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Group Urges NJC to Probe Post-conviction Bail Granted Akpan
* CSOs call politically motivated, says lawmaker
Sunday Aborisade in Abuja
A civil society organisation (CSO), Professionals for Integrity and Good Governance (PIGG), has urged the National Judicial Council (NJC) to probe a “controversial bail” granted to Senator Bassey Albert Akpan (YPP – Akwa Ibom North-East) who was convicted of fraud.
A Federal High Court sitting in Uyo had on December 1, 2022 sentenced Akpan to seven years imprisonment on each of the six-count charge preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Co-Convener of the PIGG, Mr. Morris Alozie, made this appeal at a press conference in Abuja.
The text of the press conference is titled: ‘The release of Senator Albert Bassey from prison: A ridicule of Nigerian legal system and a call for revocation of his bail.’
Alozie, in his presentation, described the bail as a setback for the fight against corruption in the country if allowed to stay.
He insisted that even though Akpan was allegedly granted bail on the basis of ill health, he has continued to engage in hectic and physically exacting political activities and sports thereby making the reason for his bail highly suspicious and questionable.
However, the senator while reacting to the PIGG’s allegations through his media aide, Mr. Victor Essik, described the group’s call as untenable because it was politically motivated.
Essik said Akpan has not been going out for public functions since he was granted bail, contrary to the claims of the PIGG.
He said: “The call by the sponsored group should be disregarded by the NJC because their allegations are unfounded and politically motivated.
” Senator Akpan Bassey didn’t attend any television debate. He was interviewed in his home because he was not strong enough to go out for public functions.”
Meanwhile, the PIGG maintained that the senator was healthy, adding that the circumstances surrounding his bail must be probed by the Judiciary.
The group said: “We therefore call on the National Judicial Council to investigate the circumstances leading to the removal of Senator Bassey from Ikot Ekpene Custodial Centre to a hospital in total disregard for the provisions of the law, an act that derails his fight against corruption, and bring to book the perpetrators of this dastardly act.
“We equally want the NJC to cause an investigation to be carried out on Hon. Justice S. I. Mark for granting bail to Senator Bassey on legally untenable and suspicious grounds.
“We are calling on the Attorney General of the Federation and the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to commence in earnest the process of appealing against the decision releasing Senator Bassey forthwith in accordance with the avowed stance of the present government against corruption.
“Since Senator Bassey is fit to play golf, he is also fit to remain in prison, a more relaxing and resting place, for an egregious crime of money laundering he committed.
“Allowing Senator Bassey to walk scot-free paints our legal system in bad light and gives an impression that there is no consequence for bad behaviour especially after the court has found the person guilty.”
He noted that after the conviction, Akpan was taken to the Ikot Ekpene Custodial Centre to serve his prison term.
Alozie added: “The development was lauded by fair-minded individuals in the society as it marked a quantum leap in the fight against corruption.
“Disturbingly, after the conviction, Senator Bassey only spent a few days at the Custodial Centre as he was moved to hospital by prison officials in controversial circumstances and in total disregard of the conditions set in section 25(1) of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act, 2022, which requires that before an inmate is removed to a hospital, such an inmate must be seriously ill, a medical officer of the centre must certify to the ill-health, and there is no suitable accommodation at the Centre.
“Senator Bassey was not seriously ill, the centre’s medical officer did not certify his purported ill-health and Ikot Ekpene Custodial Centre, which is regarded as one of the best prison facilities in West Africa, has a suitable accommodation.
“Furthermore, the senator was rushed to the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt Judicial Division, even though he was convicted at the Uyo Division and sought for bail on the excuse that he has been battling with longstanding ailments (hypertension and diabetes) for 14 years.
“Questionably, the court presided by Hon. Justice S. I. Mark granted Senator Bassey bail contrary to judicial decisions of superior courts against granting of bail in such circumstance(s).
“Just a few days ago, the apex court, the Supreme Court, refused granting post-conviction bail to Senator Peter Nwaoboshi jailed for two-count charge of fraud despite his persistence, a further indication of the error in Justice Mark’s decision to grant Senator Bassey bail.
“The rapidity and swiftness at which the court granted the bail application is alarming and suspicious.
“It took a span of 8 working days for the application to be filed, served on parties, argued, heard and determined by the court.
“The bail application was filed on the 16/12/2022 and ruling delivered on the 28/12/2022. Very uncommon!
“We state unequivocally that the medical excuse deployed to grant Senator Bassey bail is untenable at law.
“Many inmates in different Custodial Centres in Nigeria are suffering from some ailments that are more debilitating than that of Senator Bassey, but they have not been granted bail, let alone their bail applications being heard.
“Many sick inmates in critical conditions have been refused bail by the court, especially after their conviction, given that conviction depletes the veil of innocence generally conferred on a defendant or accused person before conviction by the Constitution.
“The release of Senator Bassey from prison once again brings to the fore the two ambiguous legal systems we operate in Nigeria: one, which serves the rich, high and mighty, and the other, which disservices the poor.
“It questions the very foundation of our legal system which the Constitution stipulates that it is hinged on social justice and rule of law.
“Where is social justice and rule of law when a similar application for bail would be refused from one party but granted in the case of another party?
“It will probably be fitting to nickname our nature of legal system ‘a game of law’ since set down rules and standards no longer matter.
“The premise for which Senator Bassey was granted bail was ill-health. After his release, one would have expected Senator Bassey to be resting or in the hospital.
“Alas, the reverse is the case. Since his release, he has been going about his normal businesses.
“He has been playing golf, attending political meetings, addressing supporters (physically and virtually), and engaging in other functions.
“Specifically on January 2, 2023, he played a round of 18 holes of golf at Ibom Golf Course accompanied by more than 13 riot policemen who made sure no one could take a photograph of the convict.
“Pointedly, just yesterday (Sunday, 29 January, 2023), Senator Bassey attended and actively participated in the Akwa Ibom State governorship live debate on television, which lasted for over two hours. This is a supposedly sick person who was granted bail because of ill-health.
“Assuming without conceding that granting bail to Senator Bassey was justifiable, the basis for which he was granted bail no longer exist.
“He is well and whole at the moment. It takes a healthy person to engage in leisure, play golf, participate in debate, etc.
“On the other hand, rest is the best antidote to any sickness, and prison is the best place for rest, relaxation and idleness. If Senator Bassey is sick, prison is the best avenue for him to rest.
“The release of Senator Bassey ridicules our legal system in the eyes of the international community and massively derails the fight against corruption, which is the mainstay of President Buhari’s administration.”