According to the constitution, the accused should have been out of prison five months ago.
By Ogechi Ekeanyanwu and Ben Ezeamalu
Outside a crowded court room, in Tinubu Square, Lagos, Habiba Kasali used one arm to secure her five month old baby strapped at her back while the other arm swept away the tears across her face.
A few minutes earlier, her husband, Quadri, stepping out of the dock inside the court had begun his return journey to the Ikoyi Prisons where he’d been held since seven months. In March, Mr. Kasali was arrested for allegedly trying to run over Adeniyi Adebajo, a Lagos High Court judge, with his commercial bus, at Moloney, Lagos Island.
Mr. Kasali pleaded not guilty to the one count charge of attempted murder; but the magistrate ordered his detention without bail.
Mrs. Kasali was seven months pregnant when her husband was marched into jail.
Two months later, in May, Adunni was born.
“I am suffering, my husband has not seen our daughter,” Mrs. Kasali, 21, said with one arm clasped firmly on the crying five month old baby at her back.
A few months ago, Against Injustice, a nongovernmental organization, NGO, wrote a petition to the National Judicial Council, NJC, accusing Mr. Adebajo of using his influence to ensure the continued detention of Mr. Kasali.
According to the NGO, the Lagos judge threw himself at Mr. Kasali’s bus only to turn around and accuse him of attempting to run him over.
“Kasali maneuvered the vehicle in order to move on with his passengers believing the man was an armed robber or lunatic, and the man threw himself at his vehicle,” the group stated in their petition.
The group had called on the NJC to investigate the matter as well as ensure the release of Mr. Kasali, on bail, pending the determination of the suit.
Other sources who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES accused the high court judge, among other things, of intimidating the magistrate as well as flexing his legal muscles to ensure Mr. Kasali’s continued incarceration.
A police source, who is very familiar with the case, told PREMIUM TIMES that he is unsure of what has been delaying the case.
“I am not sure whether there is any politics in this case, but I am tired of the case,“ said the source, who did not want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
“Have you seen the wife of the man? It is pitiful,” he added.
When the matter came up at the magistrate court, last Tuesday, the presiding magistrate ordered that the case be transferred to a high court citing that it has no jurisdiction to entertain it.
The magistrate’s pronouncement provided a fresh setback to Mr. Kasali’s family lawyer, whose concerted efforts to secure bail for his client has been repeatedly frustrated.
Tolu Agbona, the family’s counsel, said he’d file a fresh bail application at the High Court and pleaded with the magistrate to help speed up the process.
But the magistrate replied that his bail application would cause the appropriate office to “move faster.”
“Since the commencement of this matter, when the charge was read to the accused, he has been in custody,” Mr. Agbona, of Falana and Falana Chambers, said.
“Trial has not started. We’d like to apply for bail of the defendant again,” he added, quoting copiously from Section 35(4) of the constitution to press home his points.
Section 35(4) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria stipulates that if a person detained for a criminal offence is not tried within two months of his arrest or detention; he shall be released either unconditionally or upon such conditions that ensure his availability for trial at a later date.
Since March 5, when Mr. Kasali was first arraigned, the police prosecution said they would await directives from the Directorate for Public Prosecution (DPP) before proceeding with the matter.
When the DPP’s advice finally arrived, seven months later, it ordered that Mr. Kasali be prosecuted for attempted murder rather than for reckless driving.
“The advice came only yesterday,” said the magistrate, explaining why the defence counsel had not gotten a copy of the advice.
“The provision of the constitution is clear, I agree with you,” she added, responding to Mr. Agbona’s position that his client deserves to be out on bail as enshrined in the Constitution.
“I didn’t have jurisdiction based on the matter. The only reason it’s still here is to await the DPP’s advice.”
While admitting that the defendant had been in custody for “too long,” the magistrate also noted that her court had declined jurisdiction over the matter since July 9.
“This case is hereby transferred to the high court for appropriate assignment,” she further said.
Last Tuesday, Mrs. Kasali and her baby; her brother-in-law, Babatunde; and other family members were present in court.
Mrs. Kasali pleaded that her husband be freed, adding that young Adunni has never felt the arms of her father.
Also, the absence of the family’s breadwinner – Mr. Kasali’s danfo bus plies the Oyingbo to CMS route – has forced mother and child to seek shelter at a wooden contraption at Ebutte Meta.
“They should release my husband so he can work and we can take care of my daughter,” Mrs. Kasali said.