From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has granted bail to a former Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Benjamin Ezra Dikki, who is standing trial on a four-count corruption charge.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had in the charge alleged that the erstwhile BPE boss had between January and February of 2015 received gratification to the tune of N1 billion.
The anti-corruption agency alleged that Dikki, who was charged alongside his company, Kebna Studios & Communications Limited, received N1 billion gratification from BestWorth Insurance Brokers for facilitating the approval of outstanding insurance premiums and claims of deceased and incapacitated staff of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).
Count one of the charge against the defendants read:
‘That you Benjamin Ezra Dikki, while being the Director General of Bureau of Public Enterprise and also the Managing Director of Kebna Studios & Communications Limited, and Kebna Studios & Communications Limited, on or about 30th day of January, 2015, in Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, did corruptly accepts as reward the sum of N250million only through Kebna Studios & Communications Limited’s Skye Bank Account No.1771649525 from Bestworth Insurance Brokers Limited for your role in facilitating the approval of outstanding insurance premiums and claims of deceased and incapacitated staff of Power Holding Company of Nigeria( PHCN), and thereby committed and offence contrary to Section 17(1)(a) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences ACT, 2000 and punishable under Section (17)(c) of the same Act.’
Justice Yusuf Halilu had on Monday after taking the plea of the defendants, who pleaded not guilty to the charge, remanded the former BPE DG at the Kuje Correctional Centre, pending the determination of his request for bail.
Dikki’s lawyer, Abdul Muhammed, had prayed the court to release his client on bail pursuant to Sections 158, 162, and 163 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015.
He argued that the charge against the defendants contained bailable offences.
However, counsel to the EFCC, Dianne Nkwap, urged the court to turn down the bail request, contending that Dikki failed to place sufficient materials to warrant the exercise of the court’s discretion in his favour.
In his ruling on Wednesday, Justice Halilu said he was minded to accede to the defendant’s bail application.
He held that the issue of bail is at the discretion of the court, stressing that such discretion must be exercised judicially and judiciously.
‘It is established that bail is a constitutional right of a Defendant as he is presumed innocent until otherwise proven as provided in Section 36(5) of the Constitution.
‘Contrary to the argument of the Prosecution that if granted bail, the Defendant would not make himself available for trial, there is no material placed before this court to justify this,’ the judge said.
Justice Halilu noted that the defendants were not charged with offences bordering on treason or that could attract capital punishment upon conviction.
He held that the court is empowered to grant bail even in a matter involving death sentence, based on sufficient materials adduced before it.
The trial judge further cited the case of Maryam Sanda who was granted bail but was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death.
He held that EFCC failed to prove that the former BPE boss posed a flight risk or is capable of interfering with its investigations.
The court noted that the Commission had since concluded its investigations in the matter.
It consequently directed the defendant to provide two sureties who must be reputable Nigerians that are resident in the Federal Capital Territory.
‘The sureties,’ according to the judge, ‘must provide evidence of their residence, the title documents of their house, which must be in Wuse, Garki, Asokoro and Maitama with the registrar of this court.
‘The accused person should deposit his travel documents with the Registrar, and must make an undertaking not to travel out of Nigeria without order form this court.
‘Both sureties should equally make an undertaking to pay back to coffers of the Federal Government, the said amount totaling N1 billion, N500 million each, in the event that the 1st Defendant jumps bail,’ Justice Halilu added.
The matter was adjourned to April 15 for trial.