By IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI, ABUJA
After spending 10 days in the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the embattled former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, yesterday, regained his freedom.
Bankole and his erstwhile deputy, Usman Bayero Nafada, were allowed to go home yesterday evening after four permanent secretaries agreed to stand surety for them.
Despite the fact that an Abuja High Court in Apo, on Thursday, granted the accused persons bail, however, they were not able to perfect the bail conditions until around 5: 40pm yesterday evening.
The duo were all smiles immediately they were freed from the clutches of stern looking operatives of the anti-graft agency who brought them to court yesterday evening, just as they exchanged endless pleasantries with their teeming friends and associates who defied a heavy downpour to felicitate with them.
They had earlier gone before the court with two separate motions, wherein they pleaded the trial judge in the matter, Justice Suleiman Belgore to take pity on them and vary the bail conditions he handed to them ab-initio.
The former speaker and his deputy who are facing a 17-count criminal charge following their alleged complicity in an N40billion loan scam, initially lamented that no civil servant within the rank of a Permanent Secretary, agreed to stand-in as their surety before the trial High Court.
While allowing the accused persons on bail, Justice Belgore had specifically ordered them to deposit the sum of N50 million each, as well as, produce two sureties in like sum, stressing that the said sureties must be Civil Servants not bellow the rank of a Permanent Secretary who reside and work within Abuja.
Spirited efforts by four Senior Advocates of Nigeria who represented them in court, to persuade the trial judge to reconsider his decision immediately the ruling was delivered on Thursday, proved abortive.
Consequently, the embattled former lawmakers were whisked back to their detention cell by armed operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, even as their former colleagues and associates who thronged the court-room with a view to celebrating their release, promptly embarked on futile search for eligible Perm Sec’s that could stand surety for the former speaker and his deputy.
Following a seeming lack of enthusiasm by different Perm Sec’s that were approached over the issue, to stick their neck for the accused persons, their lead counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, re-approached the court with two separate motions, seeking an order varying the earlier bail conditions handed to his clients.
He expressly prayed the court for “an order varying the condition for bail of the applicants which require production of a Civil Servant not bellow the rank of a Permanent Secretary who works and is resident within Abuja as surety”.
Canvassing reasons why their bail conditions should be varied, Bankole and Nafada, in two separate affidavits in support of their motions, deposed to by Ebuka Nwaeze and Ajokpaoghene Utake, respectively, contended that, “It has been impossible to secure the cooperation of these category of public officers of the Federation whose career may be affected by standing surety in a matter in which their employer is the complainant.
They argued that, “The Permanent Secretaries resident in Abuja are only those appointed by the Government of the Federation who are not more than 50 and the highest rank in the public service of the Federation.
“The Complainant in the Charges against the applicant is the Government of the Federation, the employer of the required category of officer – Permanent Secretary.
“The applicants have achieved the status in political hierarchy of this Country as holders of the National Honour of Commander of the Order of Federal Republic (CFR) and National Honour of Commander of the Order of Niger (CON), who owe obligation to the Federal Republic of Nigeria not to run away but attend to the court to face the trial of whatever allegation that is made against them”.
They pleaded the court to consider their antecedents and grant the applications, vowing that they would be available to face trial.
Arguing through said affidavits which they filed pursuant to section 6(6) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, Bankole maintained that, “these categories of public officers owe their loyalty to the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Complainant in the criminal case before the court is their employer, the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“That every effort has been made to secure the acceptance of these officers of this rank but all had failed for reasons of security of their job and career.
“The condition is difficult to be met by reason of the peculiarity of the category of officers required by the court and particularly because of the requirement for such officer to obtain the permission of the Head of Service of the Federation, before standing surety for a person charged with a criminal offence.
“That the applicant served this country with all his intellects, ability as head of House of Representative when the situation of this country required courageous and intervention of the legislature to avert the breakdown of democracy in Nigeria in 2010.
