ABUJA — AN Abuja High Court yesterday granted two former Ministers of Internal Affairs, Chief Sunday Afolabi and Dr Mohammed Shata, as well as sacked Labour Minister, Alhaji Hussaini Akwanga bail following their arraignment in connection with the alleged $214 million National Identity Card bribe scandal.
Also granted bail were the first National Secretary of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) and one time Governor of Enugu State, Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo and the Permanent Secretary, Internal Affairs Ministry, Ms Turie Akerele.
But this was after the five of them had entered a plea of not guilty to the offences for which they were charged, amidst an objection raised against their plea being taken by counsel to the principal accused person, Niyi Adela
gun. Adelagun was not in court, but his counsel, Mr John Odubela, in his objection, contended that the plea of the other accused persons ought not to be taken in the absence of the first accused, who allegedly distributed the bribe.
"The six accused persons were charged together. It is strange practice for the plea of five to be taken in the absence of one and the principal accused person for that matter. My Lord, they have even not given salient reasons why he is not in court. I fear if he is even alive. He may be dead," Odubela said.
He has already filed a motion on notice, praying for an order compelling the Attorney General of the Federation(AGF) to produce his client.
Meanwhile, ruling on the oral application moved by counsel to Nwodo and Akwanga, Justice Ibrahim Bukar held that the onus of proof as to why the accused persons ought not to be admitted to bail was on the prosecution, saying the prosecution had failed to show proof. He, however, admitted them to bail on their personal recognition, saying they should deposit their international passports to the Commissioner of Police, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT)."
He then adjourned the commencement of proper trial to January 23, 2004.
Earlier, while moving the application for bail for Chief Afolabi, Mr Joe Daudu (SAN) had reminded the court of the nature of the charges against his client, pointing out that each of the two count-charge attracted a maximum of seven years and was bailable as stipulated in the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000.
Also applying for bail for Shata, his counsel, Mr Joe Gadzama (SAN) said the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) had arrested and detained the accused person since December 1, this year without charging him to court, contending that detention beyond the statutory provision of 14 days stipulated in the Act was condemnable. He prayed the court to go beyond granting the accused persons bail, by "admonishing the ICPC for violating the rights of the accused persons to bail since their arrest."
In the motion brought against the Federal Government pursuant to section 77 (2) of the Criminal Procedure Code Cap. 491, LFN 1990 and Section 34 (1) )a), 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution, Odugbela made an alternative prayer to wit: an order compelling the AGF to withdraw the charges against Mr Niji Adelagun charged as 1st accused person.
Justice Bukar has fixed Friday, January 2, 2004 to hear Odubela's application.
At the end of yesterday's proceedings which was witnessed by a large crowd of sympathisers of the accused persons, the court premises was electrified by shouts of joy as family members, friends and sympathisers rushed to embrace the accused persons.
Speaking with newsmen, Dr Nwodo said "now I know how sweet freedom is. For now, all I would say is that time would vindicate the innocent. Remember, the matter is in court and we must not talk about it or be in contempt."
Chief Afolabi, said: "We were fairly treated," while Akwanga said "it was after 18 days that I learnt that Dr Nwodo was also in custody."Akerele merely said "I give glory to God Almighty, the Just one."
The charges against them:
lNIYI ADELAGUN between April 2002 and May 2002 allegedly gave $241, 500 (USD) in travellers cheque to Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, the Head of Service, in other to obtain his support in the implementation of the National Identity Card Contract awarded to Sagem SA.
lDr Okwesilieze Nwodo was accused of receiving $113,000 for introducing Adelagun to Chief Sunday Afolabi, while he was Minister of Internal Affairs for assistance in connection with bidding for the National Identity Card Contract.
lAlhaji Hussaini Akwanga was accused of using his position as permanent Secretary in Internal Affairs Ministry to confer corrupt advantage on his daughters by securing payment of $30,000 from Adelagun for their upkeep in school in Dublin, Ireland.
lChief Sunday Afolabi was accused of receiving gratification in the sum $345, 000 from Adelagun in order to show favour in the course of the implementation of the ID card Project.
lMs Turie Akerele was alleged to have received a gratification of $500, 000 to assist in the implementation of the National Identity card contract.
lDr Mohammed Shata allegedly received as gratification the sum of $300, 000 to support Sagem SA in the implementation of the said project.