Ndume: When Good Deeds Go South

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A hand of help extended by the senator representing Borno South senatorial district, Ali Ndume, had to one of his constituents, AbdulRasheed Maina, a former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team, turned awry, last week, when he was sent to jail for five days. Davidson Iriekpen writes

For the senator representing Borno South senatorial district, Ali Ndume, what happened to him on November 23 will never be forgotten in a hurry. A normal attempt to be of help to a friend went awry, leading to his imprisonment. Though he was granted bail last Friday, the five days he spent in jail, is an experience that will live with him forever.

While his colleague in the Senate, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, was lucky to escape the same treatment, when he stood surety for the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, Ndume was not.

On this day, Ndume, dressed in a white native attire and a white cap to match, did not foresee what was ahead of him as he headed for the Federal High Court for the continuation of the trial of a former chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team, AbdulRasheed Maina.

On arrival at the court, as a ‘distinguished’ senator, he was offered a sit in front of the courtroom, close to the dock. Soon after, as the proceedings for the day commenced, the presiding judge of the court, Justice Okon Abang, in a surprised ruling that left everyone in the courtroom and outside dumbfounded, ordered him to be remanded in Kuje prision following his failure to produce Maina, who is believed to have jumped bail.

Ruling on an oral application made to the effect by lawyer to the prosecution in the ongoing money laundering trial of Maina and a firm – Common Input Property and Investment Limited, Justice Abang ordered that Ndume could only be released if he either provides evidence of payment of the N500milion bail bond into the Federation Account or there is evidence that the federal government has sold the property he pledged, located at Asokoro in Abuja and the N500m bond is paid into federal government account from the proceed of the sale; or that he is able to produce Maina before the court.

Maina, who is standing trial for corruption, was first arraigned on October 25, 2019 following which he was admitted to conditional bail at N1billion on November 26, 2019. He could not meet the bail conditions until Ndume agreed to stand surety for Maina after the court agreed to his request and reviewed the bail sum to N500million.

In undertaking to stand as Maina’s surety, Ndume said he elected to stand as surety to Maina, because he is one of his constituents in Borno South senatorial district after deliberating on the issue for days. He pledged to ensure that Maina (the first defendant) participate in the trial until judgment, failing which he (the surety) would forfeit the N500 bail bond, which he secured with a property in Asokoro, Abuja believed to worth that amount.

Maina was released from custody on July 24, 2020. He attended court on a few occasions and stopped from September 29, 2020 with his lawyer, Francis Oronsaye claiming his client was ill and could not account for his whereabouts.

The case came up again on two occasions – September 30 and October 2, with Maina staying away. When it again came up on October 19, Ndume, who was always present, told the court that he had become helpless, because he could not locate Maina. He prayed the court to issue a bench warrant for Maina’s arrest to enable relevant security agencies apprehend him, believing he had jumped bail.

The court, in a ruling, noted that should an arrest warrant be issued, the senator would be remanded in the absence of the 1st defendant. It elected to accord Ndume time to locate the first defendant and ordered him to take steps to produce Maina.

When the case again came up on November 18, Ndume told the court that he was unable to locate Maina, following which lead prosecuting lawyer, Mohammed Abubakar, applied orally for the court to revoke Maina’s bail and issue arrest warrant against him.

Abubakar, relying on the provision of Section 179(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) urged the court to order the forfeiture of the bail bond and committal of the surety to prison until the fleeing defendant was apprehended.

In his ruling, Justice Abang revoked Maina’s bail, issued bench warrant for his arrest and ordered Ndume to show cause on the next adjourned date why the prosecution’s application that he forfeits the bail bond and be committed to prison should not be granted. The judge adjourned till November 23, 2020.

When the case was mentioned last Monday, Ndume rather than show cause, as ordered by the court on the previous date, his lawyer, Maxwell Oru, informed the court that the certified true copies (CTC) of some documents he applied for had not been made available to him by the court to enable him prepare his client’s defence.

Oru applied for an adjournment to enable him obtain the documents from the court and prepare his client’s defence in relation to the committal proceedings.

Oronsaye did not object to Oru’s application for adjournment. But Abubakar objected, arguing that there was no basis for an adjournment and that Ndume’s letter did not qualify for a response to the court’s order that he show cause why the prosecution’s prayers should not be granted.

In a ruling, Justice Abang agreed with the prosecution and noted the decision by Oru to write a “mere administrative letter” rather than file an affidavit to show cause, was a risky gamble that the lawyer took to the detriment of his client.

“Opportunity has been offered the distinguished senator to present his case before the court. The surety has not placed any material before the court adjourning this matter at his instance. He has not offered any good and substantial reasons why this matter should be adjourned today. The law must be even-handed. It is no respecter of persons.

“This matter has been adjourned at the instance of the first defendant and the distinguished Senator on four occasions. See the proceedings of the Court on September 30, 2020, October 2, 2020, October 19, 2020, November 18, 2020 and further adjourned till today.

“The first defendant is not here again today. A bench warrant has been issued. He (the first defendant) is on the run, without anybody pursuing him. Nobody is pursuing him. And, more so, the court is here for both parties. The first defendant is not in court. The first defendant has jumped bail. This is an occasion for the surety to make good on his undertaking.

“On November 18, 2020 the surety prayed for an adjournment to show cause why he should not be ordered to forfeit the penal sum or the bail bond, the court granted adjournment till today. He has not filed any process before the court, challenging the power of the court in granting the request of the prosecution,” the judge said.

The judge expressed discomfort about the conduct of Maina’s lawyer and said: “It is reasonably believed that the first defendant is in close contact with his counsel and who are receiving instructions from him, but they are in court pretending that they did not have the contact or know where the first defendant resides. I leave the learned counsel that appear for the first defendants to their conscience.”
The judge rose immediately he completed the ruling. And Ndume, who looked confused about what just happened, sat down for about 10 minutes until led out of the court by prison officials.

But when the case came up last Friday, Justice Abang granted him bail. He said the decision was based on the senator’s record of good behaviour in court. The bail was granted to the senator pending the hearing and determination of his appeal filed at the Court of Appeal challenging his remand.

He ordered the senator to produce one surety, who must be a resident of Abuja and present evidence of ownership of property anywhere in Abuja. According to the judge, the surety must also depose to an Affidavit of Means to indicate his readiness to forfeit the bail guaranty should the senator also jump bail.