Respite came the way of the Senator representing Borno South, Ali Ndume, on Friday, as the Federal High Court in Abuja, granted him bail after he had spent five days in prison custody. The lawmaker was remanded in Kuje Correctional Center by the court last Monday, following his failure to produce the former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, whom he stood surety for.
Maina is answering to a 12-count charge alongside his firm, Common Input Properties & Investment Limited, over their alleged involvement in money laundering, to the tune of N2billion. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, alleged that Maina equally stole over N14billion from the federal pension account, using names of fake pensioners and non-existent biometric contracts.
The agency told the court that the ex-Pension reform boss used fictitious names to open and operate various bank accounts, as well as recruited his relatives that were bankers to operate fake bank accounts through which illicit funds were channelled, adding that he used part of the stolen funds to acquire landed properties in Abuja. Meanwhile, Maina had since September 29, refused to attend his trial, a development that led the trial court to remand his surety, Ndume, in prison custody.
The court said Ndume should either produce Maina for the continuation of his trial, or forfeit the N500million bail bond he signed on behalf of the Defendant. Alternatively, the court directed the sale of Ndume’s property situated at Asokoro in Abuja to raise the N500m it said should be paid into the Federation Account. Justice Abang held that the lawmaker should remain in custody pending the fulfillment of any of the conditions, even as he gave the Prosecution the nod to try the Defendant in absentia.
However, following an application Ndume filed from prison, the court, on Friday, okayed his release on bail pending the determination of the 12 grounds of appeal he lodged before the Court of Appeal in Abuja to challenge the forfeiture proceeding the EFCC initiated against him. Justice Abang said his decision to grant the bail application was based on the fact that Ndume “has been of good behavior and conduct”, and always submitted himself to the authority of the court, not withstanding his schedule of duties as the Chairman of Senate Committee on Nigerian Army.
The court however dismissed Ndume’s contention that his continued detention would occasion hardship to both the Senate and the Nigerian State. Justice Abang held that the lawmaker ought to have taken into account the gravity of the charge against Maina, before he deposed to an affidavit on May 5, wherein he pledged to always ensure his availability for trial or forfeit the N500m bail bond. Though the trial Judge described Ndume’s pending appeal as “incompetent”, he said the peculiar circumstance of the case and the Applicant’s respect for the court as an institution, was enough to sway judicial discretion in his favour. Justice Abang held that the trial court had the requisite jurisdiction to grant Ndume’s bail application since the record of appeal in the matter was yet to be compiled and transmitted to the Court of Appeal. Consequently, the court ordered him to produce a surety who must be a respectable person that is resident within the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
According to the court, the surety must be an owner of landed property in Abuja, with evidence of ownership. It ordered Ndume to deposit his International Passport to the Chief Registrar of the court pending the determination of his appeal. More so, the court held that Ndume must sign an undertaking that he would within 10 days, compile and transmit the record of proceedings to the Court of Appeal. Ndume had in the application he filed through his lawyer, Mr. Marcel Oru, described Maina’s action that led to his detention as “highly despicable”. He had on October 19, told the court that he only met Maina once in his life before he decided to stand as his surety, being the lawmaker that represents his constituency.
The lawmaker said he was pressurized to stand surety for the Defendant by three former governors he met at the Kuje Correctional Center when he went to visit Maina after he was reported sick. He said: “As a senator serving him (Maina), his family, wife, mother, and uncle appealed to me to stand as a surety.
“I went to prison to confirm for myself whether he was actually sick and the prison officers told me that he was actually sick and appealed to me to be his surety so that he could have access to medical attention. “Orji Kalu when he was in prison then, Joshua Dariye, former Governor of Taraba, Rev. Jolly Nyame, all appealed to me in the prison to assist him. “It took me eight months my lord to take that decision. In fact, I have to be given an indemnity by his uncle; signed by me, him, and a lawyer that Maina would always be in court.
“This is one of the professional hazards we face as lawmakers, representing the good, the bad, and the ugly. “If I was not a serving senator, I wouldn’t have a course to stand as surety,” Ndume added. He decried that Maina who claimed to be ill, recently released a video clip that went viral on social media, concerning his state of health, but refused to make himself available. “I am helpless before you my lord. I appeal that such innocent citizens like me holding a public office for over one million people should not be subjected to this,” Ndume pleaded. Though EFCC opposed his bail application, Justice Abang granted it, even though he held that it failed on many other grounds.