Hope that the ex-chairman of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Chief Olabode George and five others would be freed before Christmas pending the hearing of their appeal, was yesterday dashed as the Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos dismissed their bail application.
The panel of judges, headed by Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem in its ruling held that the three grounds of bail appeal brought to it by the applicants lacked merit and as such dismissed them accordingly.
It will be recalled that George alongside five others, were convicted and sentenced to two and half years in jail without an option of fine by Justice Joseph Oyewole of Ikeja High Court on October 26, 2009. This was sequel to their prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
George, Arc. Aminu Dabo, Captain Olusegun Abidoye, Abdullahi Aminu Tafida, Zanna Maidaribe, and Sule Aliyu were convicted on a 57-count charge relating to conspiracy, abuse of office and disobedience to lawful order.
George's wife, Roli and his supporters, who were in a happy mood when they appeared in court yesterday, left the court room saddened by the ruling.
The grounds for the appeal filed by the applicants counsel against the judgment of the lower court include that their sentence was substantial. Others are congestion and the likelihood of delay in the hearing and determination of the appeal, as well as the health condition of the applicants.
On congestion, the judge said that once an appellant who has 90 days from the date of judgment of the trial files and serves a well thought out appeal and follows up diligently on all other procedural requirements, there was no reason why the appeal will not be heard in good time.
She held that as such delay in the present circumstance, could not be a good reason for granting bail, barring all unnecessary interlocutory applications.
On the second ground of ill health, she said the court was not told that the health conditions of the applicants cannot be managed by the prison authorities because each of the reports of the applicants except the 4th applicant clearly displaysed a well diagnosed medical report.
"There is no report from the prison or any deposition from the applicants to say that the prison medical personnel and facilities are incapable of addressing the health conditions of the applicants.
"None of the applicant suffers from any strange and unknown disease. The fact that a convict is ill or has some medical condition simplicita does not constitute an exceptional circumstance. If we accept such reason, then no person should be in prison; every living human has one bodily ailment or the other but that does not stop us from carrying out our daily duties and responsibilities." She said
On the third ground of substantiality, the judge held that the decision of a court competent jurisdiction cannot be suspended merely upon the filing of an appeal.
She said each of the applicants stand convicted under offences well defined in the Criminal Code. She added that it was only at the appeal that the court can determine the errors, if any, of the trial court in arriving at its decision.
"I find each of the application for bail as lacking in merit and each is hereby dismissed." she ruled
Meanwhile, before the ruling on the application, counsel to the respondent, Festus Keyamo, had urged the court to refuse the bail application by the applicants because the reasons sought were not sufficient for bail.
"I urge the court to consider the image of the country. If bail is granted to public officers who have been convicted for corrupt practices, it would be a dangerous precedent in the country. I urge the court not to grant their applications for bail and not to set a dangerous precedent" he said