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Trip Abroad: Court Gives Sokan Conditions

Source: EWACHE AJEFU, ABUJA BUREAU CHIEF - thewillnigeria.com


ABUJA, August 05, (THEWILL) - Justice Adamu Bello of the Federal High Court in Abuja today ruled that the former Executive Secretary, Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, Professor Bridget Omotunde Sokan will need to produce a surety who will stand to face trial should she fail to return from an overseas trip which she has requested the court to grant her.

Professor Sokan and three directors are being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on a 64-count charge, bordering on fraudulent inducement, criminal conspiracy and subversion of due processes in the award of contracts.

Justice Bello had on July 22nd, 2010, dismissed an application brought before him by the accused persons praying the court to quash the charges leveled against them. The other accused persons are: Molkat Manasseh Mutfwang, Michael Mtonga Aule and Dr Andrew Ekpunobi. Two other firms: Intermarkets USA; Intermarkets Nigeria Limited and Alexander John Cozman, a foreign contractor are also standing trial with them.

Sokan and his co-accused had sought to quash all the charges preferred against

them on the ground that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit instituted

by the EFCC. They also claimed that the proof of evidence did not establish a prima facie case against them.

The Judge, in his ruling had said that as far as the proof of evidence before him was concerned "there is sufficient evidence for the accused persons to face trial" He therefore, adjourned the case to November 29th and 30th, 2010 for continuation of trial.

But Prof Sokan came back to the court via a motion on notice dated July 28, 2010, seeking an order of the court for the temporary release of her international passport in the court registry. She told the court that her daughter is due to be delivered of a baby on August 18, at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. She further said that she desires to be present when she would be delivered of her baby.

Prosecution Counsel, Wahab Shittu, however, submitted that while Sections 35{1} and 36{5} of the 1999 Constitution guarantee an accused the right to liberty and a presumption of innocence, "it is not the intendment of the Constitution that such rights be manipulated to frustrate a lawful trial. The mere subjection to trial and the imposition of reasonable bail conditions do not in themselves amount to a denial of the right to liberty or a violation of the right to the presumption of innocence. We submit that it is within the Court’s inherent jurisdiction, powers and discretion to grant the reliefs sought by the 7th accused Applicant but such exercise of powers or discretion must be so exercised judicially and judiciously".

Justice Adamu Bello in his ruling said in granting Prof. Sokan her request, she would need to produce a surety who will stand to face trial from prison should she fail to return from the overseas trip which she has requested the court to grant her.

Prof Sokan and others were first arraigned on May 19, 2009, on a 26-count charge. Due to the fresh evidence available to the prosecution, the 26 charges were further amended to 64 count charges.

The substantive case comes up on November 29th and 30th, 2010, for continuation of trial.