Appeal Court Affirms Bode George's Conviction
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 21, (THEWILL) - The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal has affirmed the conviction of former deputy national chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olabode George, and five other former top officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA. In a unanimous judgment read by Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi who led two other justices, the appellate court dismissed all the 25 grounds of appeal by the appellants and ruled that Chief George and the five others were properly charged and convicted under the relevant laws of Lagos State.
The court also dismissed the cross appeal by counsel to the respondent, Mr. Festus Keyamo, urging it to convict the appellants on the count of inflation of contracts in which the lower court had discharged and acquitted them.
On the preliminary objection raised by the counsel to the appellants led by Chief Tunji Ayanlaja, SAN, to the effect that the charges upon which the appellants were convicted by the lower court was defective on the ground that the appellants ought not to be tried under the Lagos Criminal Code, and that the Attorney General of the Federation did not concede the prosecutorial powers of his office to the Attorney General of Lagos State bearing in mind that the NPA is a federal Agency; the Appeal Court ruled that the lower court has jurisdiction to try the case and that the appellants were properly charged and convicted as clearly defined in Lagos Criminal code.
The court held that federal employees were not immune from the laws of the state they operate from.
The appellate court similarly dismissed the argument of the appellants questioning the qualification of Keyamo to conduct their trial, alleging that he did not receive a fiat from the Attorney General of the Federation to do so. The court ruled that the appellants’ counsel ought to have raised the issue at the lower court. In the same vein, the court brushed aside the appellants’ contention that being non-executive directors of the NPA, they didn’t fit into the definition of public officers by law, and therefore not liable to be convicted.
Another ground of appeal that also failed was the issue of awarding contracts beyond approval limit in which the appellants’ counsel submitted that they did so out of ignorance. The learned justices of the Appeal Court held that ignorance is no excuse in law.
Chief George, a retired Commodore and former military governor of old Ondo State who was the Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority between 2001 and 2003 was charged to Court together with five former Directors of the NPA namely; Engineer Aminu Dabo, Oluwasegun Abidoye, Abdullai Tafida, Zama Maidabe and Sukle Aliyu by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC over offences bordering on corruption, inflation of contract and contract splitting. They were arraigned on 68- count charge but were convicted on about 48 of those counts when the trial judge, Justice Olubunmi Oyewole delivered his judgment in October 2009. The same judge refused the convicts’ post conviction bail application, a decision that was upheld by the appellate court.
Chief George and others were sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment on October 26, 2009 by Justice Joseph Olubunmi Oyewole of Ikeja High Court, for contract splitting, disobedience of lawful orders and abuse of office.
With the Appeal Court verdict, the convicts are expected to serve out the rest of their sentences at the Kirikiri Prisons in Lagos.