“That the applicant will not run away because both his ordinary and diplomatic passports (which are the only passports he has) are with the Respondent and the court may order that the passports be deposited with the court Chief Registrar as security and assurances to the court and the prosecution that the applicant will attend to the hearing of the case against him.
“In an attempt to meet the condition of the bail, the Applicant was only able to secure the following categories of person: Serving and former Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, former Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, former Ambassadors, retired Military Officers not bellow the rank of Colonel or its equivalent, serving members of the Code of Conduct Bureau or other federal commissions or University Professors. I know the court has power to order production of any two persons.
“We submit that the granting of an application for the variation of conditions of bail is entirely a discretionary matter for the court. We concede that no decision of any court can be an authority for exercising discretion therefore each case is considered on its own merit.
“We urge the court to have regard to the grounds upon which this humble prayer is made. Permanent Secretaries of the Federal Government are officers of the highest grade in ministries and parastatals of the Federal Government.
“They are officers appointed by the President, Commander-in-Chief. Appointment to such office is based on many criteria including political consideration and that requires that the appointing authority must be satisfied with the loyalty of the applicant.
“The oath office of Permanent Secretaries requires them to bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The complainant in the 17-count charge against the applicant is the Federal Republic of Nigeria; standing surety for a person accused of offences against the State may be considered a breach of loyalty and oath of allegiance.
The court is urged to note that efforts have been made and no Federal Permanent Secretary is willing and ready to stand surety for the applicant.
“The court has power to consider the antecedents of the applicant as a legislator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from 2003 to 2007 and leadership of the House of Representative between 2007 and 2011 and grant him on self recognizance, or that the sureties should be any two of the category of persons listed in paragraph 10 of the affidavit in support since the purpose of bail and the condition thereof is to ensure that the accused person shows up to stand trial having been released.
We urge the court to consider this liberal approach to the bail of the Applicants”.
Meanwhile, few hours after the motion was entered before the trial High Court, colleagues of the embattled former lawmakers succeeded in persuading four Perm Sec’s to appear as sureties in the matter.
Immediately the sureties were secured, lead counsel to the accused persons, Chef Awomolo, approached the trial court for their release, just as he pleaded the judge to disregard the application for vary, which he said was overtaken by events.
Justice Belgore had on Thursday, relied on the provisions of section 1(1), 6 (6b), 34(4), 36(4) (5) of the 1999 constitution and section 341(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code, CPC, to release the accused persons on bail, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive case against them.
The judge said he was not persuaded by the submissions of the prosecuting counsel that the accused would interfere with ongoing investigations into other allegations of corruption against them, adding that he was not convinced that they would attempt to evade trial if released on bail.
EFCC earlier told the High Court that most of the witnesses it intend to call against the duo are serving members of the National Assembly, saying there was an imminent danger that they could be influenced by the accused persons.
Hearing on the substantive case against them was yesterday adjourned till July 19.
The accused persons, who were arraigned by the anti-graft agency on Monday, are facing trial over their alleged complicity in a N40 billion loan scam.
They had pleaded not guilty to the entire 17-count criminal charge that was preferred against them by the EFCC.
EFCC specifically alleged that they breached public trust by agreeing to approve the allowances and ‘running costs’ of members of the 6th session of House of Representatives in violation of the approved remuneration package for political, public and judicial office holders by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission, as well as, the extant Revised Financial Regulations of the Federal Government of Nigeria, 2009, and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 97(1) of the Penal Code Act, Cap 532, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (Abuja) 1990 and punishable under section 315 of the same Penal Code Act.
The anti-graft commission further alleged that the accused persons being entrusted with House of Representatives’ Account No. 00390070000018 with the United Bank of Africa, Plc and the Overhead Account of the House of Representatives with First Bank of Nigeria, Plc, properties of the Federal Government of Nigeria, dishonestly used the accounts to obtain a loans totaling to about N40 billion.