Supreme Court acquits Bode George of fraud conviction
The Supreme Court in Abuja on Friday reversed the conviction of the former Deputy National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Olabode George.
In a judgement, which came as a surprise to many Nigerians, the judges of the apex court, headed by Afolabi Fabiyi, ruled that the charges of contract splitting, on which the EFCC arraigned and secured the conviction of the politician, was unknown to law of the land.
On this premise the court cleared the George of the charges for which he spent a two-year jail term in Kirikiri Maximum Prison.
This development came less than three days after former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Speaker, House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, accused President Goodluck Jonathan of encouraging corruption.
The apex court ruled that the EFCC, which prosecuted George, did not sufficiently prove that the defendant had an intention to commit fraud at the Nigeria Port Authority.
George and other board members of the NPA, where the politician was the chairman, were convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment byJustice Oyewole of a Lagos High Court for contract splitting.
George, Architect Aminu Dabo, Captain Oluwasegun Abidoye, Alhaji Abdulahi Aminu Tafida, Alhaji Zanna Maidaribe and Engineer Sule Aliyu were on October 26, 2009 convicted and sentenced to 30 months imprisonment by Justice Olubunmi Oyewole of the Lagos High Court, Ikeja.
They were tried and convicted under Sections 104, 203 and 517 of the Criminal Code Laws of Lagos State 2003 for offences relating to abuse of office, disobedience to lawful order issued by constituted authority and conspiracy to commit offence.
George and others were in all, said to have exceeded the limit of their authority to award contracts and contrived to bring the contracts within their limits by splitting them, while also inflating their prices, in the charge brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. But a five-man Supreme Court panel, who heard the six separate appeals filed by the appellants, unanimously held that George and others were unjustly subjected to trial and convicted.
The court held that the prosecution failed to establish the guilt of the appellants and that the law under which the charges were brought were unconstitutional.
The court held that the offences for which the appellants were convicted were not known to law as at when the offences were said to have been committed.
Justice John Afolabi Fabiyi, who read the lead judgment, observed that even when the prosecution's evidence showed that all the contracts awarded were 'appraised by experts employed by the authority (NPA) and that the experts recommended the contractors to which the contracts were awarded, the prosecution led by Festus Keyamo failed to either call any of the experts as witness or prosecute them.”
He held that the Federal Government's circular, which the appellants were accused of disobeying 'stipulates that breach of same shall be met with disciplinary action. This may be in form of administrative action against an officer, who breaches the rules.'
Justice Fabiyi held that disobeying the directives in the circular marked exhibit P3 'is not made an offence by any Act of the National Assembly or law of a state House of Assembly or even the content of exhibit P3.'
He held that section 203 of the Criminal Code of Lagos State, on which some of the charges were brought was not in tune with the provision of section 36(12) of the Constitution.
'In view of the constitutional infraction, the entire trial, conviction and sentence of the appellant remain a nullity and must be set aside,' Justice Fabiyi said.
The decision in George's appeal was applied to that of others except Tafida, who raised a separate constitutional issue in his appeal. Justice Kumai Bayang Aka'ahs, who read the lead judgment in the appeal by Tafida, also faulted the trial and conviction of the appellant.
'Contract splitting, which formed the basis of the offences charged, was unknown to law at the material time. The Public Pocurement Act, which made contract splitting an offence punishable with term of imprisonment, was enacted into law by the National Assembly in 2007 long after the appellant had ceased to be member of the NPA.
'The Act was not made to take retrospective effect. Even if this was the case, it would have been contrary to section 36(8) of the Constitution. Counts 59, 60, 64, 65 and 67 (of the charge) therefore constituted a gross violation of section 36(12) of the Constitution.”