When A Suspect Jumps Bail

BAIL IS THE “process by which an accused person is temporarily released from custody to sureties on conditions given to ensure his attendance in court whenever he is required until the determination of the case against him.” - Onyeabuchi v. FRN (2007) LEPLR-4134 Under section 158 of the ACJA, bail should ordinarily be granted to a defendant by the court

except in capital offences. A defendant may be admitted to bail on his own recognizance or on the security of sureties. In recent times the court has imposed extraordinary conditions on sureties or the defendant as preconditions for bail. The primary function of a surety is to ensure the attendance of the defendant to stand his trial. When as recently happened in the case of Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina - who is on trial at the Federal High Court on 12 counts of money laundering trial - the defendant inexplicably absents self from trial, what options are open to the court? What measures did the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 (ACJA) prescribe for such?

First what is the surety’s position? A surety is a person who serves as a guarantor for the performance of an obligation. In the Nigerian bail system, a surety undertakes to secure the presence of a defendant at his trial and fulfilment of other bail on pains of punishment. Usually the surety executes a bond to forfeit certain sums of money or property to the state in the event of default on the part of the principal/ defendant. Where the defendant absconds or breaches any of terms of the bail, the surety is liable to pay the bail Bond or forfeit any property deposited as security. See section 179(2) of the ACJA. The surety would be required to show cause why he should not to pay the bail bond in that circumstances. Recovery of bail bond follows the same procedure as recovery of fines under the Act. If the court is unable to recover the bail bond from the assets of the surety, then proceedings would be instituted against the surety and upon conviction the surety would be liable to imprisonment for a maximum term of six months. See section 179(4) ACJA. A surety is entitled to be heard in any proceedings concerning his position before being exposed to liability. Equally a surety has a right of appeal against any decision arising from a forfeiture proceeding. (See section 186 ACJA.). Maina’s surety Ali Ndume, a distinguished Senator of the FRN had reportedly explained to the court on October 3 that he does not know the whereabouts of the suspect. He had done his bit as a good sympathetic citizen – His role as surety does not extend to monitoring the defendant.

Given the complexity and nature of offences Maina has been charged with and the fact that he had a history of evading justice, perhaps the court would have wished that the provisions on professional suretyship or bondsperson in the ACJA (ss 187,188) had been activated under the Federal criminal justice system. Media Reports of a recorded interview by the defendant from an “unknown location” quotes Maina as saying he is nursing a bad knee and this would prevent him from coming to court until for at least 6 weeks. His counsel had reportedly informed the court however that Maina was on admission at a public hospital. As a matter of general concern the promise that the professionalisation of bail suretyship holds is the expectation that licensed bondsperson will deploy all legitimate means to monitor, track and apprehend defendants in order not to be exposed to liability. Whether or not the court invokes sanctions against him under the ACJA the experience of Maina’s surety, is certain to discourage other sureties or to influence tougher bail conditions.

Clearly the prospects for bail in serious crimes seem quite dim despite the provision of the law that bail should ordinarily be available in such cases