*Takes plea on fresh 4-count charge
*Judge threatens to transfer him to prison
*Slates Friday for argument on bail
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume who was accused of engaging in convivial relationship with the dreaded Boko Haram Islamic sect, yesterday, pleaded his innocence before a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.
The embattled lawmaker, who is representing Borno South Senatorial District, denied knowledge of all the allegations levelled at him in a four-count criminal charge read to him in court, yesterday.
The Federal Government specifically alleged that he violated sections 7(1) (b) and 3(b) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011, by disclosing classified information to the sect as well as furnishing them with phone numbers of top government officials including the Attorney General of the Federation.
Nevertheless, the accused person who has already spent 22 day in custody of the State Security Service, SSS, yesterday urged trial Justice Gabriel Kolawole to order his immediate release from detention.
At about 12:57pm yesterday, Ndume, who was marshaled into the high court premises by scores of armed SSS operatives, mounted the dock and entered his plea.
Shortly after his re-arraignment, a Director of Public Prosecution in the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs. O. O. Fatunde, prayed the court to further remand him in the custody of the SSS pending the hearing and determination of the substantive case against him.
Fatunde told the court that the State was eager to proceed on full-blown trial, just as she sought a hearing date to enable the prosecution adduce evidence and call witnesses against the accused person.
Witnesses against Ndume
She said the Federal Government had lined-up eight witnesses to testify against Ndume, adding that part of the proof of evidence already entered against the accused person before the court included his statement on oath, extracts of text messages and three email exchanges between the lawmaker and the convicted spokesman of the Boko Haram sect, Konduga.
Irked by the submission of the prosecuting lawyer, lead counsel to the lawmaker, Chief Ricky Tarfa, SAN, drew the attention of the court to the fact that the accused has already spent more than three weeks in detention.
Consequently, he prayed the court to discountenance the application for adjournment and consider the bail application filed by the accused person on December 5, saying the tenets of justice entail that it ought to be determined first.
As the trial judge was about to call for the said pending bail application, counsel to the Federal Government raised objection, stressing that the said motion was filed prematurely.
“My lord, as at December 5 when the said bail application was filed, this court was not even seized of the matter. With respect to your lordship, this matter was only assigned to this court on Friday, 9th of December, though we have filed a counter-affidavit in respect of the bail application, however, we have not had time to prepare our written address in support of our counter. Therefore, we humbly apply for five days from today to enable us do so,” the prosecution added.
Expressing his displeasure over the way the Federal Government is handling the trial, Ndume’s counsel, Tarfa, pleaded the court to take note of the peculiar circumstances of the case pertaining to the liberty of the accused and accord the prosecution only 48 hours.
He was, however, over-ruled by the judge who maintained: “Whatever has happened since the accused has been in detention is the domestic business of the SSS, but now that the case is before me, I am now in charge of this prosecution and will ensure that the matter is expeditiously heard.”
At that juncture, government lawyer, Fatunde, told the court that contrary to allegation by the defence counsel, Ndume was detained in line with a valid court order, insisting that it was very misleading for his lawyer to claim that he was unlawfully kept in custody.
After listening to their arguments, Justice Kolawole ordered the prosecution to file its address within 72 hours, even as he gave the defence 24 hours to file a reply.
Judge threatens to transfer him to prison
He, however, threatened to transfer the accused person to Kuje prison if his bail was not heard and determined on the next adjourned date.
He said: “In the interim, I order that the accused be remanded in SSS custody. However, this order will be reviewed on the next adjourned date. I used interim because once an accused is charged to court, the only proper order which a court can make is to remand such person in prison custody. I am always reluctant to remand an accused in custody of those who have charged him to court. Therefore, the State should take appropriate steps to guarantee the remand of the accused in Kuje prison in any event that his bail application is not concluded on December 16.
“Though I will not order that the accused be granted unfettered access to his visitors, all I can do is to order that he be granted reasonable access to his lawyers and immediate family members.”