Olusegun Adeniyi, chairman, THISDAY editorial board, has charged judges to consider reviewing stringent bail conditions.
Speaking at a dinner in honour of Mojisola Olatoregun, retired judge of a federal high court in Lagos, on Friday, Adeniyi cited instances of how people granted bail by the court spend weeks in detention as a result of the bail conditions.
He said there is an urgent need to address the development.
“In Nigeria, there are several other challenges that our men and women on the bench confront almost on a daily basis. So, I salute all our Judges who are seated here tonight,” he said.
“However, there is an issue that worries me and I want to seize this opportunity to highlight it: The attachment of stringent bail conditions that are most often designed to keep applicants in jail.
“That these conditions apply mostly to those being prosecuted by the government raises questions that touch on the integrity of the bench in Nigeria.
“Across the country today, there are hundreds of people who have been granted bail by court yet languishing in prisons because they cannot meet the attached conditions. As I speak, the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Mr Omoyele Sowore remains in incarceration, several weeks after he was granted bail by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu and despite the variation of the terms by another Judge. The challenge is that the conditions attached to both bails are so stringent that many believe they were contrived to keep Sowore in jail.
“The issue of attaching bail conditions that are difficult to meet, especially for offences that are not capital, should indeed be of concerns to critical stakeholders in the justice sector. But let me also state clearly that because bail is a discretionary matter, there are contentions about it in several countries. As one writer has put it, bail is based on two conflicting demands.”
PEOPLE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF STRINGENT BAIL CONDITIONS
Adeniyi also spoke on how some individuals use stringent bail conditions as an avenue to fleece applicants.
“Early this year in Abuja, someone I know was granted bail by a court but with the usual stringent conditions. It was in the process of trying to meet those conditions that I learnt of a thriving industry within the federal capital territory,” he said.
“There are ‘Bail consultants’ in Maitama and Asokoro districts of Abuja who rake in hundreds of millions of Naira every year by acting as bail bond agents. They ‘lease’ out the title deeds of their property to perfect bail for defendants at scandalous fees. Since their documents are submitted in court all the time, that means these people are well known, or at least they must be.
“Demanding between ten to a hundred million Naira just to stand surety for accused persons is for me very ridiculous but that, I learnt, is now the growing price in Abuja. And with that, several families now contribute to these bail contractors, almost in the same manner they contribute to pay ransom to kidnappers.
“I therefore hope that our courts are not setting these stringent bail conditions to keep some fat cats in business. Besides, commercializing justice through a court procedure by producing professional sureties, who must evidently be known to these courts, cannot be right. Yet, I have learnt in recent days that this practice is not restricted to Abuja; it is all over the country. I understand also that there is also an industry around senior civil servants who serve as sureties in court and they collect huge sums of money to provide such ‘professional’ services.”
‘OUR JUDGES DESERVE COMMENDATION’
He, however, commended the judges, noting how difficult it is to operate in Nigeria and highlighting some of their achievements.
“Let me add that I am also aware of the hostile environment under which Judges operate in Nigeria so I must salute your courage and doggedness,” he said.
“In the run up to the last general election, for instance, our courts were able to say very loudly to the ruling party at the centre that it is only when the rules and regulations governing elections are binding on political parties and other critical stakeholders that Nigerians can begin to repose confidence in the system.
“So, our judges deserve commendation and I commend them. If I therefore sounded harsh in my presentation, it is not out of disrespect or that I do not appreciate the critical role you are playing. It is just because to whom much is given, much is expected.”
Among those who attended the reception in honour of Olatoregun were John Tsoho, chief judge of federal high court; Binta Nyako, judge of the federal high court, Abuja; Muhammad Liman, federal high court, Lagos; Nnamdi Dimgba, federal high court, Asaba, Delta state; M.A. Onyetenu, federal high court, Port Harcourt, Rivers state; and Mobolaji Olubukola, federal high court, Abuja.
In attendance were also many senior lawyers, including Wale Babalakin, Wole Olanipekun, Mike Ozhekhome, Bayo Ojo, and Folake Solanke.