Justice Yusuf Halilu of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory sitting in Jabi, Abuja, has adjourned till September 28, to commence trial in the two-count charge of forgery against Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki; his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu; immediate past Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa and the acting Clerk, Senator Benedict Efeturi.
The Senate President and his deputy were, on June 27, arraigned with the other defendants by the Federal Government for allegedly forging the Senate Standing Rules used on June 9, 2015 to conduct the election that brought in Saraki and Ekweremadu as Senate President and Deputy Senate President, respectively.
It will be recalled that after the defendants pleaded not guilty to the two-count charge slammed against them by the Federal Government, the court slated Monday to commence trial, which did not hold because of the annual vacation for judges of the Abuja High Courts which commenced on Monday.
Defendants’ counsel, Ikechukwu Ezechukwu for Maikasuwa, Mahmud Magaji for Efeturi, Paul Erokoro for Saraki and Joseph Daudu for Ekweremadu had moved application for the bail of their clients after pleading not guilty to the charges.
The trial judge, Justice Halilu, had, after taking arguments from counsel in the matter on the bail application, admitted all the defendants on bail with two sureties each.
The sureties, the judge held, must be Nigerians, male or female, who must have landed property in either Apo Legislative Quarters, Maitama, Asokoro, Garki or Wuse District of Abuja.
Justice Halilu, who took judicial notice of the position of the defendants, said there was nothing by way of affidavit evidence that the defendants would jump bail if allowed to go home and added that the essence of bail for the defendants was to ensure their attendance in court throughout the trial.
The judge, in his ruling, held that Section 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, presumed the defendants innocent of the charges against them and that it was normal and natural for them to be allowed bail so as to prepare for their defense.
He further said the essence of bail was for the defendants, who were presumed innocent by law, was to ensure their attendance in court throughout the trial and that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 also lent support for bail for any Nigerian accused of bailable offences as in the case of Saraki, Ekweremadu and others arraigned before him.
Earlier, the prosecution counsel and the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Mr Mohammed Shaibu Diri, had told the court that he had no opposition to Saraki’s bail application on the ground that he was the President of the Senate and that the Federal Government did not want to cripple the activities of the Senate.
Diri, however, opposed the bail application brought before the court by Ekweremadu, Maikasuwa and Efeturi on the ground that they were likely to evade trial, having allegedly evaded the service of the charge against them.
The prosecution told the court that if convicted, the three defendants were likely to be imprisoned for 14 years and that because of the gravity of the punishment, the court should be cautious in granting them bail.
Erokoro, while moving Saraki’s bail application, told the court that apart from the charge, Saraki’s name was not mentioned either in the proof of evidence or in the police report, adding that he (Saraki) had not in anyway been linked with the alleged offence.