By Bashir Adefaka
On December 14, 2013, reprieve came the way of a former Chairman, Board of Directors, Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, Chief Olabode Ibiyinka George, through a judgment by the Supreme Court which voided the two years jail term which he (George) served after being convicted for fraud by a Lagos High Court on October 26, 2009. The apex court said George was tried under a law that did not exist at the time he served on the NPA Board, hence he was let off the five-and-a-half years of the albatross hung on his neck.
Others freed by the apex court with George, who was military governor, old Ondo State; Deputy National Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the Director-General of the Presidential Campaign that produced the Yar’Adua/Jonathan presidency in 2007, were former Managing Director of the NPA, Mr. Aminu Dabo, Alhaji Abdullahi Aminu Tafida, Captain Oluwasegun Abidoye, Alhaji Zanna Maidaribe and Mr. Sule Aliyu.
At home in Ikoyi
George, a retired Navy Commodore, who was Aso Rock Principal Officer during the Abacha/Diya regime, told Sunday Vanguard that even though his prison experience served as a period of self- rediscovery, the curse emanating from the scheming that took him to prison would never leave those who convolutedly did it unless they seek restitution and pray “God Almighty for forgiveness.”
George and time
The PDP chieftain, who, it was gathered, has a particular respect of being called ‘Oga’ by President Goodluck Jonathan, has always demonstrated the lessons of his military training as he considers nothing too much to keep appointment so that whoever he so gave one was never disappointed. The Atona Oodua of Yorubaland, who appreciated Sunday Vanguard for allowing him to state his own side of his travails prior to the Supreme Court verdict, had twice flown into Lagos from the presence of Mr. President so as not to ever “disappoint this young reporter.”
“Nigeria has invested so much in me than for me to misbehave or mess up with the nation’s image. I will forever be grateful to Nigeria for the kind of military discipline that I have,” said the retired commodore.
“I need to talk about the whole experience just for generations coming behind to have the true picture of what actually happened. And I am saying it now so that it should never happen to anybody again. People who have the opportunity to be in positions of power should never use it to persecute. These are wicked people, who thought that they could do what they did to us and get away with it.”
“I am not a lawyer. A senior lawyer of Yoruba extraction was part of those behind my imprisonment, he was among those who drafted the charges because he was a consultant to EFCC. And I have said it several times that if he does not ask for forgiveness from God before he dies, he will go through a worse experience.
“Now I thank the Almighty God that all those implicated in the matter and I are now back. I am not sick and I am not mentally derailed. Can you imagine the condition under which I was sent to prison on an absolutely non-existing law? There was no law, yet some people said there was a law-breaking! Can you imagine that?”
On the fiat to prosecute him
“And the other side of it that I want the public to know, apart from the jagajaga, rubbish they could not prove, is that Justice Oyewole just felt that we must go to prison even when there was no law that we had broken because, during our trial, our lawyer said that boy, Keyamo, didn’t have a fiat. We wrote to the Ministry of Justice and the Minister of Justice and Attorney-Geneal at that time, Adetokunbo Kayode, said if he was invited to court, he would come to tender documents that Keyamo had no fiat but that, unless he was summoned, he would not come.
“So when we came out, our lawyer wrote another letter to the Justice Ministry demanding clarifications about who gave Keyamo fiat. Did the Ministry of Justice know about it? Because of the Freedom of Information Act, which has now been signed into law, they now replied. And so we now wrote the court through one of our lawyers that Keyamo did not have a fiat.
So, who orchestrated the plot to rail-roll us to court? They used the Attorney-General of Lagos State to bring us before the court of Lagos State. Reading that judgment, in one of the areas, they said they (Lagos State) had no jurisdiction to have done that.”
“Who are we going to sue? I am a member of the party, not even only a very senior member but I was also the Deputy National Chairman. I was the Director-General of the national campaign that brought Yar’Adua and Jonathan to power. Do I also go and sue that government who had won election on our own platform? People are considering that should we sue the conspirators within the PDP or should we sue Lagos State government…..?
“Lagos State government is the greatest political enemy of our party and me in particular. Some people within our party also conspired and handed us to the enemy. Such characters, are they human beings? Members of the same party, you took your son or your family member to the lion? If they don’t go for restitution, if they don’t ask for forgiveness as it were, the curse on them and members of their families will be unimaginable. I thank God, we went there and now we are out. Supposing we have been executed, what would our people be saying now? It will continue to haunt them. Those who live in the path of perfidy will die in perfidy.
“I am saying these things now because I am a student of history. You cannot do this to others and expect that you would be comfortable and be happy. You can’t escape the wrath of the Almighty God! So, there is need for them to go and, first of all, apologize to their creator and then to us. What about the financial implications: the kind of money we paid to lawyers? For nothing!
There is something from Transparency International concerning us. They said they were happy that in a third world country, justice was not only said but seen in action. I am not begging for anything but let the world know the truth so that never again will this happen to anybody in this country.”
Supreme Court and hope
“What the Supreme Court has done is to rekindle my hope and interest in the nation. Most of us thought that this nation was a charade and that it would collapse. Justice? Yes. That is even one of the laws of nature for human beings. Where there is no justice, there can never be peace. But now that the common man knows he can get justice, there is hope rekindled. Those jurists, men of honour refused to be bought over by those millionaires and decided to remain on the path of honour that justice is deserved. They proved that justice is blind. It does not look at your colour, your tribe but the law. What does the law say? You remember we kept saying, “what did we do?” Recently I heard Justice Ayo Salami talking about ….justice and all that. It is laughable! Laughable!!”
