13th December, 2013
Nigeria’s Supreme Court on Friday morning upturned the conviction in 2009 of former Deputy national chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olabode George by a Lagos High Court for offences bordering on corruption, inflation of contracts and contracts splitting.
George, who was a former chairman of the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA was convicted alongside former officials including Alhaji Aminu Dabo, Captain Oluwasegun Abidoye, Alhaji Abdulahi Aminu Tafida, Alhaji Zanna Maidaribe and Mr. Sule Aliyu.
George was convicted by Justice Olubunmi Oyewole of the Lagos High Court after being found guilty of 47 of 68 counts of N84 billion fraud filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and had served two years jail term for the offences he committed when he was the Chairman of the Port Authority.
But in upturning the conviction this morning, a panel of justices of the apex court led by Justice John Afolabi Fabiyi said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had no evidence that he committed fraud at the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA) as alleged. The Panel of Judges also said the charges of “contract splitting” filed against George was unknown to the law as at the time of his conviction.
The court also nullified an aspect of the criminal law of Lagos State as it affirmed that it is not in tune with the provisions of Nigeria constitution. The former PDP Deputy national chairman and his five co convicts had failed in their earlier attempt to get the Lagos Division of Appeal Court upturned his conviction.
They however approached Supreme Court for review of the judgment as they maintained that maintained that the Lagos Division of the Appeal Court, refused to discharge its legal responsibility, when it upheld the high court judgment, “despite prevailing evidence that the high court judgment was not only erroneous, but legally flawed and therefore constituted a miscarriage of justice.”
They also contended that Barrister Festus Keyamo, the lawyer who was engaged by the EFCC to prosecute the criminal case on its behalf, failed to secure the consent of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, by way of a ‘FIAT’, before they were charged to court and eventually convicted.
Led by a consortium of lawyers which included former Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, and former National President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr Joseph Daudu, SAN, the appellants, also said the Lagos State High Court did not have the jurisdiction to try them in the first place.
But the EFCC had urged the apex court to dismiss the arguments of the appellants, as it affirmed that they were duly convicted on the basis of a prima-facie criminal case that was established against them. Keyamo who stood for EFCC in the case told the court that apart from the proof of evidence, the appellants were convicted for disobedience of lawful orders and not basically for splitting of contracts.
He also argued that the Lagos State High Court had the jurisdiction to try the offences which he said were committed within its territory.George was convicted by Justice Olubunmi Oyewole of the Lagos High Court after being found guilty of 47 of 68 counts of N84 billion fraud filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and had served a two year jail term for the offences he committed when he was the Chairman of the Port Authority.
But in upturning the conviction this morning, a panel of justices of the apex court led by Justice John Afolabi Fabiyi said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had no evidence that he committed fraud at the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) as alleged.
The Panel of Judges also said the charges of “contract splitting” filed against George was unknown to the law as at the time of his conviction.
“They rest on nothing in the face of the provision of Section 36 (8) and (12) of the 1999 Constitution. They cannot stand as they fall flat. And to cap it, the prosecution laced the extant charges with intention to defraud, an extra element of the charge which was not proved beyond reasonable doubt.’’
He held that George was wrongly convicted of fraud.
Said Justice Fabiyi: “I must state it in clear terms that I fail to see how intention to defraud was proved as affirmed by the court below. In reality, it was not proved. It was an element or ingredient of the offence as charged, which needed proof beyond reasonable doubt.
“Where such a vital element was not proved as herein, the prosecution’s case must fail. It has been established that the case of the respondent rests on shifting sand.’’
The judge said convicting George was a complete mistrial by the lower court.
“I must stop here as nothing useful will be served in moving forward in respect of the other issues. The appeal is allowed as same is, no doubt, meritorious. The judgment of the lower court is accordingly set aside. The appellant is hereby acquitted and discharged forthwith,’’ he said.
Justice Olubunmi Oyewole of the Ikeja High Court in Lagos had convicted George and five others for the offence of inflating contracts.
Others were former NPA Chief Executive Aminu Dabo, O. Adeboye, Abdullahi Tafida, Zanna Mai-Deribe and Sule Aliyu.
George was probed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under the Obasanjo administration.
The EFCC, under Nuhu Ribadu, had indicted George in its report submitted to the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
In separate judgments, the court discharged and acquitted Dabo, Adeboye, Mai-Deribe and Aliyu who adopted George’s address.
Meanwhile, Tafida got his acquittal on the grounds of some breaches of the 1999 Constitution by the prosecution.
He had urged the court to determine whether the Court of Appeal did not occasion a failure of justice when it failed to consider some points.
Tafida had raised serious constitutional issues of breaches of Section 36 (12) (8).
He submitted that the lower court denied him of his constitutional right of appeal and fair hearing, among others.
George and the others had appealed against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, delivered in October 2009.(NAN)
Bode George’s journey to prison began when he sued TheNEWS magazine for libel, following the magazine’s 18 April 2005 edition,titled “Anti Corruption War: N85 billion Scam At The Ports. Bode George’s Board Indicted.”
The magazine reported the outrage of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who claimed to make anti-corruption war the cornerstone of his government, over the report of a committee on NPA contracts, submitted by former Minister of Transport, Abiye Sekibo.
While the report indicted the board and the NPA management, it failed to zero in on the culprits.
Obasanjo, according to TheNEWS story, therefore set up another review panel headed by Engineer Mustapha Bukar from the office of the Head of Service of the Federation.
Other members were Mr. Greg Ogbeifun of Starz Investment Company; Mr. A.A. Lawal of Tata Industries Kano; Chief John Amadi Damshakai of the office of the Plateau State Governor, Barrister (Mrs.) Nella Andem Ewa, a Calabar-based lawyer; Mrs. B.F. Oyelowo of the Auditor-General of the Federation’s office, Abuja and Mrs. G.O. Ezezika of the Ministry of Transport, Abuja.
Obasanjo mandated the committee to review all contracts awarded at NPA between 2001 and 2003 and determine “exactly how much was expended, the outstanding amounts and works not executed but for which monies were paid”. Bukar and his men were also asked to find out whether the board followed correct procedures in the award of the projects.
When the committee submitted its report, it unearthed the fact that George’s board awarded 29,586 contracts, valued at N85 billion. The committee also reported contract splitting and inflation of costs.
It was also found out by the Bukar committee that contracts were awarded to companies which, on the surface, belonged to many people but actually belonged to one person or a few persons.
Later, the former president asked another panel that included representatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to conduct yet another probe. The findings also corroborated what the other panels had uncovered.
As the libel case went on before Justice Oshodi at the Lagos High Court, the EFCC, in pursuance of its mandate, formally charged Chief Bode George and other principal officials of the Nigeria Port Authority.
The trial before Justice Olubunmi Oyewole led to the conviction of Bode George and his imprisonment for two years.