The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, remanded Senator Ali Ndume in Kuje Correctional Centre in the aftermath of the refusal of Abdulrasheed Maina, former Chairman, defunct Pension Reformed Task Team (PRTT), to appear in court for his trial.
Justice Okon Abang gave the order when Ndume, representing Borno South Senatorial District, failed to file a formal application to show cause why he should not forfeit the bail bond of N500 million deposed to on May 5 to stand as surety for Maina.
The lawyer representing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mohammed Abubakar, had on November 18 asked the court to make an order for Ndume to forfeit the bail bond since Maina, who he stood as surety for, had jumped bail.
He also suggested that Ndume could be committed to a correctional centre pending when he would be able to meet the bond terms.
Abubakar also asked the court to revoke Maina’s bail and issued a warrant of arrest against him.
Although the court granted the applications by the EFCC on Maina, it gave Ndume an opportunity to appear with his legal representation and adjourned until today.
At today’s proceedings Ndume’s counsel, M. E. Oru, told the court that an administrative letter was forwarded to the Federal High Court registry in respect of his client, demanding for some documents to help in his defence.
The lawyer then asked for an adjournment to enable Ndume to prepare his response regarding the EFCC’s application.
When Justice Abang asked the lawyer why he did not file a formal application on the request, Oru said: “It is not necessary to file a formal application”.
The judge also asked if he served a copy of the administrative letter on the EFCC lawyer, even though it was not a formal motion.
Oru said that Ndume, who was a surety, was not a party to the criminal proceeding instituted against Maina by the EFCC.
“The relationship the surety has is essentially contractual between him and this honourable court in respect of the bail of the first defendant (Maina). Our application is on what had happened relating to production of the first defendant and forfeiture of the bond. We submit that we do not need to necessarily serve same on the party”.
The counsel told the court that he was just being briefed and he would need necessary documents to enable him prepare adequately for his client’s defence in line with Section 36(6b) of the Constitution.
Countering Oru’s stand, counsel to the EFCC, Abubakar, urged the court to reject Ndume’s plea because there was no formal response to the commission’s application for surety to show cause for forfeiture of the bail bond and his committal.
“Despite being afforded the opportunity by this court on November 18 and November 23, he has not responded to that application. Secondly, we have not been served a copy of the administrative letter mentioned by the learned counsel for the surety”.
The EFCC lawyer submitted that Ndume had no valid defence in respect of EFCC application for the forfeiture of bail bond or committal to a correctional centre.
The lawyer drew the attention of the court to Paragraphs 7, 8, and 10 of Ndume’s affidavit where he agreed to forfeit the bail bond of N500 million if Maina jumped bail.
Abubakar also prayed that Ndume forfeit the property which he also used as security in the affidavit.
“If the property is a security, it is our submission that the court should make an order for the forfeiture of the property”.
He opposed the application for adjournment, saying “the application is not supported by any valid or convincing grounds”.
Francis Oronsaye, Maina’s counsel, did not oppose Oru’s application for adjournment.
However, Justice Abang asked Oronsaye some questions about Maina.
“Where is Abdulrasheed Maina hiding? His absence is compounding issues as it relates to the distinguished Senator Ali Ndume that has committal proceeding hanging over his neck. Is it ethical for you to appear for a defendant that has jumped bail? It is not mandatory you answer these questions” the judge said.
Responding, Oronsaye acknowledged that the court raised a very ethical issue.
“Be that as it may, we also believe in the ethics of this profession and being that this court is a superior court of records, such disengagement ought to be done formally and because we have not done that sir, we cannot somoto withdraw our appearance for the first defendant. On the second leg of the question on his whereabouts, speaking as minister in the temple of justice and from the bar, I can categorically and unequivocally say that at the moment, I do not know where the defendant is. We made effort and we are still making effort to get him”.
However, Ndume’s Lawyer, Oru, disagreed with Abubakar that he had no formal reply to the EFCC’s application for forfeiture of bail bond.
“Our reply is that there is no formal application for forfeiture proceeding in writing by the prosecution that we should react to, but what is before the court is an oral application”.
He stated that to enable him to defend the lawmaker he had asked for an adjournment and court documents.
“We have asked for the warrant of arrest of first defendant and that is a document that can only be produced by this court not the first defendant, he said.
Oru said the essence of the documents was to enable him to prepare his defence in accordance with Section 36(6b) of the Constitution.
On Paragraphs 7, 8 and 10 of the surety’s affidavit canvassed by EFCC’s lawyer, Oru requested for its certified true copy from the court.
Justice Abang then asked Oru if Paragraph 10 of the surety affidavit, where Ndume said: “He is ready to forfeit the bail bond of N500 million,” was not an admission by the surety.
Ndume’s counsel argued that Abubakar’s submission that the surety had admitted in the said paragraphs indicated that “the prosecution is jumping the gun”.
He said it was one of the reasons he requested for the certified true copy of the affidavit to enable him to prepare Ndume’s defence.
In his ruling, the judge recalled that Maina was admitted to bail on November 26, 2019 and further varied the bail conditions on January 28.
Abang, however, said it was disheartening that Maina refused to attend court sittings since the resumed trial without reasonable excuse on September 29, September 30, October 2 and October 19.
“Now, the first defendant is on the run without anybody pursuing him”.
Abang, who said the court was open for all parties, said it was unethical for a counsel to appear for Maina “who is hiding somewhere. It is believed that the first defendant is in close contact with his counsel. I leave counsel to his conscience”.
The judge, therefore, held that opportunity had been offered to Ndume to show cause why the court should not take action against him.
He said: “I have listened dispassionately to parties. The power to adjourn is at the discretion of the court”.
The judge then ordered Ndume to be remanded in Kuje Correctional Centre pending the fulfillment of the bail bond of N500 million to the Federal Government with the evidence of the payment presented before the court.
Alternatively, he ruled that Ndume would forfeit to the Federal Government his N500 million worth of property in the highbrow Asokoro, Abuja, which he used as security for the bail bond.
Abang also ordered that the lawmaker would only be released from the correctional centre if he is able to produce the fleeing defendant in court.
According to the judge, should he opt to forfeit the property, the Federal Government would sell it and the N500 million realised from it will be paid into the Federation Account and the evidence of payment presented before the court for him to the released.
Justice Abang adjourned the matter until November 24 for trial continuation.