Shocker as Court ‘frees’ Akwa Ibom YPP governorship candidate convicted for money laundering

Controversy has trailed the decision of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, to grant bail to Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, the governorship candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP). Senator Albert is the lawmaker representing Uyo Senatorial District in the Nigerian Senate.

 

He was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment on December 1, 2022, by the Federal High Court in Uyo, following a successful prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The EFCC had accused Sen. Albert of receiving a bribe of 12 cars worth ₦254 million from an oil marketer, Olajide Omokore, while serving as commissioner for finance in Akwa Ibom State between 2010 and 2014. He was arraigned on June 24, 2019.

According to a report by Vanguard, the EFCC, which was investigating money used for the 2015 elections, spotlighted Omokore, who was suspected of being a go-between through which illegal funds were used for elections.

According to the report, Omokore, while being interrogated by the EFCC, mentioned his numerous transactions with Albert, who by this time had become a senator.

On June 24, 2019, the EFCC arraigned Sen. Albert at the Federal High Court, Uyo. A verdict was reached on December 1, 2022, with the judge, handing a seven-year jail sentence to the lawmaker.

Although many had thought that the conviction would bring closure to the case and that Sen. Albert would be committed to prison custody pending possible quashing of the conviction by a higher court, it came as a surprise when the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, presided by Justice S.I. Mark, which he had approached following his conviction, granted him bail on December 28 on account of his ill health.

The High Court granted the senator bail in the sum of ₦50 million with two sureties in like sum, on account of ill health.

The Senator, according to the report, has since met the bail conditions and has been released, a development that has kept many wondering whether a person convicted by a Federal High Court can be granted bail by another Federal High Court.

Reacting Mr. Anny Michaels, the Special Assistant on Media to Senator Albert, confirmed that it was the Federal High Court, in Port Harcourt that granted his principal bail.

“Ordinarily the same Federal High Court that passed the judgement should have been approached to grant the bail application,” he was quoted as saying by Vanguard. “So it is only where the Federal High Court refuses that the Court of Appeal could be approached. And because the courts were on vacation at the time, the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt was approached. There is nothing wrong about that.

Mr Michaels added: “Courts were on vacation and given the urgency of the bail, because of his health condition, the Federal High Court was approached in Port-Harcourt. That court did not go on vacation throughout the festive period. If the Federal High Court had refused, that is when the Appeal Court would have been approached, so in this case there was no need for it.”

Meanwhile, E. S. Oriere, a lawyer and rights activist, has written to Prof Mahmood Yakubu, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), requesting that Senator Albert be disqualified from participating in the Akwa Ibom State governorship election.

According to the Abuja-based lawyer, in the letter to the INEC chairman dated December 22, “this request is predicated on the conviction of Mr. Akpan by the Federal High Court sitting in Uyo on December 1, 2022 for money laundering offence in FRN V. ALBERT BASSEY (CHARGE NO. FHC/UY/59C/2019).”

He noted that The request is made pursuant to paragraphs (d) and (e) of section 182 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended), which disqualifies a person under a sentence of imprisonment or a person convicted and sentenced for an offence involving dishonesty or fraud from contesting election to the office of governor of a state.