Involving civil servants in bail in criminal trials unlawful, says Ex-NBA scribe

 Involving civil servants or public officers in the service of the federation or the state in bail of people accused of criminal offences, unlawful.

A former Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Douglas Ogbankwa, made this known in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

”The practice of courts as well as some security agencies, imposing high ranking civil servants as sureties in criminal matters, runs contrary to lawful provisions.

”This practice with all due respect to my lords, their worships, their honours and the head of security agencies, does not conform to the extant law on the matter in Nigeria.

“A cursory look at sections 158 to 166 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, with relevant sections in the Administration of Criminal Justice Laws of states, shows that sureties as provided by the laws should be blood relatives of the defendants.

“While the law made references to blood relatives specifically, there is no portion where it mentioned civil servants or house owners, with certificates of occupancy.

“This practice which is very obnoxious and unacceptable has led to the unwarranted detention of defendants in correctional facilities and in some cases death of some defendants,” he said

Ogbankwa noted that the grant of bail was not an escape route from justice, but an opportunity given to the defendant to prepare for his defence as provided for by section 36 of the constitution.

“In other parts of the world, whether you are rich or poor, you are arraigned in court and go home that same day.

“Bail is a constitutional right and not a favour to be done by a judicial official or security agent” he said

He said that this comparative analysis of bail conditions in other parts of the world revealed that the Nigerian criminal justice system with regards to bail was stringent

Ogbankwa cited a decision by  Justice Stephen Adah of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, where the judge held that the inclusion of civil servants as surety was an oversight on the part of courts.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that rtd Col. Sambo Dasuki, who was  in the custody of the Department of State Services (DSS) inspite of being granted bail, challenged his continued detention (since December 2015) before the Federal High Court in Abuja via a fundamental rights enforcement suit.

In a judgment on July 2, 2018, the Federal High Court granted Dasuki bail but attached conditions, which the ex-NSA found too stringent to meet.

NAN reports that he asked to the appeal court on that issue and sought a review of the bail conditions, a request the appellate court acceded to in its decision of June 13, 2019.

Part of the new conditions set by the Court of Appeal was that Dasuki produces a surety, who must be a Level 16 official in the Civil Service of either the Federal or state government, who must own a property worth N100m within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Justice Adah, in the Appeal Court judgment, said the court’s decision to request that Dasuki produce a civil servant as surety was an oversight.

He said: “Of concern to us is that we as a court must be ready and sensitive enough not to do anything that will run against the laws of the land.

“It was an error that we allowed that to stay. So, it is in this respect that we will act ex debito justitiae (as a matter of right) ensuring that aspect of the condition is removed from the conditions of bail that were granted.

“It is in this respect that we grant this application, thereby inaugurating a new regime of bail. Bail is now granted to the appellant/applicant in the sum of N100m with two sureties in like sum.

“The sureties shall be resident within the jurisdiction of the trial court and each of which shall furnish evidence of ownership of the property in Abuja. This shall be the order of the court,” Justice Adah said. (NAN)