By Abdulwahab Abdulah & Tosin Adejuwon
LAGOS â€” FORMER Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Olabode George and five other members of his board were yesterday sentenced to 28 years jail term without an option of fine by an Ikeja High court.
The others convicted include the former Managing Director of the NPA, Architect Aminu Dabo; Captain Olusegun Abidoye, Alhaji Abdullahi Aminu Tafida, Alhaji Zanna Maidaribe and Alhaji Sule Aliyu, all members of the NPA Board led by George.
Already, the convicted persons have signified their intention to contest the judgment of the trial court at the Court of Appeal.
The Ikeja High Court presided over by Justice Joseph Oyewole found them guilty of the offences of inflation of contract, disobedience of lawful order and abuse of office. In the judgment which lasted over three hours, Justice Oyewole sentenced them to 2 years each on 7 counts and 6 months each on another 28 counts of the charges.
The sentences will however run concurrently which means each of the convicted persons will spend only two and a half years in jail.
George, others exonerated on 21 counts
The court exonerated them on 21 of the 68-count charge for which they were arraigned on August 8, 2008. Seven of the offences on which they were freedÂ bothered on abuse of office, while the remaining 14-count charge was on willful disobedience of lawful authority.
In his judgment, Justice Oyewole held that â€œWhen public office is abused, the entire system is assaulted. This must not be condoned or treated with kid gloves if the quality of services in our public life is to attain an appreciable standard of civilised world. For the right deterrent to be served therefore, sufficient firmness must be demonstrated.â€
The six defendants were arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, alleging financial impropriety of N84 billion, disobedience of lawful authority and abuse of offices. The prosecution presented 10 witnesses before the court to prove its case.
Both the prosecution and defendants had on Tuesday, September 15, 2009 adopted their final written addresses, while the trial judge deferred judgment till yesterday.
In his judgment, Justice Oyewole held that, indeed, the defendants disobeyed the lawful order which set the limitation on prices of contract to be awarded by the NPA board and that there were traces that some contracts were split by the board led by Chief George.
Justice Oyewole in his 110-page judgment said: â€œI find each of the defendants not guilty on Counts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 13, 14, 17, 18, 30, 31, 45, 47, 48, 58,62, 63, 66 and 68 respectively and I hereby discharge and acquit each of them on each of those counts. I find each of the defendants guilty as charged on counts 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, 22, ,23, 24,25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 46, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 60, 61, 64, 65 and 67 respectively and hereby convict each of them on each of the said counts respectively.â€
Oyewole further held that: â€œThe definition offered by the prosecution was not shown by the defence to be incorrect under cross-examination and no competing piece of evidence giving an opposing definition was provided.
Having failed to provide controverting definition and having failed to demonstrate the falsity or invalidity of the definition provided by the prosecution, the defence is deemed to have admitted and conceded the issue which lapse cannot be remedied in the final address of counsel.
â€œI am, therefore, left with no choice than to accept the uncontroverted definition of contract splitting provided by the prosecution witnesses.
“I am inclined to agree with the learned prosecutor that the moment a higher approving body was deprived of the exercise of its legitimate function prejudice has occurred.”
George abused office, split contracts
On the abuse of office, the Judge held: â€œI hold that the defendants while employed in the public service as Chairman and Directors respectively on the board of the NPA at the material times of exhibits D2 and D3 did approve split contracts.
It is an arbitrary act which prejudiced the approving authorities superior to the NPA board constituted by them at that time, and that they thereby abused their offices.â€
Court debunks George’s argument on FEC
The Judge further held that it is not in dispute that the NPA is a government parastatal. â€œWhat is being contended by the defence is that the NPA is not subject to the directives of the Minister of Finance and that the Federal Executive Council is not a body known to law.
â€œA cursory look at exhibit P3 indicates that it is a directive of the Minister of Finance based on the collective position of the Federal Government. Ministers of the Federal Republic draw their legality from the Constitution. Specifically Section 147 establishes the offices of Ministers of the Federal Republic while Section 148 (1) empowers them to administer as directed by the President.
â€œSection 148 (2) is particularly relevant in relation to the legality or otherwise of the Federal Executive Council. It provides as follows:
(2) The President shall hold regular meetings with the Vice-President and all the Ministers of the Government of the Federation for the purposes of-
(a) determining the general direction of domestic and foreign policies of the Government of the Federation;
(b) co-ordinating the activities of the President, the Vice-President and the Ministers of the Government of the Federation in the discharge of their executive responsibilities; and
(c) advising the President generally in discharge of his executive functions other than those functions with respect to which he is required by this Constitution to seek the advice or act on the recommendation of any other person or body.
â€œIt is a notorious fact in respect of which the Court can justifiably take judicial notice that the composition and functions of the Federal Executive Council are as provided for in Section 148 (2) of the Constitution earlier set out .
â€œThis Court cannot in the light thereof, accept the contention of the defence that the Federal Executive Council is an illegal body unknown to law. It is more, by the express contents of the minutes of the meetings of the NPA board presided over by the 1st defendant and participated in by the other defendants which were tendered by the defence before the Court as exhibit.â€
Exonerating them of some charges the court saidÂ â€œI hold that there is no sufficient evidence to conclude that the Contracts in Counts 58, 62, 63, 66 and 68 were split while I hold that there is sufficient evidence before the Court that Counts 59, 60, 61, 64, 65 and 67 were split.â€
George, others to appeal judgment
Besides the intention to appeal the judgment, the convicts are also planning to file what is called â€˜Bail Pending Appealâ€™ to give them a temporary relief.