‘His Warning was to Those Who Stand Surety for Such Suspects… Dan Manjang
By Ralph Madugu
The Plateau State chapter of the Nigerian Bar Association has frowned at a statement credited to the Governor of Plateau State, Simon Bako Lalong which went viral on media to the effect that the Governor had issued a firm instruction to concerned authorities to decline the granting of bail to those arrested in connection to the mob action meted on the Bauchi-Ondo bound commuters, en-route Rukuba road in Jos North LGA.
The NBA said it believes the governor might have been “grossly quoted out of context on the matter,” it believed that the Governor, particularly as a lawyer and an ex-parliamentarian could not have issued such an instruction which the Bar opined “undermines and encourages the contravention of the principles and tenets of the Rule of Law and the Nigerian Constitution.”
The NBA in a statement issued on 20th August 2021 and signed by the State NBA Chairman, Yakubu S. Bawa, Esq, said: “Bail is a Constitutional matter, which must be strictly adhered to at any giving time. Generally, a suspect is presumed innocent till he is proved guilty. Section 36 (5) CFRN 1999 (as amended), refers. No one shall be treated as guilty of the offence alleged at any time before conviction. Hence, the right to Personal Liberty of suspects under the Constitution stipulates that such a suspect “shall be brought before Court of law within a reasonable time.” Section 35 (4) and (5) refers.
“The security operatives are required to carry out their investigation with dispatch and within a reasonable time. And where there is ground for it, arraign the suspect before the Court of law, which shall then be required to exercise its discretion judiciously and judicially in consideration of the accused person’s bail application (if any). On the other hand, the security operatives’/investigating authorities having custody of suspects must not take pleasure in breaching the fundamental rights of the suspects by prolonged detention. Such suspects must be arraigned in court within a reasonable time to forestall breach of their fundamental right to Personal Liberty.
“In the light of the above, we wish to state that nobody, particularly suspects’ relatives, can be rightly arrested or threatened with an arrest simply for seeking a suspect’s release on bail; particularly in the guise of suspicion that they are sponsors of the offences alleged.”
While encouraging members of the public not to be intimidated or harassed, it added that the Jos branch of the NBA considers such a posture to be “inimical and a direct affront to freedom of practice of members of the Legal Profession who shall thereby be exposed and made susceptible to being harassed by the security operative in the course of their job.”
The NBA added that it should not be misunderstood to be averse to punishing offenders in deserving cases but reiterated its position contained in its earlier press release to the effect that the arrest, investigation and prosecution of suspects should be done with strict regards to citizens’ Fundamental Rights.
“We emphatically call on the attention of the various security operatives, especially the Nigerian Police to ensure they abide by the relevant provisions of the Constitution, conventions, treatise, other relevant laws, and best practices that uphold and safeguard the dignity of human persons and citizens’ right to personal liberty. Anything short of that is not likely to be tolerated by the legal community on the Plateau and anywhere in Nigeria.”
But the Plateau State Government has refuted the NBA allegation on the alleged bail denial directive by Gov. Simon Bako Lalong.
According to a statement by State Commissioner for Information and Communication, Hon. Dan Manjang said the clarification would not have been necessary but for the fact that the “weighty allegations are coming from a professional body like the NBA of which the Executive Governor of Plateau State, Rt. Hon. (Dr) Simon Bako Lalong, KSGG is a proud member, one-time official and serious stakeholder, having earned his place in the noble profession.
The statement added that the matters raised in the press statement if left un-countered, could “condense in the minds of right-thinking Nigerians and probably be considered factual with the tendency to cast the Governor in bad light, thereby injuring both his hard-earned reputation and the credibility of his Administration.”
Said Manjang “The summary of the 3-paged press statement centres on concerns raised by the NBA Jos Branch to what it alleged to be Media Reports credited to the Governor, to the effect that “His Excellency has issued a firm instruction to concerned authorities to decline the grant of bail to those arrested in connection to the mob action meted on the Bauchi – Ondo bound commuters, enroute Rukuba Road Jos North LGA, Plateau State. In the same vein, the statement categorically gave a marching order to security operatives to arrest any person that seeks to secure the release of such suspects on bail”.
“For the avoidance of doubt and for the benefit of those who were not present at the High Level Stakeholders Meeting held at the Victoria Gowon Hall of the Government House Rayfield, the Governor gave an opening address during which he highlighted a number of issues relating to the resurgence of attacks particularly in Bassa, Jos North, Riyom, Barkin Ladi and Jos South Local Government Areas.
“One of them was his frustration over what he described as the unfortunate report from the Security Agencies which indicated that some suspects earlier arrested in connection with various Capital Offenses (preceding the Bassa and Rukuba Road incidents), were granted Bail only to be fingered as having a hand in most recent attacks.
“This much was confirmed to journalists by the Plateau State Commissioner Edward Egbuka after the security meeting of 3rd August 2021 in which he said, “There are records of leaders that are on bail temporarily, and some of them have been fingered in this present attacks. Nobody will be spared”.
The Information Commissioner stated that what the Governor clearly expressed was a frustration with this development adding that the governor’s warning was to those who stand Surety for such suspects to realise the danger of the fact that some of the persons for whom they stand Surety without necessary background checks, turn out to be fingered in other crimes while on bail.
“In fact, the Governor shared his frustration with the Chief Judge of the State Hon. Justice Yakubu Gyang Dakwak who was also present at the event. He neither directed the denial of bail to suspects indicted in the Rukuba Road incident, nor ordered the arrest of those who attempt to seek their bail.
“Against the foregoing background, to therefore suggest that his Excellency ordered bail to be denied deserving suspects or that those who come to seek bail for others be arrested, is completely incorrect. This is clearly an interpretation of his intervention that was clearly taken out of context and garnished with innuendos to suit certain preconceived narratives. The said allegations attributed to the Governor are therefore not true and should be discountenanced by the public.”
Manjang maintained that the Governor being a Member of the Legal Profession will not associate himself with any pronouncement that is against the tenets of the Constitution or at variance with the Fundamental Human Rights of the Citizens that he has sworn to protect. Besides, he has no intention to arrogate to himself any powers that he does not possess such as deciding who gets or is denied Bail.
With this hindsight and the avalanche of information available to the Governor as the “Chief Security Officer” of the State, his frustration as elucidated earlier stands to be clearly understood by right thinking members of society without the risk of any embellishment and out-of-context interpretation.
While assuring the NBA Jos Branch that the Governor remains a defender of the Constitution and of Human Rights, having assumed this responsibility by the Oath he took as Governor of the State and by the virtue of his status as a former law maker and one that has his roots in the legal profession, he appealed to the NBA members to endeavour to fact-check issues in order to avoid being drawn into matters that may not be helpful at times like this. “We hope this explanation sets His Excellency, Rt. Hon. (Dr) Simon Bako Lalong, KSGG, Executive Governor of Plateau State and by the grace of God, Chairman, Northern Governors Forum on the same page with the NBA, Jos Branch and beyond” the Commissioner stressed.