By IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI, Abuja
Former Chairman and Secretary of the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy Probe, Farouk Lawan and Mr Boniface Emenalo respectively, regained their freedom yesterday from Kuje Prisons where they were remanded for the past seven days.
Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi allowed the embattled lawmakers to go home on bail after they deposited N10million each, as well as, produced two sureties each in like sum.
Besides, Justice Oniyangi ordered the accused persons to surrender their international passports and other travelling documents to the court registrar, warning that they should not travel outside the shores of the country without the consent of the court.
Both Farouk and Emenalo, had on February 1, pleaded not guilty to a seven-count criminal charge preferred against them by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC.
They were accused of demanding and collecting bribe from the Chairman of Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd, Femi Otedola, to remove the name of his company from the report of the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on Monitoring of Fuel Subsidy regime.
According to the ICPC, the lawmakers collected an aggregate sum of $3million, with a view to ensuring that Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd escaped prosecution even though the probe committee had earlier found it culpable in the fuel subsidy fraud.
The ICPC maintained that the offence the accused persons allegedly committed was contrary to Sections 17 (1); 8(1) (a) (b) (ii), and 23 (i) of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000 and punishable under Sections 8 (1) 17 (1) and 23(3) of the same Act.
Also, the ICPC alleged that Emenalo, while being a public officer, an Assistant Director and Clerk of the Committee on Education of the House of Representatives, sometime in April 2012, while acting as the Secretary of the Ad-Hoc Committee, was offered gratification by Otedola but failed to report the offer to the ICPC or any police officer.
But, the accused persons had in an application they filed pursuant to Sections 35, 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and Sections 340 and 341(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code, asked the court to grant bail pending the hearing and determination of the case.
Moving the application, Counsel to the accused persons, Chief Ricky Tarfa, SAN, and Chief Mike Ozokhome, SAN, had urged the court to either grant them bail on self recognition or on the most liberal terms.
While informing the court that Farouk had in the course of investigation into the matter, reported to the police on 37 different occasions, Tarfa argued that they deserved to be granted bail considering that they never violated the administrative bail earlier granted them by the police.
According to him, “The first accused has had cause to travel out more than four times since the commencement of the investigation, the second accused has had cause to travel to the USA more than two times since then. My Lord, the first accused has been a full time member of the House of Representatives since 1999; he is also a member of the ECOWAS Parliament in the last 12 years.
“He is one of the founding members of the said ECOWAS Parliament and he is presently chairing the committee on Administration of Finance.”
Tarfa had also relied on the decided case-law in Owudalu Vs State, 2008, AFWLR, and Ebute& Ors Vs State, 1994, 8-NWLR, and argued that not only did the accused persons fail to abscond when they had the opportunities, but had voluntarily submitted themselves to the police for investigation.
“The accused persons are willing and ready to face their trial. My Lord should also take cognizance of their status and position in the society and grant them bail in self recognition. The constitution says they should be considered innocent until proved guilty,” he insisted.
Earlier, counsel to the ICPC, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, had implored the court to remand the lawmakers in prison custody pending their trial.
Opposing their bail application, Awomolo also relied on Section 8, 10, 17 and 23 of the ICPC Act 2000 and the decided case-law in Asari Dokubo Vs FRN, 2007, 12-NWLR.
He said: “We are opposing the application for bail and urge your lordship to refuse it. The accused persons are charged with an offence punishable by 2 to 7 years imprisonment and therefore not ordinarily bailable.
An application for bail is an application in equity which requires my Lord to exercise your discretion judicially and judiciously. The principles that guide the court in granting bail have been well enunciated in the case of Bamaiyi Vs State, 2001, the nature and gravity of the offence and the likelihood of the accused committing another offence while on bail…
“Your Lordship needs to be assured that what prompted them to demand $3million will not also prompt them to demand $10million.The accused persons were part of the making of the ICPC Act, they knew the intention of the lawmakers and deliberately violated the law, on that ground alone, I urge my lord to deny them bail,” he added.
Ruling on the motion yesterday, Justice Onayingi who overruled the ICPC, said he found merit in the bail application.
The judge, who noted that granting of bail is within the discretion of the court, maintained that the ICPC failed to contravene the depositions in the affidavit that was tendered before the court by the accused persons, stressing that, “facts deposed to and not controverted must be taken as true by the court.”
He noted that the ICPC never showed any proof that the accused persons will either jump bail or interfere with their trial, adding that the commission failed to show that the duo violated the administrative bail granted them earlier by the police. Consequently, he released the accused persons on bail and adjourned hearing on the substantive case till April 10 and 17.