EFCC risks contempt committal as it defies Justice Buba Yusuf, denies Bala Mohammed bail
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, risks being dragged before Justice Hussein Baba Yusuf of the Abuja High Court for contempt unless it releases Senator Bala Mohammed, former minister of the Federal Capital Territory FCT who has been in its detention since October 24, 2016.
The ground for this was contained in al letter addressed to the anti-graft agency’s chairman from the chambers of Chief Chris Uche, SAN counsel to the former FCT minister drawing attention to the defiance of Justice Baba Yusuf’s order of November 29, 2016 granting bail to the former minister.
In the letter titled: Refusal to Obey Court Order, Bala Mohammed Suit No. FCT/HC/CV/220/2016, Senator Bala Mohammed vs. EFCC, dated 5th December 2016, the counsel noted that the Commission had refused to either release his client or produce him before the court for admission to bail as directed by the court.
He noted that this was in spite of the fact that the commission’s counsel was present at all the proceedings involving the hearing, argument and ruling in the bail application and the fact that the former minister had since met the bail conditions. Part of Uche’s letter reads:
“On Tuesday 29th November 2016, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory granted BAIL to our client after hearing and argument of his motion for bail. Your Commission was fully represented at the hearing by the Commission’s lawyer. Thereafter a drawn-up, signed and certified copy of the court order was signed on you, along with a production warrant…
“Regrettably, notwithstanding the court order, you have refused to release our client or produce him to the Court for his release on bail as ordered. Our client had since fulfilled the bail conditions as contained in the court order before the Court Registry but you have refused to obey the order of the High Court”.
Counsel therefore stated that the former minister would be left with no option but to commence committal proceedings against the commission if it continued to detain his client.
It will be recalled that Justice Baba Yusuf of the FCT Court 4 had, on Tuesday, November 29, 2016, granted the former minister bail on the same conditions as the administrative bail earlier granted him by the commission on October 25, 2016.
That was sequel to an application brought before the court by his counsel, Chris Uche, SAN to enforce his fundamental human rights.
Senator Bala Mohammed is now in his sixth week in detention without any formal charges or any indication that he would be released any time soon even after meeting his bail conditions.
It will be recalled that a few days before he was granted bail by Justice Baba Yusuf, the EFCC, reneging on an earlier undertaking o release the him, had, instead, gone to another court secure an extension of the remand order on the former minister, an action the judge had discountenanced on the ground that there was no evidence to back the order.
In his ruling on bail, Justice Baba Yusuf had stated, inter alia: “The presumption of innocence will lose its meaning if an accused in a non-capital offence is denied bail.
“The respondent appears to have taken cognizance of these facts when it granted administrative bail to the applicant on October 25, 2016. I am therefore surprised when the respondent opposed his bail application by filing a copious counter-affidavit…
“I have considered the circumstances and it is my view that the right to bail is constitutional. It is my view therefore to invoke the provisions of Section 168 [b] of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) to direct that the applicant be admitted to bail in the same condition that was attached to his administrative bail that was given to him by the respondent”, the judge ruled.
Though the former minister has since fulfilled the bail conditions, he was still being held at the EFCC headquarters yesterday as at the time of filing this report.
It will be recalled that Chris Uche, SAN, had commended Justice Baba Yusuf for the judgment which he described as courageous, especially given the times, a position taken by many observers who see Justice Baba Yusuf’s action as a bold step to maintain the integrity of the judiciary against defiance by the executive branch, a trend that has gained ground over the past few months.
Some lawyers who commented on condition of anonymity bemoan this trend of disregarding decisions emanating from the bench, warning that it could lead to anarchy as they cannot rule out a constitutional impasse between judges and law enforcement agencies breeding confusion in the system.
They cite the recent case of Commodore Mohammed Umar rtd., member of the Presidential Investigative Committee on Arms Procurement whose continued incarceration in defiance of bail triggered a battle of wits between Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court and the Directorate of State Services, DSS.
The former member of the arms procurement panel had been arraigned before Justice Dimgba by the DSS on allegations of money laundering, possession of fire arms and violation of official secret act. He was granted bail. However, rather than release the accused on bail as directed by the court, the agency requested the judge to proceed with the trial. The judge refused, insisting that no trial would take place unless his order was carried out. Last Friday, the DSS released the accused on bail after five months in detention.
Family members of the former minister are now wondering if his case would take the turn of retired Air Force officer or whether the EFCC would release him as ordered by the court. It was not clear, last night, if the EFCC was planning a judicial ambush similar to the one it unleashed before.