The ruling by Justice Yusuf Halilu of the FCT High Court in Jabi, Abuja last Tuesday granting bail to Maryam Sanda, who the police accuse of killing her husband Bilyamin Bello last November, caused bewilderment, consternation and outrage all across this country. Justice Halilu granted the bail the fifth time the defence counsel asked for it. The trial judge had rejected four previous occasions bail applications. But following a fifth application by her lawyer Joseph Daudu, SAN he ruled that the court was satisfied with the health reasons canvassed. She was said to be over three months pregnant and also suffering from several health challenges, including stage three asymptomatic and drug non-responsive severe hypertension.
A copy of the medical report attached to the bail application, signed by one Dr Ogorochi N.M. for the Consultant in Charge of the National Hospital, stated that “on observation during some of the visits to her in custody together with her family members, the patient complained of frequent headache, palpitation, increased confusion, blurred vision and presented early edema on the legs and progressive chest pain.” He then recommended her “immediate release for detailed medical investigations of the already manifested symptoms and comprehensive medical treatment coupled with adequate home rest to avoid acute coronary, cerebral or renal ischemia which may result.”
The prosecution objected to the bail but Justice Halilu held that the police were unable to counter the claims that the prisons’ health facilities could not take care of Maryam’s health. He ruled that she should provide two sureties, who must deposit their titles of ownership of landed properties in Abuja and ordered that her father should enter into an undertaking to provide her in court all through the trial.
Maryam Sanda is standing trial for one of the most gruesome murders witnessed in this country. Bilyamin was killed in cold blood on November 19, last year. Police later charged his wife to court as the suspected murderer. Bilyamin was the nephew of former PDP chairman Dr. Bello Haliru Mohammed while Maryam is the daughter of a former executive director of Aso Savings and Loans Limited, which heightened public interest in the case. Maryam was alleged to have stabbed Bilyamin to death over a text message supposedly sent to him by a girlfriend. She was also reported to have taken him to the hospital where she allegedly confessed to the crime. Still, early efforts to cover up the crime, Maryam’s mother’s wealth and influence and the hiring of a high-profile lawyer made many Nigerians sceptical about the case.
There was a ray of hope that justice will be served when the suspect was arraigned and detained in Suleja Prison and denied bail on four occasions. It was therefore shocking and disappointing that the bail was granted at the fifth attempt. Ordinarily murder is not a bailable offence, which was why the judge refused to grant it on four occasions. So, what changed? The excuse of Maryam’s alleged poor health is not tenable because in Nigeria, every big person who is detained immediately claims that he or she is in poor health. The medical report should be queried and a doctor appointed by the court should examine the suspect. Even if Maryam is suffering from all the illnesses diagnosed by her doctor, she should remain in custody and attend prison medical facilities. There are many pregnant women and many women with infant children in prisons all across Nigeria. Why should the rich be given preferential treatment, especially when the offence she allegedly committed is so heinous?
Bail is at the discretion of a judge and in this case, the judge exercised his discretion scandalously. It is not for nothing that murder is not a bailable offence because it could encourage the victim’s family to take the law into their own hands. We urge the FCT Chief Judge and National Judicial Council to quickly step in and rectify this outrage because it completely erodes public confidence in the nation’s judiciary.