By James Ogunnaike
The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Ogun Area 1 Command, Idiroko, on Wednesday arraigned four members of a smuggling syndicate before the Federal High Court sitting in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, for importing foreign rice into the country without payment of the approved Import Duties.
The four suspects, Azeez Zonu, Ebenezer Adeyemi, Adeniyi Olalekan and Salahudeen Taiye, were arraigned on a-five count charge bothering on smuggling, evasion of imports duties, possession of smuggled items, as well as assisting in smuggling among others.
In the charge sheet preferred against them with suit numbers: FHC/AB/73C/2021, FHC/AB/74C/2021, FHC/AB/75C/2021 and FHC/AB/71C/2021 respectively, the accused persons were allegedly caught with several bags of foreign rice imported into Nigeria with motorcycles and cars through unapproved routes for the purpose of evading payment of the stipulated import duties.
When the matter came up for hearing on Wednesday, the lead counsel for Nigeria Customs, Barrister Abbas Ibrahim told the court that the four accused persons committed infringement which were contrary to and punishable under section 47 of the Customs and Excise Management Act, Cap C45 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
After pleading not guilty to all the offenses levelled against them, two defense counsels; Barr. S.O. Kayode, who stood in for Olalekan and Barr. A.I. Nadir, who represented the trio of Zonu, Adeyemi and Salahudeen prayed the court to admit the four accused persons to bail stressing that they are presumed not guilty until proven otherwise.
Citing sections 158, 162 and 164 of the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act, as well as Section 36, sub-section 5 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN), the two defense counsels prayed the court to invoke these appropriate sections in favour of the accused persons.
But the prosecution counsel, Abbas opposed to the bail application for the accused persons on the ground that there was no formal application for it and that the offenses committed have a damaging impact on the economy of the country.
The NCS counsel insisted that the offenses for which the accused persons were arraigned is too rampant in the communities from where they were arrested, stressing that they could return to the same crime, even more deadlier to the Customs’ operatives before the final determination of the matter.
Responding however, the dou of Nasir and Kayode argued that conditions for admitting an accused person to bail is at an “unfettered discretion of the court”, insisting that the essence of bail is to ensure the liberty of the accused persons who are presumed innocent and particularly to enable them attend to their trials.
The defense team however, prayed the court to discountenance the prosecution counsel’s objections to granting the accused persons bail, stressing that the offenses for which they are standing trial have not been proven to have been committed.
Delivering his ruling, the presiding Judge, Justice Muhammad Shittu Abubakar granted each of the accused persons bail in the sum of N2 million with two sureties in the like sum.
Justice Abubakar, who held that formal application was not mandatory to admitting suspects to bail, further ruled that one of the sureties must have a valid international passport or a valid National I.D. card and must be resident within the jurisdictional powers of the court.
He ordered that the accused persons be remanded in the Nigerian Correctional Center (NCC), pending the time they would meet their bail conditions.
The presiding judge thereafter adjourned the matter till 26th April, 2021 and May 4, 2021 for the commencement of trial.