The president of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro (SAN), has been granted bail of N250 million in his alleged N1.4 billion fraud case.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is persecuting the NBA president over the alleged offence at a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos and presided over by Justice Muslim Hassan.
When the matter came up on Tuesday, Usoro pleaded not guilty and was consequently admitted to N250 million bail and one surety in like sum.
The EFCC leveled a 10-count charge against Usoro. It also named in the charges Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Finance, Nsikan Nkan; Accountant-General of Akwa Ibom State, Mfon Udomah; Akwa Ibom State Attorney-General, Uwemedimo Nwoko and Margaret Ukpe, all of whom are said to be “at large.”
Also named in the charges are Akwa Ibom State Governor Emmanuel Udom, who according to the charge is “currently constitutionally immune from prosecution.”
While Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo appeared for the EFCC on the case on Tuesday, Chief Wole Olanipekun appeared with six other senior advocates for Usoro.
Oyedepo had told the court that the anti-graft agency had successfully served the criminal charge on the accused on December 10, and sought leave of court for the plea of accused to be taken.
Responding, Olanipekun confirmed service of the charge on the NBA President, but hinted the court that after it had directed that the accused be served with the charge at the last adjourned date, the accused was asked to report to the commission’s office for service.
Among other things, Olanipekun informed the court that the team of defence counsel has been informed that there is already a letter written to the chief judge of the court, seeking a transfer of the case to Uyo, Abuja, or any other jurisdiction of the court, apart from him (Justice Hassan).
He therefore urged the court to await the decision of the CJ, rather than proceeding with arraignment.
But the prosecutor argued that the matter was adjourned until Tuesday (today) for arraignment of the accused and that there was nothing before the court that can be construed as setting aside that purpose.
Oyedepo referred to provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), and argued that objections can only be raised after the plea of the accused had been taken.
According to him, Section 9 governs the place of trial and enquiry, and requires that the charge be filed in the jurisdiction where the alleged offence took place.
Further arguing that sufficient facts which would lead to a transfer of the case to Uyo or Abuja were not available, he urged the court to proceed with arraignment.
But in his ruling, Justice Hassan said, “I have listened vehemently to the submissions of counsel, and I have also read the letter written to the CJ. The issue in view is narrowed down to whether the defendant can take his plea in the circumstance.”
The court ruled that although it is not in dispute that the CJ reserved the right to transfer cases, the instant case was already assigned to his court.
Usoro was consequently called up to take his plea on the charge and he pleaded not guilty.
His counsel Olanipekun, then moved a bail application on behalf of the accused, urging the court to admit him to bail on liberal terms of self recognizance as President of the NBA.
In addition, he added, the passport of the accused must be deposited with the court as a measure, adding that he will apply for same whenever the need arises.
The court afterward admitted Usoro to bail in the sum of N250 million, with one surety in like sum. The surety it said, must be owner of a landed property within the court’s jurisdiction, or a civil servant not lower than the rank of a director in the Federal or state civil service.
It also ordered that the Usoro’s passport also be deposited with the court’s registry which will be verified if genuine.
The court then ordered that Usoro be handed over to a counsel of the Inner Bar, Mr. E.B. Effiong (SAN), pending the perfection of his bail terms.
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