By Abdulwahab Abdulah,Â Gbenga Akanmu & Ifeanyi Okolie
LAGOS â€” EFFORTS of the embattled former Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Chief Bode George, and five others, to secure bail from an Ikeja High court that jailed them over the NPA contracts scam, hit the rocks yesterday as the same court refused their request.
Meantime, authorities of the Kirikiri Maximum Prison, yeaterday, handed Chief George his official blue uniform mandatory for all convicts in the prison.
Justice Joseph Oyewole who handed down the two-and-half year jail term on the six accused, on October 26, over offences bordering on inflation of contract, disobedience of lawful order and abuse of office also refused their application for bail on the ground that they failed to convince the court beyond reasonable doubt that they deserved to be set free temporarily.
By implication, Chief George, who turns 64 years on November 21, may spend his next birthday in prison.
Also, the Lagos State House of Assembly, yesterday, condemned the alleged threat to the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mrs. Farida Waziri, by those believed to be associates of the jailed former National Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Others convicted alongside Chief George are Alhaji Aminu Dabo, Captain Olusegun Abidoye, Alhaji Abdullahi Aminu Tafida, Alhaji Zanna Maidaribe and Alhaji Sule Aliyu.
For more than four hours in court yesterday, seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria, led by Chief Tunji Ayanlaja and a former Attorney-General of Nigeria, Chief Kanu Agabi, representing Chief George failed to convince the court why their client and the co-applicants should be admitted to bail pending when the Court of Appeal will hear their brief asking the appellate court to set aside the judgment of the trial court.
They hinged their arguments on two major points â€” that their clients are not medically fit to stay in prison and that it would be prejudiced on the judgment of the appellate court if it turned down the judgment of the trial court.
The senior lawyers argued in line with their Motion on Notice dated October 28, 2009 asking for accelerated hearing of the matter, â€œbrought pursuant to Section 10 and 51 of the High Court of Lagos State Law 2003 and under the inherent jurisdiction of this honorable courtâ€.
In their individual capacity, they argued that it will take the better part of the year to get the records of appeal in a matter of this magnitude compiled and transmitted to the court of appeal.
They added that going by the congestion at the appellate court, â€œby the time the appeal would have been determined by the Court of Appeal, the Applicants would have finished serving their terms of imprisonment, thus rendering their appeal, whatever the outcome nugatory.â€
Also, they told the court that they need to be attended to by their private physicians, because of the fragile nature of their sickness. To this end, they prayed the court to grant them bail pending the determination of their appeal.
However, Counsel of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr. Festus Keyamo, in his response told the court that there was no justification for the court to release them on bail.
He argued that based on the applicantsâ€™ affidavits and the attached medical reports on their health, there was no strong facts for the court to release them.Â He said the medical reports attached to the application were from private medical doctors and from private hospitals which can not be relied upon by the court.
He noted that for the court to accept the medical reports, the reports have to be from a recognised government hospital.
He also argued that they (Applicants) failed to justify their position on the congestion of the Court of Appeal to listen to their appeal timeously, since they failed to attach copy of the â€˜Cause listâ€™ from the appellate court to justify their positions.
He therefore urged the court to reject the application for bail.
In his short ruling, Justice Oyewole held that â€œthe applications failed and are consequently dismissed.â€
The court said that the application failed because the applicants failed to submit sufficient materials to prove that they were suffering from illness.
â€œThere must be sufficient evidence from a specialist in that particular field of medicine,â€ the court averred, â€œto grant bail on medical grounds.â€
On the issue of delay in hearing the appeal at the appellate court, the trial judge said that â€œI will not comment on the likelihood of the duration of the appealâ€.
The court however discountenanced the issue of preliminary objection by Keyamo on the competence of the motion for bail, based on alleged conflict in signature on affidavits by the counsel.
Justice Oyewole held that it amounted to technicalities and mere academic exercise which has no bearing in determining the merit or demerit of the case.
In his final words, the Judge said â€œI have considered the application for bail pending appeal and submissions of the counsels. The ruling shall encompass the entire lot because of the similarity in the applications (of the six counsel).â€
George gets prison uniform
Although spokesman for the Prisons, Ope Fatinikun told Vanguard on phone that all prisoners in the state wear uniforms without specifically mentioning names, it was gathered that Chief George was handed his uniform yesterday after hopes of getting bail at the Ikeja High court were dashed.
Reliable prison sources told Vanguard that before now, prison officials at the maximum Prisons, Kirikiri deliberately accorded the convicted PDP stalwart the privileges of going about without the official uniform worn by all convicts. He was also said to be on a diet specially prepared from his home.
However, the table was said to have turned immediately news of the refusal of the Ikeja court to grant him bail got to Prison authorities.
It was learnt that when prison officials brought the neatly-ironed uniform to the PDP Chieftain, it was like double tragedy for him.Â An insider said Chief George quietly walked into his cell and did not show up again.
The Prison spokesman, Fatinikun said, â€œAll I will tell you is that all prisoners in Lagos Command wear uniforms. I do not want to mention anybodyâ€™s name. You can go to the officer-in-charge of Kirikiri Prisons and see things for yourselfâ€.
An insider source told Vanguard that Chief George refused to eat all through yesterday. The source said although the convict had been fasting since Saturday, but he normally broke his fast by 2:00pm after a round of prayers led by a renowned prophet who had assured him of victory in his bail bid.
The source said he was moody all through the day after getting the news of the judgment and was consoled by Major Hamza el-Mustapha
Lagos lawmakers condemn alleged threat
On their part, lawmakers of the Lagos State House of Assembly have condemned the alleged threat on the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mrs. Farida Waziri, by those believed to be associates of the jailed Chief Bode George.
The House also warned the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to steer clear of the Lagos State Action Congress, AC, the party leaders and in particular, erstwhile governor of the state, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
A member of the House, Sanai Agunbiade from Ikorodu (State) Constituency I, under Matters of Urgent Public Importance called his colleaguesâ€™ attention to a newspaper report where it was reported that Bode Georgeâ€™s followers are allegedly threatening the EFCC Chairman.
Agunbiade explained thathe decided to raise the matter because there had been much noise ever since Bode George was convicted and jailed. According to him, â€œEFCC had in the past indicted, arraigned and convicted other people and there was no noise, but the issue of George seems to have a difference.
â€œThe Lagos AC, party leaders, especially Asiwaju Bola Tinubu have been accused of being responsible of what has happened to Bode George. I think it is worthwhile for us, as a House, to condemn the threat on the EFCC Chairman. In addition, we should call on Nigerians to advise family and friends of George to accept what has happened in good faith,â€ Agunbiade said.
Other members that contributed alleged that some troublemakers in the PDP are after Lagos AC and Tinubu. They claimed that Bode Georgeâ€™s followers have vowed to retaliate and that they are after Lagos State Action Congress and the party leaders.
Speaker Adeyemi Ikuforiji on his part said, â€œI donâ€™t know what Tinubu has done to them and I am sure that itâ€™s not the President himself that is behind this, but some of them in the system are the ones trying to create problem for Lagos.
â€œBut these set of people should be warned not to tamper with Lagos and they should steer clear of the state and leave our party leaders, especially Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, aloneâ€, Ikuforiji added.