“My first one week in prison was tough because I was viciously angry. I thank God because my wife brought a lot of reading materials; my Bible inclusive, and reading those things reduced my anger and it took me to my military training to remember that in whatever situation you find yourself, the first thing you should have is your God, your mind and your reasoning faculty. And you now set out a new routine for yourself. So, on daily basis, you were just sitting down, thinking and just wasting away. Occupying my mind with my Bible, my prayer books and Daily Manna by Pastor Chris was very useful. Everyday with Jesus was also very useful. All those things kept me calm because all you needed was that calmness of mind.
You don’t think about what you have been. Yes, I have been at the top level of affairs in the country, but then I was down, which was the situation in which I found myself. And you immediately look at your surrounding and find out what you can do to help the people in there because there were so many prisoners awaiting trial and had been there for a very long time. Some were there because they were just arrested and the investigating police officers had moved on and so, nobody was attending to their matters and so they were just there rotting away. There were some people waiting for people to come and bail them so that they could get out and there were some waiting for amnesty from government.
And governors and others were coming to visit me. When they come, I would tell them about certain cases, they would go back and help the detainees out. There was a case of an Ondo person. Inside the prison, every Sunday, he was always in church and, during service, he was always dancing, happy so much so that one wondered why his joy was that much. Ololade was the name; one day I called him: ‘Ololade, what is your offence that brought into this prison because every Sunday, I see you dancing dancing away, singing praises genuinely.’
He said, ‘Oga, I have been on death row for 28 years’. So, every Sunday that he saw that he was still alive, he had to praise God. I asked what his offence was and he said he was a hunter. That he was at Garage Olode in Ondo and that he went to farm one night and saw an animal he thought was an antelope without knowing it was a human antelope. And he brought out his gun and shot at it. But by the time he got there, it was a human being he met. He thought he shot an antelope but it was human that was discovered to have been shot later on, and so he was condemned to death and was on death row for 28 years.
After that chat we had together, Governor Olusegun Mimiko came to visit me and I spoke to him about Ololade. The governor went back to Akure and looked into his matter and he sent a government car to come and pick him after which he was rehabilitated him and restored him to normal life. What would Ololade have been today if I did not go to prison? And there were others of different cases like that. There was a case of one who had been in prison for five years because he did not have somebody to pay his bail of N50,000. I arranged his bail.
So, having been at the topmost place and having been to the worst of the valley, I have no reason not to appreciate the awesomeness of the Almighty God.
Inside the prison, I would wake up at 3 in the morning, say my prayers and go back to bed. As the day breaks, I wake up again, say my prayers and start reading my Bible and prayer books. That would be followed by attending to visitors. After that, I would walk around to exercise myself because there was no squash game. I occupied my mind with doing those things so that I did not think about the situation really. That was the time I really rediscovered myself and thought about things that I had done well and those that were not so well. The most appropriate place that people can rediscover themselves is prison cell. In there you do a total retrospection of so many things. And then before you know it, the term is over.
Oh, after prison, I came out at the time of election. I went first to give thanks to God for sparing my life and later strategised for the election after putting my supporters together to thank them for standing firm behind me and not rejecting me. Some petty people were saying, ‘ah, how can you allow ex-convict this, ex-convict that’ and all that? That really annoyed me but I had to calm myself because a lot of things were put on the pages of the newspapers; people were calling me names. Some would even query ‘why should you put him there?’ And then others who need you would come and say ‘no, stay there. Try and do it your own way. Say something and people would listen’. Even at a time, members of my family would say, ‘Shut down from these people. What did you get from the mess? Why are you going back there? Why are you talking to these people?’ And I would reply them, ‘If you have a mission, God did not say you would not have a tribulation but if you make up your mind, you will get there.’
The era is now five and a half years and it is over. Those who conspired to cause the horrible experience never thought it would end this way. I had tribulations, yes, but I never gave up. And, today, after I had gone to court, I have my freedom to do whatever I want to do. To my family, most of my friends, I will forever be grateful. Of course my wife was solidly behind me. And of course you have some of the people who were just mocking you but they could not do that to your face, they could only do it behind you. I am a man of the people because I know I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Apex court’s rule
A five-man panel of the court, in a unanimous judgment, maintained that at the time the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, charged the former NPA boss to court, the offence of ‘contract splitting’ was not known to the law.
The court stressed that the Public Procurement Act, which made ‘contract splitting’ an offence punishable with a term of imprisonment, was enacted by the National Assembly in 2007, long after the appellant had ceased to be a member of the NPA.
“The Act was not made to take retroactive effect. Even if this was the case, it would have been contrary to Section 36(8) of the 1999 Constitution,” the court held.
Whereas Justice John Afolabi Fabiyi delivered the lead judgment in the appeal by the ex-NPA Chairman, Justice Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs delivered two other separate judgments that discharged and acquitted other Board members of the NPA who were prosecuted and jailed with George.
“It has been established that the case of the respondent rests on shifting sand. The charges framed against the appellant in respect of splitting of contracts and disobedience of guidelines in Exhibits P3 is unknown to any written law at the material time. They rest on nothing in the face of the provisions of Section 36(8) and (12) of the 1999 Constitution. They cannot stand as they fall flat,” Fabiyi said.
“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. It was a complete mistrial by the lower courts. I must stop here as nothing useful will be served in moving forward in respect of other issues.
“The appeal is allowed as same is, no doubt, meritorious. The judgment of the court below is accordingly set aside. The appellant is hereby acquitted and discharged forthwith.”