The sum of N30 million and one surety who must be a residence of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja has been requested as bail by the Abuja division of the Federal High Court for the former Director General of Small and Medium Enterprise and Development Agency (SMEDAN), Bature Umar Masari.
He was on Wednesday arraigned by the EFCC on a 17-count charge of alleged money laundering. His arraignment followed his alleged involvement in a N107.7 million money laundering and gratification case. When the charge was read to Masari, he pleaded not guilty and his lawyer, A. Magaji, SAN, urged the court to admit his client to bail.
Justice Okon Abang in his ruling on the oral bail application moved by counsel to Masari, Mahmud Magaji, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, held that the offence upon which the defendant was charged before his court is bailable in nature.
In addition, Justice Abang, who noted that the granting of bail to a defendant is at the discretion of court, also relied on the provisions of sections 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution and sections 162 and 163 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015. The judge, who upheld the argument of the defence counsel, also noted that the important thing to consider in granting bail is to ensure that the defendant will continue to attend court to stand trial.
“It is in the light of these that I am inclined to grant the application for bail. The defendant is hereby admitted to bail in the sum of N30 million with one surety in the like sum.”
In attaching conditions to the bail, Justice Abang held that “the surety must a residence in Abuja and owner of a landed property within the FCT with a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) which must be verified by the relevant agencies.
“The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in company of a police officer should confirm the residence of the surety.”
The court further ordered that the surety must depose to an affidavit of means and undertake to forfeit the bail bond.
Justice Abang ordered the defendant to deposit his International passport with the registrar of the court or a letter from the Nigerian Immigration Service, if he does not have an International passport.
On Wednesday when the arraignment took place, counsel to the defenfant Magaji, by way of oral application, argued that his client is entitled to bail and urged the court to grant him temporary freedom. However, prosecution counsel Ekele Ihenacho opposed the oral application by the senior advocate.
According to the prosecution counsel, there is the need for the senior advocate to place material facts on behalf of his client before the court, saying that the development will enable the judge to have an informed opinion on the matter. But ruling on the issue earlier, Justice Abang permitted counsel to the defendant Magaji to move an oral application for the bail of his client.
Abang who relied on the Court of Appeal decision in Abiola Vs Federal Republic of Nigeria (1995) ruled that a trial court can treat oral application for bail as long that a defendant is arraigned directly before the court.
“I have no choice than to apply the decision of the Court of Appeal on this matter and I am bound by it. The oral application by counsel to the defendant succeeds,” Justice Abang held.
It was after the ruling that he moved his oral application for the bail of his client. He told the court that the defendant will not jump bail and will always be available to stand trial.
Magaji had placed reliance on the constitutional provisions contained in sections 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution, as well as sections 162 and 163 of ACJA, 2015 in urging the court to admit his client to bail.
He also referred the court to the case law in Eyu V State (1988) and Abiola vs FRN to support his argument. On his part, rosecution counsel Faruk Abdulah urged the court to use its discretion on the issue of the bail of the defendant.
He noted that the paramount duty of court is to ensure that the defendant is available to stand trial. The prosecution counsel urged the court to impose terms that will make the defendant attend his trial.
The case, meanwhile, has been adjourned to May 24 for trial.