From GODWIN TSA, Abuja
An Abuja high court will today rule on the bail application brought by the embattled Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Ad-hoc Committee on Monitoring of Fuel Subsidy Regime, Farouk Lawan and the Secretary of the committee, Mr. Emenalo Boniface.
The court had last Friday ordered their detention in prison custody till today when it would decide on the bail applications. They were arraigned by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC), over alleged violation of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000. ICPC’s action was consequent upon the leave granted the prosecutor to prefer a seven-count criminal charge against them.
Shortly after the accused persons pleaded “not guilty” to the charges, which border on their alleged demand for bribe from business mogul, Mr. Femi Otedola, prosecuting counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, (SAN), prayed the court to remand them in prison custody, pending date for commencement of trial, which he announced prosecution was ready.
However, defence counsel Ricky Tarfa (SAN) moved an application for bail pursuant to Sections 95 and 96 (5) of the constitution of Nigeria (as amended), as well as sections 340 and 341 of the Criminal Procedure Code, CPC.
The motion for bail, which was supported by a 26-paragraph affidavit, prayed the court to grant the accused persons bail on “self-recognition,” drawing the court’s attention to the fact that Lawan had been a member of the lower chamber of the National Assembly since 1999. According to Tarfa, the fact that the accused persons always reported to the Police in the course of investigation into the criminal offence, coupled with their numerous trips on road and back, were eloquent testimonies that they would not jump bail. He concluded by reminding the court that grant of bail was the sole discretion of the judge and that it was the responsibility of the prosecution to show why bail should not be granted.
“The burden is on the prosecution to show how the accused persons will not be able to appear to stand trial.We urge your Lordship to grant the accused persons bail on very liberal terms and on self-recognition,” Tarfa concluded.
But, in opposition to the bail application, Awomolo argued that the offences with which the accused persons are standing trial for “are not ordinarily bailable”, stressing that sections 10, 17 and 23 of the corrupt practices and other related offences act 2000, prescribes two to seven years prison terms,as punishment. In Awomolo’s contention, “An application for bail is an application for equity, which requires your Lordship to exercise your discretion judicially and judiciously.”
He further submitted that the accused, in their affidavits, did not make an undertaking to the effect that, if allowed to go back to the House and to head committee, they will not ask for another bribe sum, even higher than the one with which they were standing trial. “What prompted then to demand for three million bribe may still prompt them to demand for ten million bribe. The right of liberty given to Nigerian citizens by section 35 of the constitution is not absolute. I urge your Lordship to refuse the accused bail.”
In his considered ruling, justice Oniyangi held: “In the circumstance of the bail application having been filed this morning and equally argued, it requires time.
Meanwhile and pending determination of this application, the accused are to be remanded in prison custody till Febuary 8.” Counts four and five of the charge read: “That you Hon. Farouk Lawan (M) while being a member of the House of Representatives and chairman of Ad-hoc committee on Monitoring of fuel subsidy regime sometimes in April 2012 or thereabout at Abuja within the Federal Capital Territory under the jurisdiction of this honourable court did while acting in the course of your official duty corruptly obtained the sum of $500,000 (five hundred thousand dollars) for yourself from Mr. Femi Otedola Chairman Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd as an inducement to remove the name of Zenon petroleum gas ltd from the report of the House of Representatives Adihoc committee on Monitoring of fuel subsidy regime and you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 17 (1) of the Corrupt practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000 and punishable under section 17 (1) of the same Act.”
“That you Mr. Emenalo Boniface (M) while being a public officer, an Assistant Director and Secretary of. the House of Representatives Ad-hoc committee on Monitoring ofFuel Subsidy Regime sometimes in April 2012 or thereabout at Abuja within the.
Federal capital territory under the jurisdiction of this honourable court did while acting in the course of your official duty as Secretary…corruptly asked for the sum of $3,000,000 (three million US dollard) for yourself from Mr. Femi Otedola…and you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 8 (1) (b) (ii) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 and punishable under section 23 (3) of the same Act.”
In an affidavit deposed to by one Chidi Amaeze, the ICPC disclosed that investigation into the criminal case has since been concluded.It will be recalled that Otedola had sometime last year alleged that upon pressure from Lawan to exonerate Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd from culpability in the mismanagement of fuel subsidy funds, he doled out about $620,000 to the lawmaker. He claimed that the “bribe-for-clearance” money was given to stave off pressure.