Saraki, Ekweremadu deny forgery charges, granted bail
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, docked before a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja over alleged forgery of Senate Standing Rules were yesterday granted bail.
Also facing trial with Saraki and Ekweremadu are the former Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa and the acting Clerk, Mr. Benedict Efeturi who were also granted bail.
The defendants were put on trial by the Federal Government on the allegation of forging the Senate Standing Rules used on June 9, 2015 to conduct the election that brought Saraki and Ekweremadu to office as principal officers of the Senate.
They pleaded not guilty to the charge, shortly after it was read to them, prompting their lawyers Mr. Ikechukwu Ezechukwu (SAN) for Maikasuwa, Mahmud Magaji (SAN) for Efeturi, Paul Erokoro (SAN) for Saraki and Joseph Daudu (SAN) for Ekweremadu, to move application for their bail.
Meanwhile, piqued by his arraignment, Saraki has declared that a few persons had taken over executive powers from President Muhammadu Buhari and were exercising the same against the wishes of Nigerians and the rules of democracy.
Justice Yusuf Halilu, after taking arguments from the counsel, admitted all of them to bail with two sureties each who must be Nigerians, male or female and who must have landed properties either in Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse or Apo Legislative Quarters.
The judge in his ruling held that Section 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution as amended presumes the defendants innocent of the charges against them and that it is normal and natural for them to be allowed on bail so as to prepare for their defence.
The judge, who took judicial notice of the positions of the defendants, said there was nothing by way of evidence to suggest that they would jump bail if allowed to go home. The judge, however, said that in the event of the defendants unable to meet up with the bail conditions, they should be remanded in Kuje Prison pending the time they will be able to do so.
Earlier, counsel to the Federal Government, who is also the Director of Public Prosecutions of the Federation (DPPF), Mr. Mohammed Diri, had told the court that he had no opposition to the bail of Saraki on the ground that he is the President of the Senate, so as not to cripple the activities of the Senate.
Diri, however, opposed the bail of Ekweremadu, Maikasuwa and Efeturi on the grounds that they are likely to evade trial, having allegedly evaded the service of the charge.
The prosecution told the court that if convicted, the three defendants were likely to be jailed for 14 years and that because of the gravity of the punishment, the court should be cautious in granting them bail.
Erokoro, while moving a bail application for Saraki, told the court that apart from the charge, Saraki’s name was never mentioned, either in the proof of evidence or in the police report, adding that he had not in any way been linked with the alleged offence of conspiracy and forgery.
Erokoro further argued that no attempt was made by the prosecution to serve Saraki with the charge in question as required by law and that Saraki had been standing trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on other charges for almost a year and had never absented himself from the tribunal. He pleaded that Saraki be granted bail on self recognition or liberal terms because as the Senate President, he is too big to run away to anywhere to evade trial.
Daudu, who stood for Ekweremadu, urged the court to agree that the DPP has no objection to the other three defendants on the ground that they were charged with the same offence as Saraki.
Daudu told the court that he understood the political language of the DPP on Ekweremadu but that ‘what is good for the goose is also good for the gander’.
He also dismissed the insinuation by the prosecution that the three other defendants evaded service of charge, arguing that there was no affidavit of evidence to that effect before the court and that the insinuation should be regarded as mere speculation.
Other lawyers argued along with Daudu in their submissions for the bail of their clients.
According to a source who preferred anonymity, many prominent Nigerians brought title documents of their properties to stand as sureties for the Senate President. Besides, the retinue of security had a hectic day trying to control the crowd in and outside the court, who kept on surging forward in order to hear the proceeding. A large crowd outside the court premises chanted solidarity songs for Saraki and Ekweremadu.
Meanwhile, the court has adjourned the matter till July 11 for trial.
Saraki, in a statement he personally signed and released to the media shortly after he was arraigned along three others yesterday said that “what has become clear is that there is now a government within the government of President Buhari who has seized the apparatus of Executive powers to pursue their nefarious agenda.”
He also announced his readiness to be sent to prison for his stand in defence of democracy. Saraki said his trial was part of the continuous persecution by some persons in and outside government. He said: “This latest onslaught on the Legislature represents a clear and present danger to the democracy Nigerians fought hard to win and preserve. The suit filed on behalf of the Federal government suggests that perhaps some forces in the Federal Republic have not fully embraced the fact that the Senate’s rules and procedures govern how the legislative body adjudicates and resolves its own disputes.
“Let it be abundantly clear, both as a citizen and as a foremost legislator, I will continue to rise above all the persecution and distraction that have been visited on me. In the words of Martin Luther King Junior, ‘the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at a time of challenge and controversy’”.
The Senate president ”will remain true and committed to the responsibilities that my citizenship and my office impose on me. Without doubt, the highest of those responsibilities is the steadfast refusal to surrender to the subversion of our democracy and the desecration of the Senate.”
On his readiness to go to jail in defence of democracy, Saraki said: “This is a cross I am prepared to carry. If yielding to the nefarious agenda of a few individuals who are bent on undermining our democracy and destabilising the Federal Government to satisfy their selfish interests is the alternative to losing my personal freedom, let the doors of jails be thrown open and I shall be a happy guest.”
According to Saraki, the trial is an attempt to divert attention from the important issue of delivering good governance to the expectation of Nigerians who are in dire need of policies that will take them away from deepening economic hardship.”