Some legal practitioners in Abuja have expressed mixed feelings over the bail conditions issued to defendants by courts in the country. Some of the lawyers told newsmen on Friday that the bail conditions were normal while others said it was not attainable. A senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr Solo Akuma, appealed to the public not to assume that bail conditions were “stringent or unattainable’’.
Akuma said, “it is the nature of the offence that determines the bail that is given to a defendant.’’ Another lawyer, Mr Labaran Magaji, who corroborated Akuma, said that bail conditions were at the discretion of courts. A female lawyer, Mrs Adaeze Anah, said “bail is a shield and not a sword. So, I can’t say whether it is attainable or unattainable. “There are factors that determine the kind of bail conditions given to an accused person,’’ Anah said.
In his reaction, Mr Godwin Chukwu, said that bail conditions should not infringe on a defendant’s liberty. Chukwu said that bail must be exercised judiciously and judicially, adding that serious offences usually attract high and unattainable conditions. He, however, caution that it should not be allowed to defeat the end of justice. “Bail is free and the actual reason for bail is to ensure attendance in court and for temporal liberty of the defendant. “Section 35 of the 1999 Constitution presumes a defendant innocent until proven otherwise.’’
Another lawyer, Mr Ahmed Jega said, “in my opinion high bail conditions is to put fear in the defendants in order for them to show up in court on the adjourned dates.’’ Oyeyemi Adeniyi and Kunle Aladetoyinbo, said that high bail conditions were lawful because the court sets the bail bond based on fairness, good conscience and natural justice. Adeniyi said that “bail is a bond and is free only if the court makes an order to pay a certain amount.
“Bail is a recognisance entered into in the court and if the defendant refuses to appear in court, the set amount would be forfeited to the government. “The gravity of the offence determines how high the bail bond is and the beauty of it is that you are not paying the amount as long as the defendant shows up. “The court wants a traceable and reliable surety and bail is at its discretion,’’ Adeniyi said. But, Mr Jude Kalejaiye, said that the judicial system should be checked for inconsistency concerning the bail conditions given to defendants by courts.
Kalejaiye said that some of the conditions were unrealistic given that most of the sureties were supposed to be civil servants. He said: “it makes mockery of the system; the idea behind the amount to be paid by the surety is just in case the defendant happens to jump bail or something else happens. “Now, you give bail option in millions of naira and you say a surety must be a director in the federal civil service and must have landed property, may be specifically in Abuja.
“Does this not raise a question where the director is supposed to get that amount of money and property from, looking at his take home pay?” He added that the conditions have made it almost impossible for people to stand as sureties to defendants because they were afraid. According to him, the initial idea of the huge bail amount may be to make it impossible for high profile in the society to get bail.
Kalejaiye, however, said that these people still find one or two persons who openly stand for them. Mr Ifeanyi Amasiorah, who said that stringent bail conditions was not part of the country’s laws, noted that some courts were exercising its discretion wrongly. “Court are not meant to give stringent bail conditions because it is not in line with the law of the land. “If such bail condition is higher than the accused then it amount to no bail at all,’’ Amasiorah said.
Also, Mr Kanu Chijioke, a human right activist, said that bail conditions were supposed to be liberal adding that it was unlawful to give a stringent bail conditions. Chijioke, who said that the laws were already provided in the law books, noted that it was unfair to put a defendant in custody on bailable charges. “It is unfair to keep somebody in prison and say you are investigating the refusal of the executive to obey the court order.
“Executive lawlessness is the major problem of our country today,’’ he said. However, Mr Gabriel Egbule, reminded the courts of the advice of the Supreme Court not to imposed stringent bail conditions on any matter before it.