

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Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
An Abuja High Court has ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to release detained former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr. Bala Mohammed, after granting him bail pending the determination of the case he filed for the enforcement of his fundamental rights.

The former minister, who was arrested and detained since October 24, 2016, when he went to honour an invitation by the commission, filed a suit to enforce his rights to freedom.

He also sought damages of N100 million against the anti-graft agency over his continued detention.
However, before the determination of the substantive suit, his counsel, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), also filed an application praying the court to release him on bail pending the hearing and determination of the suit.

Ruling on the bail application yesterday, Justice Baba Yusuf, agreed with submissions of counsel that Mohammed deserved to be released on bail so as to enable him enjoy his constitutional right to his liberty.

The judge, who cited relevant constitutional provisions and case laws held that bail was the basic constitutional rights of a citizen arrested on non-capital offences.
Consequently, the judge frowned at the attitude of the EFCC opposing the bail application after it had earlier granted him administrative bail.

He further condemned the counter-affidavit filed by the commission, saying it contained no prima facie evidence and full of contradictions.
The court admitted the former minister to bail on conditions earlier attached to his administrative bail by the EFCC.

Reviewing the relevant provisions of the law, Justice Yusuf relied on the provisions of Section 158 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, which provides that, “When a person who is suspected to have committed an offence or is accused of an offence is arrested or detained, or appears or is brought before a court, he shall subject to the provisions of this Act, be entitled to bail.”

The judge also quoted Section 165 (1) of ACJA which provides that “The conditions for bail in any case shall be at the discretion of the court with due regard to the circumstances of the case and shall not be excessive.

The Judge also relied on section 168 of ACJA which provides that “A judge of a High court may direct the defendant in custody in a state or in the FCT be admitted to bail. Justice Yusuf also cited section 35 (1) of the 1999 Constitution to the effect that “Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty.”

After quoting all relevant provisions, the judge held thus:
“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 in a non-capital offence is denied bail.

“The respondent appears to have taken cognisance of these facts when the 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 averments. 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 the 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 establishments, who must provide certificate of landed properties in Abuja and deposit copies of their international passports.

“Now, the simple question is whether he provided those sureties. It was averred that he although 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 condition 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.”
Mohammed had asked to release on him bail from the custody of EFCC pending his arraignment.
In suit marked FCT/CV/220/2016, he prayed the court for an order compelling and directing the EFCC to release him on bail forthwith or immediately arraign him for trial.