The atmosphere at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Jabi in Abuja, was charged on Monday as the Senate President Bukola Saraki, his Deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the immediate past Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa and the Acting Clerk, Mr. Benedict Efeturi, were all arraigned before Justice Yusuf Halilu.
And shortly after hearing their arguments, Justice Halilu granted all the accused persons bail.
The defendants are being prosecuted by the Federal Government for alleged forgery of the Senate Standing Rules used on June 9, 2015 to conduct the election that brought Saraki and Ekweremadu to office as presiding officers of the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly.
They pleaded not guilty to the charges. Their lawyers, Mr. Ikechukwu Ezechukwu (SAN) for Maikasuwa, Mahmud Magaji (SAN) representing Efeturi, Paul Erokoro (SAN) for Saraki and Joseph Daudu (SAN) for Ekweremadu, moved the application for their bail.
After taking arguments from the counsel, Halilu admitted all of them to bail. While the Senate President was granted bail with no conditions attached, the other accused persons were granted bail with two sureties each who must be Nigerians, male or female with landed properties either in Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse or Apo Legislative Quarters in the nation’s capital.
The judge, in his ruling, held that Sections 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) presumed the defendants innocent of the charges, adding that it is natural for them to be allowed on bail so as to prepare for their defence.
The judge took judicial notice of the position of the Federal Government, adding that there was nothing by way of evidence to suggest that they would jump bail if allowed to go home.
Justice Halilu said that the essence of bail was for the defendants, who are presumed innocent by law, and to ensure their attendance in court throughout the trial and that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 also supports bail for any Nigerian accused of bailable offences as in the instant case.
The judge however said that in the event that the defendants are unable to meet up with the bail conditions, they shall be remanded in Kuje Prison pending the time they will do so.
Earlier, counsel to the Federal Government, who is also the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF), Mr. Mohammed Diri, had told the court that he had no opposition to the bail of Saraki on the ground that he is the Senate President and he would not want to cripple the activities of the Upper House.
Diri, however, vehemently opposed bail for Ekweremadu, Maikasuwa and Efeturi on the ground that they are likely to evade trial, having allegedly evaded the service of the charge.
Meanwhile, the court has adjourned the matter till July 11 for trial.
The accused were on June 10, 2016 charged with two counts of criminal conspiracy and forgery of the Standing Rules used for the leadership election of the presiding officers of the Senate in June last year.
The Federal Government had stated that the offence of conspiracy is punishable under Section 97 (1) of the Penal Code Act; and offence of forgery with “fraudulent intent” punishable under Section 364 of the same law.
The government alleged that the 2011 version of the Senate Orders was secretly altered by some individuals to produce the 2015 edition.
It further alleged that Rules 3(3) (e) and (k) in the 2015 edition of the orders were not amended in accordance with the provisions of Rule 110 (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) of the 2011 Orders.
While the 2011 Order Rule 3(3) (e) provides for manual voting and open ballot in the election of the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President, the 2015 Orders allow electronic and secret ballot voting in the said elections.
Also, while Rule 3(3) (k) of the 2011 Order makes it mandatory for all members to participate in the process of electing the Senate President and Deputy Senate President, the reverse is the case under the 2015 Orders.
The 2011 Orders, Rule 3(3) (k) reads:
“All Senators-elect shall participate in the nomination and voting for President and Deputy President of the Senate.”
But a similar provision in Rule 3(3) (i) in the 2015 Orders reads: “All Senators-elect are entitled to participate in the voting for Senate President and Deputy Senate President.”
Cabals in Buhari’s govt behind my ordeal – Saraki
Meanwhile, Saraki has said he is prepared to go to jail rather than yield to the selfish agenda of a few individuals in government who are bent on destabilising the country’s democracy.
In a statement he signed and released to journalists in Abuja on Monday, Saraki said he and the other leaders of the Senate are innocent of the charges filed against them by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami, on allegations of forgery of the Senate Standing Rules document.
He noted that the charges against them represented a violation of the principle of separation of powers between the Executive arm of government and the Legislative branch as enshrined in the Constitution.
He noted that the forgery allegation has further proved the orchestrated efforts by some cabals in the administration of President Buhari to seize the apparatus of the Executive powers to pursue their nefarious agenda to truncate democracy and destroy the legislature.
Public Office shouldn’t be used for witch-hunt – Ekweremadu
Similarly, Sen. Ekweremadu has urged those in power not to use the law as an instrument to “bludgeon innocent citizens into submitting to the untamed wishes and caprices of witch-hunters”.
Ekweremadu said that his trial would afford Nigerians to see clearly that the charges preferred against him were “nothing but meretricious thrash”, adding that democracy was not the same as military rule.
While declaring his innocence, he said: “For me, I find great comfort in the immortal words of the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who said that history will vindicate the just and the wicked will not go unpunished.
“Let us make no mistake about this: it is not Senator Ike Ekweremadu or Senator Bukola Saraki or the other accused persons that are on trial; rather, the hallowed democratic principles of separation of powers, rule of law, the legislature, and indeed democracy itself are on a ridiculous trial.
“Mere anarchy is unleashed upon the land, but our courage must not fall apart. No condition is permanent and nothing lasts forever,” he said.
Ekweremadu said that as a law-abiding citizen and a firm believer in the rule of law and all the rights and privileges it advertises, “it is not only in my place not to commit crime, but way out of my reach not to be accused of one, especially when instruments of power become apparatuses for oppression of the innocent and voices of opposition”.
Ekweremadu’s reactions were contained in a statement issued by his Special Adviser (Media), Uche Anichukwu.
Originally posted 2016-06-28 05:14:47.