The activities of touts masquerading as professional sureties and bondsmen, if not properly handled, can slow down the wheel of justice in the criminal justice system in the country.
Delivering an address at a stakeholders’ summit on “Actualizing the Law on the Bondsmen and Recovery of Recognizance in Lagos State”, the Chief Judge (CJ) of Lagos State, Justice Opeyemi Oke, called on stakeholders to partner with the state’s judiciary in the professional sureties’ scheme, also known as the “bondsmen”. The event also marked the inauguration of Practice Direction for the scheme.
Only last week, the police in Osogbo, Osun State, arraigned a 45-year-old man, Suraju Igbayilola, for his inability to produce a suspect that he stood surety for.
The police prosecutor, Abiodun Fagboyinbo, told the court that Igbayilola stood as surety for a suspect, Lukman Sodiq, at the Ataoja Police Station, Osogbo, on August 11, 2018, and that the suspect absconded.
Magistrate Oloyade granted Igbayilola bail in the sum of N50,000 and adjourned the matter to February 14, 2019.
According to Barr. Folorunsho Ogunnekun, a surety should be somebody who knows the defendant very well and undertakes to produce him whenever the court demands, adding that it is for this reason that lawyers do not stand surety for their clients.
“This is because a surety should always appear in court on an adjourned date, especially where the accused/defendant will not be in court to avoid a bench warrant being issued against him.
“On the principles of bail bond, this varies from state to state and Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 or the criminal procedure code/law of the state. However, generally, there are some principles from decided judicial precedents,” he added.
Under states and federal laws, the failure of a suspect to appear in court or at the police station, having been bailed out of jail, is on its own a crime. This means that the defendant(s)/suspect(s) “jumped bail”.
Recently, a Lugbe Grade 1 Area Court, Abuja, sentenced a 26-year-old surety, Jaromo Odeh, to a one-month imprisonment for his inability to produce a defendant.
Odeh of Kabayi Mararaba, Nasarawa State, pleaded guilty on a charge of shielding an offender. The Judge, Mr. Abdullahi Garba, however, gave the convict an option of N10, 000 fine and advised him to be a good citizen. He also ordered the convict to pay N75,000 as restitution to one Mr. Adedeji Adams, the complainant.
In the case of Nnamdi Kanu (who is standing trial over alleged treasonable felony, unlawful possession of firearms and criminal defamation), the trial judge, Justice Binta Nyako, summoned Sen. Abaribe and the other sureties to Kanu, including Jewish High Priest, El Shalom, and an Abuja-based chartered accountant, Tochukwu Uchendu, to appear to explain his whereabouts to the court.
On January 25, 2019, a panel of five justices of the Supreme Court, presided over by Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed, delivered a judgment in Suit No. SC.51/2015 filed by the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) as Appellant and Alh. Abubakar Maishanu and two others as Respondents (2019) LPELR-46380 (SC).
The decision of the apex court in this appeal is the latest on forfeiture of bail bonds when the obligation of the surety terminates.
It is for these reasons that the Chief Judge (CJ) of Lagos State, Justice Opeyemi Oke, last Tuesday, asked individuals and corporate bodies to partner with the Lagos State judiciary on actualising the bondsman scheme in order to make bail more accessible to defendants standing trial in courts.
Justice Oke urged them to make necessary applications to join the scheme, emphasising that it had been proven in other jurisdictions that the professional bail bondsman brought important benefits to the society in which he worked.
She lamented that no individual or corporate body had applied to be licensed bondsman and bonds company more than eight years after the Bondsmen Regulation of 2011 came into force in line with Section 138 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL).
She added that the introduction of bondsmen into the criminal justice administration of the state was to make bail more accessible to anyone charged with a criminal offence and prevent touting by unlicensed persons and defendants from absconding from trials.
Justice Oke described the bondsmen scheme as very laudable, pointing out that it would assist defendants to obtain bail and ensure such persons could be produced seamlessly as and when needed in court.
She expressed confidence that the bondsperson scheme would significantly reduce prison congestion and other problems associated with same, while also ensuring that recognizance could be recovered in full where persons on bail absconded.
She explained that Section 138 (8) of the ACJL conferred on the bondsperson the power of arrest should a defendant attempt to abscond.
She said, “Every bondsperson shall have the powers to arrest any defendant or suspect who is absconding or who he believes is trying to evade or avoid appearances in court: if he cannot bring the person arrested within 12 hours of the arrest before a court, he shall hand the person arrested over to the police who shall produce such person before the appropriate court.
“In the United States, bail bondsmen play an important role in maintaining social control over bailed defendants.
“The bondsman and the defendant form a contract in which the bail bondsman agrees, for a fee, to act as the defendant’s surety. In addition to paying the fee, the defendant agrees to appear in court for all scheduled appearances.
She said that a 10-man committee headed by Justice Grace Onyeabo was set up on February 27, 2018, with a mandate to find ways to actualise the recommendations of the Committee on Creation of Bondsmen and Recovery of Recognizance set up on November 30, 2012.
In his lecture titled: “A Practical Approach to the Bondsmen Procedure in the Justice System in Lagos State”, a bail bond expert, Dr. Seyi Adetayo, remarked that bondsmen practice had not only helped defendants to access bail, but also assisted low income groups of the society to access justice.
Dr. Adetayo said the introduction of bondsmen would eliminate the activities of fake people and touts masquerading as professional bondsmen and other malpractices and generate employment to the people.
Earlier, Justice Onyeabo, in a welcome remark, described the bondsmen scheme as an innovation of Lagos State.
Justice Onyeabo said the system would assist police to arrest defendants that had absconded and ensure effective criminal justice administration system in the state.