A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has declared that the acting National Chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Alhaji Sadeeq Ibrahim Masalla is not a suspect in a case in which his name was listed as defendant by the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) and therefore cannot be said to be on trial.
The court presided over by Justice Peter Kekemeke ruling in the suit no. FCT/HC/CR/36/12, emphasized that it was wrong for the prosecution or anybody for that matter, to refer to Alhaji Masalla as a suspect, since “there is no charge yet legally standing against him in the court”.
While ruling on two applications: the first filed by the prosecution asking for a court warrant to arrest Masalla, whom they claimed had jumped an administrative bail and the other filed by Masalla’s lawyer, Chief Toochukwu Onwugbufor (SAN), challenging the jurisdiction of the court, the judge declared that “there is no charge yet against Masalla and so, should not be regarded as a suspect.
According to the judge, “he has not been arraigned yet. There is no accused yet in this matter. It is my view that it is after his arraignment that he can be properly called an accused person in this court.
“Section 154 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code applies only to an accused. In the circumstances, an application for warrant of arrest under this section cannot be granted.
“Besides, there is now before the court, a motion on notice, although served this morning, on the court, until and unless that motion is taken and decided, the presence of the accused may not be necessary as he is represented by counsel. He cannot be put on trial unless and until he is arraigned.
“In the circumstances of this case, the application for warrant of arrest will be refused and it is hereby refused. Application (motion challenging court’s jurisdiction, filed by Masalla) dated and filed on 21/11/12 is hereby adjourned to the 03.12/12 for hearing,” the presiding judge ruled.
Police prosecutor, Mr. Francis Irabor, had orally claimed that Masalla had jumped bail and that efforts made to bring him to court to face trial have failed as his phone was switched off neither was he in his house.
Chief Onwugbufor had discountenanced the submission, describing it as strange to legal practice, especially as there was no nexus to prove the claims nor has any substantial process happened in court as to warrant Masalla being arraigned in the first place.
Shortly after the court ruling, Alhaji Masalla described the statements made by Mr. Irabor as “totally untrue; false, fabricated and intended to tarnish my image”.
Masalla explained that he, on 24th July, made the complaints to the IGP to investigate perjury based on false claims of forgery of some signature on the party’s resolution convening a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting by some APGA chieftains, including Hon. Jolly Ngbor and eight others.
Wondering how he would suddenly become an accused or claimed to have jumped bail in a matter in which he is the complainant, he maintained that “at no time was he on any administrative bail as claimed by Mr. Irabor in court, neither was any known effort made by anybody to reach me without fail.
“For the avoidance of doubt, I was never on the run and will never run for nothing. I had an accident and was in coma for days and was taken to Vom Christian Hospital from where I was moved to the University of Jos Teaching Hospital until I was discharged few days ago and I also categorically state that I am a complainant in the case in question”.
He stated that it was on the strength of a memo by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) dated 24th July, 2012 signed by DCP Murtala U. Mani, Principal Staff Officer 11 to the IGP, directing the Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIG-Force CID) to investigate his allegations that he was invited to the FCID at Area 10 to make statements.
“I simply adopted my petition as my statement. Thereafter, the Police commenced investigations and arrested the accused persons, took their statements under caution and granted them bail.
“The police later took their signatures to the Forensic Sciences Laboratory in Lagos for examination of signature and comparison of documents. The result which you all know was that the signatures were signed by those accused persons who the experts said did consciously wrote the signatures ‘probably with a view to disowning them in future but that the disguise not withstanding, in comparing with each of the handwriting in the relevant columns of documents marked old and new, found inherent feature of identity between them”.
Brandishing a certified true copy of Justice Kekemeke’s ruling, Masalla said he was shocked when he read some media reports that the Police were ordered to produce him in court so as to ensure his arraignment on December 3rd.
He described the news reports as the handiwork of desperate persons who would go to any extent to falsify and distort information to suit their purposes.
Crises in the APGA had led to the Masalla group suspending Chief Victor Umeh and Alhaji Sani Shinkafi (national chairman and secretary respectively) and asking Alhaji Masalla and Dr. Ifedi Okwenna to take over the respective positions.
Several attempts made by Governor Peter Obi of Anambra state to reconcile the factions have so far failed, but it was gathered that Obi is stoutly in support of the position being canvassed by the Masalla group that the party should be totally restructured to enable new people join the party.