Convicted former Abia State Governor Orji Kalu, on Tuesday, prayed the Federal High Court in Lagos to grant him bail, pending the hearing of an appeal against his conviction.
Kalu, who is serving a 12-year imprisonment for N7.65billion fraud and money laundering, hinged his request on two grounds: ill health and desire to return to the Senate. He said the court had the power to grant his request.
Kalu told Justice Mohammad Liman that he was battling serious health challenges, which required him to seek the services of his “herbalist.”
The Senate Chief Whip and senator representing Abia North District claimed that the medical facilities in the Custodial Centre where he had spent 13 days cannot handle his ailment.
Justice Mohammad Idris of the FHC in Lagos on December 5 convicted Kalu, a Director of Finance and Accounts at the Abia State Government House during Kalu’s tenure, Udeh Udeogu, and Kalu’s firm, Slok Nigeria Ltd on each of the 39 counts.
Kalu was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment and Udeogu, 56 years. Justice Idris ordered that Slok be wound up and its assets forfeited to the Federal Government. The sentences run concurrently, meaning Kalu will only spend a maximum of 12 years in jail.
Yesterday, Kalu’s counsel, Mr. Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), informed the court of a bail application he filed on behalf of the former governor, seeking to be released on bail, pending the outcome of his appeal against the judgment.
He told the court that the application was premised on 23 grounds and supported by a 38-paragraph affidavit.
Fagbemi said after receiving a counter-affidavit filed by the prosecution, he filed a 34-paragraph further affidavit with one exhibit attached.
The SAN also drew the court’s attention to a notice of appeal against Kalu’s conviction and relied on the provisions of Sections 241 of the Constitution in urging the court to grant the bail. “If there is a right of appeal, then, there is a corresponding right of bail pending appeal,” he said.
Citing Sections 6 of the Constitution, Fagbemi argued that the court had the powers to entertain such an application since post-judgment jurisdiction was anchored on the section.
He said the bail would enable Kalu to attend to his health and return to the National Assembly to serve the nation. But EFCC counsel, Mr. RotimI Jacobs (SAN), opposed the bail application.
“Although bail is generally a right of an accused as guaranteed by the constitution, it is not a right available to a convict because the presumption of innocence had crystallised into guilt and conviction,” he said.
According to Jacobs, an application for bail pending appeal is sparingly granted. He said that such a bail could be granted in a situation where the term of imprisonment would have elapsed before the determination of the appeal. He argued that that was not the situation with Kalu’s case.
On Kalu’s health condition, Jacobs said there was no recent medical report on his state of health, arguing that the last report tendered in his case was done more than a year ago.
Jacobs added that the request by Kalu to be released on bail to seek traditional medicine was not tenable, as visitors were allowed into the custodial center.
The EFCC lawyer added: “He says he needs his herbalist to treat him, but he has not said that his herbalist came to the prison and was not allowed to see him.
“In one breath, the applicant is saying that he wants to be released on health grounds while in another breath, he is saying that as a senator, he needs to be released on bail so as to carry out his official functions.”
Citing the case of the Federal Republic of Nigeria vs Joshua Dariye, he argued that the Nigerian criminal jurisprudence was robust enough to handle the appeal and dispense with the same within a reasonable time.
Besides, he argued that the medical facilities at the Ikoyi Custodial Centre were capable of handling Kalu’s medical condition.
Justice Liman adjourned the case till December 23 for ruling on the bail application.