By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Supreme Court, will today, deliver judgment on an appeal that was filled before them by convicted chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Olabode George, challenging the verdict of a Lagos State High Court which culminated to his imprisonment in 2009.
A five-man panel of the apex court had on September 26 concluded hearing on the appeal which was entered by the erstwhile Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, George, and five of his co-convicts, Alhaji Aminu Dabo, Captain Oluwasegun Abidoye, Alhaji Abdulahi Aminu Tafida, Alhaji Zanna Maidaribe and Mr. Sule Aliyu.
It will be recalled that all the appellants were hitherto found guilty and jailed over offences bordering on corruption, inflation of contract sums and contracts splitting.
Though the 1st appellant had since completed the two year jail term that was handed to him as a result of the criminal charge that was preferred against him and the other appellants by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, however, he subsequently re-approached the Supreme Court, praying it to review the circumstances that surrounded the verdict of the Lagos State High Court.
The appellants further 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,” the argued.
Besides, the appellants, contended that a private legal practitioner, Mr Festus Keyamo, 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.
Arguing through their consortium of lawyers led by a 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, insisted that the Lagos State High Court was bereft of the requisite jurisdiction to try them in the first place.
In his argument, former NBA President, Daudu, SAN, maintained that “The Lagos State High Court has no jurisdiction over the offences, the appropriate court to have gone to would have been the Federal High Court, the NPA being an institution created by a statute of the National Assembly.”
He said: “I urge your lordships to hold that the trial should have been conducted before a FHC, and having not done so, the entire proceeding amounted to a nullity.
“It was not a valid trial as envisaged by the law. I urge your lordships to hold that apart from the fact that the Court of Appeal did not consider the issue of constitutionality, the entire trial was a breach of the Nigerian constitution.
“The nature of the disobedience of a lawful order must be criminalized by the National Assembly.
“If the main offences were not proved, there is no way conspiracy could have been proved,” Daudu added.
Likewise, Chief Agabi, SAN, told the apex court that all the witnesses that testified before the trial court exonerated the accused persons.
“The witnesses’ testimonies were favourable to the appellants, the witnesses said those orders, if obeyed, would have led to the collapse of the ports.
“The witnesses said if the contracts were split at all they were split at another level.
“But the respondent dismissed the evidence of these witnesses. More so, the allegation of splitting contracts was not proved at all,” he argued.
Meanwhile, the EFCC, in opposition to the appeal, urged the apex court to discountenance the argument of the appellants, saying they were duly convicted on the basis of a prima-facie criminal case that was established against them.
Consequently, the anti-graft agency, pleaded the the Supreme Court to dismiss the appeal in its entirety for want of merit and allow the appellants to retain their status as ex-convicts.
Counsel to the EFCC, Keyamo, told the court that aside the proof of evidence, he said the appellants were convicted for disobedience of lawful orders and not basically for splitting of contracts.
Keyamo argued that the Lagos State High Court had the jurisdiction to try the offences which he said were committed within its territory.
After listening to all the parties the apex court panel which was presided over by Justice Tanko Mohammed, adjourned the matter till today for judgment.