Jos — The Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) wednesday arraigned former Governor of Plateau State and Senator representing Plateau North in the National Assembly, Jonah David Jang, in Jos High Court on allegation of fraud while he was governor of the state.
This is even as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has withdrawn its charges against the senator to avoid duplication of court process.
Counsel to the ICPC, Mr. Adesina Raheem, an Assistant Director, said: "We got an information that the EFCC has also filed a criminal charges against the defendant.
"We had a discussion with the EFCC and it was resolved that we should withdraw ours to avoid duplication of court process."
The presiding judge, Justice Daniel Longji, granted the withdrawal of the application and struck out the case.
The senator, dressed in white traditional attire and brought to court by the commission in an unregistered white Toyota Hiace Bus by 9:30 a.m., was shortly thereafter asked to enter the dock together with his former cashier, Mr. Yusuf Pam.
When the charges filed by the EFCC against him were read, the ex-governor, who was in high spirits, smiled at some of them possibly considering them as frivolous.
The 12-count charge filed against him and Pam were read to them, and they both pleaded not guilty. The charges, among others, include misappropriation of monies disbursed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) meant for disbursement to prospective beneficiaries of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Fund (MSMEDF), dishonestly diverting and misappropriating "certain property" summing up to various amount of money.
The said offences, according to the charges, are punishable under section 309 of the Penal Code Law of Northern Nigeria applicable to Plateau State.
After the charges were read, and the accused pleaded not guilty, their lead counsel, Mr. Robert Clarke (SAN), who said he was committed speedy trial of case, argued that an accused person is presumed innocent by fact and law, "however, the law says there are some grievous offences, but generally we are all presumed innocent.
"But in spite of that, even the woman who stabbed her husband, as grievous as that offence may seem, was granted a bail. We lawyers have as a cornerstone of our profession the saying that facts are sacred. The facts here are all pecuniary.
"Justice must not only be seen to be done, but must be done to be seen.
"The counter-affidavit states that the accused persons have been enjoying administrative bail, but that it is now refused because of the enormity of the charges before them. So they did not only withdraw the administrative bail but urge your lordship not to grant them bail because they may abscond. But they were granted administrative bail five times on the same offences and they didn't abscond, why now?
"I urge your Lordship not to grant the prosecution the summersault to take their pound of flesh."
Clarke said: "The counter-affidavit also claimed that if granted bail, they may go and intimidate witnesses. But the witnesses have always been there when they were granted administrative bail and were never intimidated. After all, the evidences are already before the court, and the witnesses cannot at this point be intimidated.
"The first accused has been a military governor twice and civilian governor for eight years. He is now a distinguished senator. He is also a graduate of Theology and a Pastor. Respect should be given to whom respect is due. He should be given bail on self-recognition.
"On these facts, I urge you my Lord not to run along with their counter-affidavit."
But in a counter argument, counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, cited the case of Asari Dokubo, a founder of Niger-Delta militant group, to support his argument who was not granted bail, adding that an accused person shall not 'ordinarily' be released on bail.
He also cited the case between Ishaya Bamayi and the state (2001), insisting that the case at hand borders on corruption, and none of these charges is less than five years jail.
Jacobs said the bail should be denied to avoid the liberty of committing other offences, rather, the judge should grant accelerated hearing.
But Clarke countered his argument, observing that the Asari Dokubo's case he cited bordered on militancy and terrorism, and cannot be compared to the current one.
Delivering his ruling on the bail, Justice Longji noted that the case is a sensitive one.
He said: "I have no doubt in my mind that this case is a sensitive one, especially considering the caliber of the person involved," however, adding that he will adjourn to a later date.
This prompted a fresh argument on where to keep the accused before the next adjourned date. The EFCC counsel had wanted the accused to be taken back to Abuja but Clarke objected on the grounds that transferring the accused up and down was not safe due to the bad roads.
Jacobs then agreed, and the opinion of Jang was sought by Clarke on where he would prefer to be kept. Clarke then suggested the DSS custody or Jos Prison.
The judge then used his discretion, and finally ruled that Jang should be kept in Jos Prison custody till May 24, when the ruling on the bail application will be decided.