From Laide Raheem, Abeokuta
The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Ogun Area 1 Command, on Wednesday, arraigned four persons accused of importing foreign rice into the country without payment of approved import duties.
The four suspects – Azeez Zonu; Ebenezer Adeyemi; Adeniyi Olalekan and Salahudeen Taiye – were separately arraigned before a Federal High Court in Abeokuta on a five count charge bordering on smuggling, evasion of imports duties, possession of smuggled items, as well as assisting in smuggling among others.
In the charge sheet preferred against them, the accused persons were allegedly caught with several bags of foreign rice imported into Nigeria with motorcycles and cars through unapproved routes for the purpose of evading payments of the stipulated import duties.
When the matter came up for hearing on Wednesday, the lead counsel for Nigeria Customs, Abbas Ibrahim, told the court that the four accused committed infringement which were contrary to and punishable under section 47 of the Customs and Excise Management Act, Cap C45 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
After pleading not guilty to all the offenses levelled against them, two defense counsels; SO Kayode, who stood in for Olalekan and Barr AI Nadir, who represented the trio of Zonu, Adeyemi and Salahudeen, prayed the court to admit the accused persons to bail stressing that they were presumed not guilty until proven otherwise.
Citing sections 158, 162 and 164 of the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act, as well as Section 36, sub-section 5 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN), the two defense counsels prayed the court to invoke these appropriate sections in favour of the accused persons.
Prosecution counsel Abbas opposed to the bail application for the accused on the ground that there was no formal application for it and that the offenses committed had a damaging impact on the economy of the country.
The NCS counsel insisted that the offenses for which the accused persons were arraigned were rampant in the communities where they were arrested, arguing that they could return to the same crime, even more deadlier to the customs operatives before the final determination of the matter.
Responding, the defence counsels argued that conditions for admitting an accused person to bail is at an ‘unfettered discretion of the court,’ insisting that the essence of bail is to ensure the liberty of the accused persons who are presumed innocent and particularly to enable them attend to their trials.
They prayed the court to discountenance the prosecution counsel’s objections to granting the accused bail, stressing that the offenses for which they are standing trial have not been proven to have been committed.
Delivering his ruling, the Presiding Judge, Justice Muhammad Shittu Abubakar, granted the accused persons to bail in the sum of N2 million each with two sureties in the like sum.
Justice Abubakar, who held that formal application was not mandatory to admitting suspects to bail, further ruled that one of the sureties must have a valid international passport or a valid National ID card and must be resident within the jurisdictional powers of the court.
He ordered that the accused persons be remanded at the Nigerian Correctional Center (NCC), pending the time they will meet their bail conditions.
The judge thereafter adjourned the matter till April 26 and May 4, for the commencement of trial.