Hundreds of relations, friends and associates of Chief Bode George and five others ,convicted of corruption related offences, returned home dejected, yesterday, after the Court of Appeal, sitting in Lagos upheld the October 26, 2009 verdict of a Lagos High Court, and dismissed their appeal.
The appellate court, in an over two hour ruling, declared that George who had served as Chairman, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and five other members of the board – Aminu Dabo (Managing Director), Olusegun Abioye, Abdullahi Aminu Fafida, Zana Maidaribe and Sule Aliyu – were properly convicted.
They got two years each on a seven count charge and are due to complete their jail terms next month.
Also in the crowd yesterday were drummers who had been hired in anticipation of a favourable judgement for the convicts.
But as soon as the Justice Clara Osunbiyi-led panel concluded its judgement the crowed began to thin out.
A woman identified as Chief George’s spouse broke down in tears. Friends gathered round consoling her.
The judgement was unanimous but counsel to the convicts said they were heading to the Supreme Court.
In dismissing the appeal, the court said, “the totality of the appeal is devoid of merit and is thereby dismissed.”
Other members of the panel were Justice Raphael Agbo and Justice Adamu Jauro.
On the issue of jurisdiction and the power of the Attorney-General of the Federation to prosecute the convicts based on offences under the law of Lagos State, the court held that there was no evidence before it that the appellants raised the issue at the lower court.
The court pointed out that “any charge filed by someone without authority to do so is certainly defective and the appellants should have immediately raised alarm to that effect. The court maintained that there was no evidence before it that the appellants raised objection at the lower court as at the time the charge was read to them and before taking their pleas.
On the power of the Attorney General of the Federation to engage a private legal practitioner to prosecute the suit, the appellate Court held that the power of the AGF cannot be questioned at this stage.
Citing Sections 174, of the 1999 Constitution, the court said that AGF can employ a private legal practitioner to prosecute a case on his behalf, adding that the only person that could rightly challenge the appearance of the private counsel was the AGF himself.
“The power of the AGF is not opened to the court to question, hence the objections by the appellants do not hold water”, the court held.
On whether the lower court was perverse when it convicted the appellants based on contract splitting, the court said that the act of splitting contracts was arbitrary and that the appellants abused their power of authority when they did so.
“By splitting the contract the appellants usurped the authority of the Minister of Transport and a directive issued by the President through the Minister. The directive is a lawful order which the appellants ought to have complied with. The reasons given by the appellants for non compliance with the directive amount to the appellants crying more than the bereaved,” the court said.
On the issue of conspiracy, the court while upholding the decision of the lower court, that the minutes of board meeting held by the appellants has shown the obvious, that there was meeting of minds.
Meanwhile, the appellate court also dismissed the cross appeal filed by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, challenging the verdict of the lower court for discharging and acquitting the appellants on some other counts in the charge against them.
George and others were charged to court by the EFCC in 2008 for contract inflation to the tune of N84 billion with five other board members, during his tenure as the Chairman of the NPA board between 2000 and 2003.
According to the charges, they were alleged to have, among others, conspired about June 6, 2003 to inflate the contract price for the rehabilitation of Kalmar Container Handler from 215,555.52 Euro to 269,965.71 Euro.
They were also alleged to have inflated contracts awarded to Dateks Ltd for the replacement and installation of six 11KVA High Tension Panels with accessories at Sub-station C, Tin Can Island Port, Lagos, from 310,500.40 Euro to 345,925.00 Euro.
Dissatisfied with their conviction, the appellants approached the appellate court to set aside their conviction on all the counts and grant them freedom.
Counsel to Bode George had argued that after perusing the Record of Appeal with other counsel in chambers, it was realised that there were several other grounds of appeal, which ought to be used to set aside the judgment of the lower court.