The Federal Government on Monday arraigned the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and two others before a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Jabi for forgery of the Senate Standing Rules 2015.
The other co-accused persons are the former Clerk of the Senate, Salihu Abubakar Maikasuwa and Deputy Clerk of the Senate, Benedict Efeturi.
They pleaded not guilty to the two counts of criminal conspiracy and forgery when the charges were read to them before Justice Yusuf Haliru on Monday.
After the defendants took their plea, the judge took some break to enable the prosecution to react to the bail applications filed by the defendants.
The judge in a joint ruling on the separate applications granted bail to the accused on the conditions that each should produce two sureties, who must have property either in Asokoro, Maitama, Wuse 2 or Garki (all in Abuja).
He ruled that the defendant would be remanded in Kuje prison, Abuja should they fail to meet the bail conditions before the close of work on Monday.
It was however learnt that the accused persons met the bail conditions not too long after the judge delivered his ruling.
The proceedings which last about two and half hours on Monday ended at about 11.30pm.
By 1pm, all the defendants had left the court premises after meeting their bail conditions.
Dressed in traditional attires, the accused were accompanied to the court by some senators and some politicians.
The defence team on Monday comprised Ikehwukwu Ezechukwu (SAN) for Maikasuwa, Mahmud Magaji (SAN) for Efeturi; Paul Erokoro (SAN) for Ekweremadu; and Joseph Daudu (SAN) for Saraki.
In their separate bail applications filed for each of the defendants, they argued that the charges preferred against their client were ordinarily bailable and pleaded with the judge to grant bail to all the defendants in view of their status in the society.
They maintained that their clients respected the court by turning themselves in on learning about the charges preferred against them.
The prosecuting counsel, Mr. Muhammad Diri, who is the Director, Public Prosecutions of the Federation, did not oppose Saraki’s bail application on the grounds that the Senate President was the head of the legislative arm of government.
Diri noted that a denial of bail for the Senate President had the capacity of destabilising legislature.
He however opposed others’ bail applications on the ground that they earlier evaded service of the charges on them.
He relied on the provisions of Section 162(b) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 in urging the court to reject bail to Maikasuwa, Efeturi and Ekweremadu on the ground that they could evade trial.
Responding on point of law, the defence argued that since the defendants were already in court, all the events that transpired before the arraignment of the accused was no longer important.
Magaji noted that the provision of Section 162(b) of ACJA related only to where, a person charged with criminal offence with punishment exceeding three years, could be denied bail if he/she exhibited the tendency to evade trial.
Daudu, Erokoro and Ezechukwu also toed the same line of argument.
But Daudu noted that by the positions held by the defendants, they would not jump bail.
Daudu urged the court to grant all of the defendants bail since they were all facing the same set of charges, and the prosecution having elected not to oppose bail for the Senate President.
In acceding to the defendants’ request for bail, Justice Halilu noted that the essence of bail was to ensure that the liberty of the accused person (defendant), as guaranteed under the Constitution, was protected and to ensure that such a defendant attend court to stand trial.
He added that the decision to grant bail was at the discretion of the court after considering all necessary conditions.
The judge, who relied on the provision of the ACJA in relation to the provision that an accused person, standing trial, should be granted bail to enable him/her to prepare for his/her defence.
The courtroom located on the second floor of the court’s building was packed as of 8am for the proceedings scheduled to being by 9am.
When it was 8.30am, some security personnel, including the police and men of the Department of State Services, later started restricting access to the premises.
The court adjourned till July 11 for the commencement of trial.