The conviction of Chief Olabode George, and five former directors of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) by a Lagos State High Court in 2009 has been set aside by the Supreme Court on Friday as lacking in merit. So, he is no longer an elewon.
Chief Bode George is a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party and was the former chairman of NPA.
The other NPA directors Arraigned along side George by EFCC are Alhaji Aminu Dabo, Captain Oluwasegun Abidoye, Alhaji Abdulahi Aminu Tafida, Alhaji Zanna Maidaribe and Mr. Sule Aliyu. They all convicted by the Lagos State High Court over offences bordering on corruption, inflation of contracts and contracts splitting.
The Supreme Court agreed that George was the chairman of the NPA between 2001and 2003, when the alleged offences were said to have been committed but reasoned that at that time it was not an offence in Nigerian to do what they did.
Punch reports that:
Delivering judgment on separate appeals filed by George and the others to challenge their conviction, the Supreme Court held that the allegation of contract splitting over which the accused persons were convicted, had not become a criminal offence as at the time the alleged incident took place.
The Supreme Court maintained that, from its findings, the convictions were based on the alleged failure of the then NPA officials to obey the provisions of a circular on the award of contracts.
According to the court, the said failure to obey the provisions of the circular was not a criminal offence as at the time George and the others were charged to court,and subsequently convicted.
The Public Procurement Act, which was to criminalise the offence of contract splitting, for which George and the others were convicted, was enacted in 2007.
The apex court held that George and his co-accused persons were wrongfully convicted and sentenced by the trial court. Even though they had already served the two years prison sentence imposed on them by
the LSHC, George and the others, through their lawyers including Kanu Agabi, SAN, and Joseph Daudu, SAN, had asked the Supreme Court to set aside their conviction and the subsequent punishment.
Before approaching the Supreme Court, they had failed in their bid to overturn their conviction at the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal, which affirmed the verdict of the LSHC, ruling that they were properly charged and convicted under the relevant laws of Lagos State.
In the appeals they filed before the Supreme Court, George and the others maintained that they were wrongfully convicted and sentenced.
They argued that the Lagos State High Court lacked the jurisdiction to try them. According to them, they should have been tried by a Federal High Court, instead of the Lagos State High Court.
They also maintained that the prosecution did not prove its claim that they were guilty of contracts splitting and the disobedience of a lawful order by failing to adhere with an administrative circular on award of contracts.
They insisted that such disobedience of a lawful order must first be criminalised by the National Assembly before it could become a criminal offence.
The EFCC, which was the respondent in the appeals, asked the Supreme Court to uphold the convictions.
However, delivering judgment in the appeal filed by George, Justice Afolabi Fabiyi, held that the conviction was wrong.
He said the EFCC failed to prove the case against George. Giving a summary of the judgment, he said, "It is not in contention that all the counts by which the appellant (George) was tried and convicted was based on an intention to defraud.
"Since intention to defraud was made an element of the charge, the respondent (EFCC) has the onus to prove same but failed to do so.
"It has been established that the case of the respondent rests on a shaky ground."
The apex court held that the Public Procurement Act, which made contract splitting a criminal offence, was enacted in 2007 and as a result was not in force when George and the others were said to have committed the alleged offences at the NPA