Justice Muhammed Liman of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday dismissed a post-conviction bail application, filed by the convicted former Governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu.
The judge, after ruling against all four issues raised for determination by Kalu, said his application lacked merit.
He ordered Kalu to remain in prison till his appeal at the Court of Appeal is determined, wondering why the former governor is in a hurry to file the application when the appeal has not been heard at all.
Justice Mohammed Idris had on December 5 convicted and sentenced Kalu to a concurrent term of 12 years imprisonment over N7.2 billion fraud after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) charged and prosecuted him alongside his former Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Jones Udeogo, and his company, Slok Nigeria Limited, on an amended 39-count charge of fraud.
In his judgment, Justice Idris had found Kalu and Slok Nigeria Limited guilty of all the 39 counts of the charge, while the second defendant, Udeogo, was convicted on 34 counts of the charge.
While Kalu was sentenced to a term of 12 years imprisonment for the offence, Udeogo got 10 years imprisonment.
The court ordered that Slok Nigeria Limited be wound up and its assets forfeited to the federal government.
Though the former governor and others had long filed their notices of appeal, last Tuesday, his lawyers, Messrs Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) and Awa Kalu (SAN), appeared in court with an application seeking to release the convict from prison pending the determination of his appeal.
They listed ill-health, being a representative of his senatorial district, the likelihood that appeal might be delayed and being of good conduct as grounds for his appeal for the post-conviction bail.
Fagbemi claimed Kalu had health challenges that could not be managed by the medical facilities in the Custodial Centre in Ikoyi, Lagos.
He also argued that the offences for which he was convicted and jailed were bailable.
Citing Sections 6 of the constitution, the counsel argued that the court has the powers to entertain such an application since post-judgment jurisdictions are anchored on the section.
He said the bail would enable Kalu to attend to his health as well return to the National Assembly to carry out service to the nation.
They prayed the court to free him, while he pursues his conviction by Justice Idris at the Court of Appeal.
However, counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), opposed the application for post-conviction bail, saying, “Although bail is generally a right of an accused as guaranteed by the constitution, it is not a right available to a convict because the presumption of innocence had crystallised into guilt and conviction.
“An application for bail pending appeal is sparingly granted.
“Such a bail can be granted in a situation, where the term of imprisonment would have elapsed before the determination of the appeal.
“But that is not the situation in Kalu’s case.”
On Kalu’s health condition, Jacobs said there was no recent medical report to show his state of health, arguing that the medical report tendered in his case was done more than a year ago.
He added that the request by Kalu to be released on bail so as to seek traditional medicine was not tenable, as visitors were allowed into the custodial centre.
“He says he needs his herbalist to treat him but he has not said that his herbalist came to the prison and was not allowed to see him.
“In one breath, the applicant is saying that he wants to be released on health grounds while in another breath, he is saying that as a senator, he needs to be released on bail so as to carry out his official functions,” he said.
Citing the case of the Federal Republic of Nigeria vs. Joshua Dariye, he argued that the Nigerian criminal jurisprudence was robust enough to handle an appeal and dispense with same within a reasonable time.
Besides, he argued that the medical facilities at the Ikoyi Custodial Centre were capable of handling Kalu’s medical condition.
Delivering his judgment on the application yesterday, Justice Liman after critically analysing all the arguments canvassed by the parties, and citing a plethora of authorities, said: “The applicant has not furnished the court with enough health challenges to grant the application.”
The judge also stated that the people of the constituency that the convict is representing ought to have known that their representative was facing a criminal charge before electing him to represent them and that the convict’s argument that his representation would be missed is discountenanced.
He also discountenanced the convicted senator’s argument that the hearing and determination of his appeal might not be quick and being of good character.
In all, Justice Liman said: “Having ruled against the applicant on all grounds, I found nothing in this application to be determined in favour of the applicant and it is hereby dismissed.”
In the same vein, Justice Liman fixed January 17, 2020, for ruling on the same application filed by the second convict, Udeogu.