The premises of a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos was thrown into pandemonium yesterday following a violent clash between the operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) and officials of the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCoS) over who has custody over suspended Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Godwin Emefiele.
The fight started after Justice Nicholas Oweibo granted Emefiele bail in the sum of N20 million.
The federal government had arraigned Emefiele on a two-count charge of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
The government is accusing Emefiele of possessing a single-barrel shotgun (JOJEFF MAGNUM 8371) without a licence, an offence contrary to section 4 of the Firearms Act Cap F28 Laws of the Federation 2004 and punishable under Section 27 (1b) of the same Act.
The defendant pleaded not guilty to the charge, and the judge granted him bail under the condition that he must produce a surety who is a level 16 officer in the Nigeria civil service.
The court further ordered that the surety must own a landed property within the court’s jurisdiction and that Emefiele must also deposit his passport with the court registrar.
Contrary to the request of the prosecutor from the Ministry of Justice, Mrs Nkiru Jones-Nebo, Justice Oweibo remanded the defendant in the custody of the Ikoyi Custodial Centre pending the perfection of the bail term.
But instead of obeying the court order, the DSS insisted that it secured an order from above to rearrest the defendant, while at the same time the Correctional officials also maintained that they must enforce the order.
Operatives of the secret police strategically positioned their Hilux Pick Up van used in bringing Emefiele to court, suggesting that they wanted to take him back to their detention centre.
But when the prison officials also called for reinforcement from their Ikoyi Custodial Centre and moved to take Emefiele into custody pending the perfection of his bail conditions, the DSS challenged them, leading to a shouting match.
The standoff later culminated in a physical scuffle between the fully armed operatives of the two federal government agencies.
A senior Correctional officer was dragged out of the court by the DSS, and in the process his uniform was torn.
Emefiele was held up in the courtroom, which was locked and manned by armed operatives of the Nigeria Correctional Services, while officials of the DSS were strategically positioned in and outside the Court, refusing to back down.
The brawl, which lasted over one hour, was suddenly brought to an end when officials of the NCS withdrew from the court premises.
No reason was given for the sudden turn of event.
Emefiele was then moved out of the courtroom and rearrested at about 3:04 pm by the DSS.
Emefiele’s lawyer, Joseph Daudu (SAN), had informed the court that the DSS was planning to rearrest his client.
He later told journalists that to avoid a gun battle, they will “reluctantly allow DSS to disobey the court order and take custody of their client.”
Before the drama, the defence counsel, had urged the judge to grant his client bail on self-recognizance or other liberal terms, pending the hearing and determination of the trial.
The application is premised on nine grounds.
The lawyer argued that the offence of illegally possessing arms and ammunition for which the defendant is charged are bailable and that he has never been convicted of any crime.
Noting that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty, Daudu further submitted that if the court grants Emefiele bail, it will afford him adequate time and facilities to prepare his defence to the charge.
Referring to his reputation and past credible record, as well as his status of being a former CBN governor, the defence counsel maintained that the defendant is not a flight risk and will not jump bail if it is granted.
He also pointed out that since investigations have been concluded, there is no likelihood of interference.