Controversy has trailed the decision of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, to grant bail to Obong Bassey Albert Akpan, governorship candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP), and serving Senator for Uyo Senatorial District, who was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for corrupt practices.
Recall that Sen. Albert was on Thursday, December 1, 2022 sentenced to jail by the Federal High Court in Uyo, following a successful prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Albert, a former Commissioner for Finance Akwa Ibom State, was said to have received from Jide Omokore , a BMW X5 (Bulletproof) worth N50 million.
In December 2012 another Infinity QX 56 (bulletproof) worth N45 million was also received from the same source.
Again, in November 2013, he received a Toyota Landcruiser V8 (bulletproof) valued at N40 million and in March 2014, he received a Range Rover, valued at N40 million; in September 2014, another Toyota Hiace High Roof bus valued at N27 million was received from the businessman.
Additionally, he is alleged to have received at different times between 2012-2014,Toyota Hiace High Roof buses valued at N16 million and six units of Toyota Hilux vehicles valued at N36 million.
The EFCC which was investigating money used for the 2015 elections, spotlighted one Jide Omokore, who was suspected as a conduit through which illegal funds were used for elections.
While interrogating the businessman, he had mentioned his numerous transactions with Obong Bassey Albert, who by this time had become a Senator.
The EFCC on June 24, 2019 arraigned Sen. Albert at the Federal High Court, Uyo and the case has been ongoing since then despite several chronic delays by Sen. Albert’s team.
While the case was ongoing at Ikeja, Sen. Albert, through his lawyers, filed a preliminary objection to the jurisdiction of the court.
They prayed the court as follows, “There is nothing in the proof of evidence that suggested that any aspect of the alleged crime against the first defendant was committed outside Akwa-Ibom State and in Lagos State.
The EFCC on June 24, 2019 arraigned Sen. Albert at the Federal High Court, Uyo and the case has been ongoing since then despite several delays by Sen. Albert’s team, until his eventual conviction in December last year.
Although many had thought that the conviction would bring closure to the case and that Sen. Albert would duly be committed to prison custody pending possible quashing of the conviction by a higher court, it came as a surprise when the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt which he approached after his conviction, granted him bail.
The High Court, presided over by S.I. Mark, in its decision on December 28, granted Senator Albert bail in the sum of N50 million with two sureties in like sum, on account of ill health.
The Senator, it is understood, has since met the bail conditions and has been released, a development that has kept many wondering whether a person convicted by a Federal High Court can be granted bail by another High Court.
The question many have raised, among others, is what could have warranted the grant of bail pending an appeal?
A question has also arisen with respect to how a High Court in Rivers could grant bail to a person convicted by another High Court in Uyo.
Meanwhile, E. S. Oriere, a lawyer and rights activist, has written to Prof Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), requesting that Senator Albert be disqualified from participating in the Akwa Ibom State governorship election.
According to the Abuja based lawyer in the letter to INEC chairman dated December 22, “this request is predicated on the conviction of Mr. Akpan by the Federal High Court sitting in Uyo on December 1, 2022 for money laundering offence in FRN V. ALBERT BASSEY (CHARGE NO. FHC/UY/59C/2019).”
He noted that The request is made pursuant to paragraphs (d) and (e) of section 182 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended), which disqualifies a person under a sentence of imprisonment or a person convicted and sentenced for an offence involving dishonesty or fraud from contesting election to the Office of Governor of a State.
Quoting the relevant sections of the constitution for ease of reference, Oriere noted that the said section stipulates-
“182 (1) No person shall be qualified for election to the office of Governor of a State if –
“(d) he is under a sentence of death imposed by any competent court of law or tribunal in Nigeria or a sentence of imprisonment for any offence involving dishonesty or fraud (by whatever name called) or any other offence imposed on him by any court or tribunal or substituted by a competent authority for any other sentence imposed on him by such a court or tribunal; or
“(e) within a period of less than ten years before the date of election to the office of Governor of a State he has been convicted and sentenced for an offence involving dishonesty or he has been found guilty of the contravention of the code of Conduct;”
There are wide spread speculations that the judiciary has been compromised at the highest level with the EFCC literarily barred from challenging the bail. Wether this is true or not will be made bare in the cause of time and how all the actors react to the potentially destructive turn of events in Nigeria’s judiciary and anti-crime authorities.