Justice Chuka Obiozor of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday granted three of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged N177.3 million fraud, bail in the sum of N100 million.
The three officials, attached to the Osun state INEC office: Gbadegun Isaiah Abiodun, Oladipo Oladapo and Afolabi Peter Albert, were on August 1 docked by the anti-graft agency on a 5-count charge bordering on the alleged offence.
They however pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Each of the defendants were admitted to bail by Justice Obiozor in the sum of N100 million with one surety each in like sum.
According to the judge, the sureties who must be residents of Lagos are to come forward with their statement of accounts and utility bills payments for six months.
The sureties who must be owners of landed property in Lagos were also directed to show evidence of tax payments for three years.
The court also directed each of the sureties as well as the defendants to produce two recent passport size photographs. All the documents are to be verified by the court’s registrar while the defendants were to remain in prison until all the bail conditions are fulfilled.
Arguing the bail motions, defence lawyer, Ayo Aladesanmi, urged the court to admit the defendants to bail in liberal terms since the alleged offence is bailable.
While informing the court that her clients were granted administrative bail prior to their arraignment by the EFCC, the lawyer also drew the court’s attention to the fact that the matter has been pending before the anti-graft agency since April 2016.
“My lord, the defendants were earlier granted administrative bail by the EFCC during investigation of this matter and they never jumped bail.
These are high level officials of INEC who knew what is at stake and are prepared to stand their trial”, she said.
Responding, EFCC’s lawyer, Chai Yakua, while urging the court to dismiss the bail motions alleged that the defendants are likely to influence the prosecution witnesses if they are freed on bail.
He was of the view that EFCC’s admittance of the defendants to administrative bail does not necessarily implied that the court must also grant them temporary freedom.
He said: “I urged the court to dismiss the defendants’ bail motions. They have been contacting some of the prosecution witnesses and if they are freed on bail, they might take further steps”.
However, in his ruling on the bail motions, Justice Obiozor noted that the issue of bail is a matter within the domain of the court’s discretion. He said the prosecution has not placed sufficient materials before him to sway his mind in its favour.
The judge while further noting that the offence is bailable said there was no evidence that the defendants jumped bail when they were granted administrative bail by the EFCC.
“A defendant is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved in court. The onus is on the prosecution to prove guilt. The prosecution has not provided any evidence to show that the defendants jumped bail while they were on administrative bail. I am therefore inclined to grant bail to the defendants”, the judge said.
Trial of the defendants is expected to commence after the court’s long vacation.