The Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday gave Senator Ali Ndume 21 days ultimatum to produce the former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reformed Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, who has been absent from over 10 scheduled trial sessions since September 2020.
Justice Okon Abang, in issuing the ultimatum, ordered that Ndume who is Maina’s bail surety, threatened that the senator could be detained should he fail to produce the defendant in court on November 18.
Both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and Ndume separately urged the court to order Maina’s arrest on Monday.
But the judge explained that he could not order Maina’s arrest without ordering the detention of his surety.
He said he was more inclined to give the senator three more weeks to find and produce the defendant in court.
Although Maina was absent from Monday’s proceedings, his supporters sustained a negative campaign against the judge by pasting posters accusing the judge of bias in the handling of the trial on walls of neighbouring buildings around the court premises.
Maina, who is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on money laundering charges involving N2bn, has been absent from court since September 29, 2020, when his trial was scheduled to resume.
On October 2, 2020, Ndume who is currently the Senator representing Borno South, the senatorial district Maina hails from, told Justice Abang that he could no longer find the defendant.
In response, the prosecuting counsel, Farouk Abdullah, told the judge that Maina had jumped bail, saying the commission’s independent investigation showed that the defendant was not in admission at the hospital where he claimed to be receiving treatment.
But Maina, in a video clip circulated on different online platforms, said he had not absconded from his ongoing trial but was suffering from knee injuries.
He said he would not appear in court until he was certified healed by his doctors.
At the resumed hearing on Monday, the prosecution counsel, Abdullah, noted that Maina was absent from the proceedings and the previous court sessions without offering any explanation.
He urged the court to grant three requests, one of which was an application for an order revoking the bail granted the defendant.
The EFCC’s lawyer also asked the court to order Ndume to pay the N500m bail sum backing the bail bond he entered into to secure the bail granted Maina.
He also sought an order for the trial of the defendant to proceed in the absence of the defendant as stipulated in section 352(4) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, concerning absentee defendants.
When asked by the judgment about his client’s whereabouts, the defence lawyer, Francis Oronsaye, said the information he had was that his client was on hospital admission after undergoing surgery.
He, however, opposed the application seeking the revocation of his client’s bail but asked the prosecution counsel to file a formal application to enable him to file a reply.
The judge then turned to Ndume, asking him about Maina’s whereabouts.
Responding, Ndume said, “I understand that the defendant is in Abuja and I did all I can to locate him without any definite result.”
He said he had reported the defendant to the Director-General of the Department of State Service, the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Investigations.
“I had reported to the DG SSS, the AIG of Police Investigation; the Commission of Police in Abuja and the Divisional Police Office in Jabi, Abuja.”
Urging the court to issue a warrant for Maina’s arrest, Ndume said, “Even if I see Maina today, I can’t force him to come to court.
“I am appealing to you to issue a warrant on him,” he added.
Expressing regrets for agreeing to stand as Maina’s surety, Ndume said he had only met the defendant once when he visited him in prison while he was in detention waiting to fulfill his bail condition.
He said he was prevailed on by former governors of Abia, Plateau, and Taraba States, Orji Uzor Kalu, Joshua Dariye, and Jolly Nyame, who were then undergoing different jail terms for corruption in the Abuja prison, to stand as Maina’s surety.
“It took me eight months my lord to take that decision. In fact, I had to be given an indemnity by his uncle; signed by me, he and a lawyer that Maina would always be in court,” he added.
But responding Justice Abang said he could not order Maina’s arrest without ordering the senator’s detention.
The judge then gave Ndume 21 days to produce the defendant in court.