Former Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) Board Chairman, Bode George and other Jailed for 28 Years

Thursday, April 15, 2010

 Olabode Ibiyinka George

By Tunde Abatan, Adam Adedimeji, Paul Arhewe,  Daniel Kanu, Anthony Okoro, Dolapo Muraina, and Michael Jegede,Lagos

Olabode George, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), broke down in tears on Monday as an Ikeja High Court sentenced him to 28 years of imprisonment over contract fraud at the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA).

George chaired the NPA board between 2001 and 2003, during which the fraud mounted up to N100 billion. He was offered no option of fine.

However, he will spend two years in prison as the sentence runs concurrently.

Also jailed are former NPA Managing Director, Aminu Dabo; O. Abidoye; Abdullahi Aminu Tafida; Zanna Maidaribe; and Sule Aliyu.

Justice Olubunmi Oyewole found all the six men guilty on 28 counts of disobedience of lawful order and sentenced them to six months imprisonment on each charge, totalling 14 years.

They were also found culpable on seven charges of abuse of office and sentenced to two years on each charge, totalling 14 years.

The convicts were arraigned in August last year by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on 163 counts, which were later reduced to 68.

The court convicted them on 35 charges and freed them on 33.

As early as 6 a.m., about 80 armed mobile policemen took over strategic positions in and outside the court premises, along with anti-bomb squad vehicles.

The main entrance was cordoned off by security operatives who screened everyone coming in. Several supporters of the convicts were denied entry.

As Oyewole read out the verdict, a male supporter of George collapsed in the courtroom at 9:45 a.m. and was rushed out by sympathisers who revived him.

On inflation of contracts, the Judge ruled that the prosecution failed to establish the prevailing prices, making it impossible for the court to conclude that they were inflated.

“The said counts must therefore fail against the defendants,” Oyewole said.

But he held that the defendants while on the board of the NPA did approve split contracts.

“In totality, therefore, I hold that the prosecution failed to prove counts 58, 62, 63, 66 and 68 beyond reasonable doubt against the defendants while I hold that counts 59, 60, 61, 64, 65 and 67 respectively have been proved beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution against the defendants,” he ruled.

“Persons acknowledged out of millions of Nigerians by the President to be of proven integrity and of cognitive experience in relations to the activities of the NPA cannot claim ignorance or simply play Pontius Pilate when obviously irregular contracts placed before them were approved by them without question.

“This will amount to willful blindness and must have its consequence.”

Oyewole also found them guilty of disobedience of lawful order and conspiracy to commit crime.

He noted that the circular on “New Policy Guideline on Procurement and Award of Contract” dated June 27, 2002 was brought to the attention of the defendants but they had no intention to obey it.

George’s counsel, Tunji Ayanlaja, appealed for leniency because George and the other accused persons were doing the right thing but following a wrong procedure.

That, however, did not wash with Oyewole.

EFCC prosecutor, Festus Keyamo, thanked the court for a well considered judgment, and said it will serve as a deterrent to corrupt public officers.

After the ruling, many of George’s supporters, particularly women, wept profusely, raining curses on his perceived political enemies, among them Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola; former Governor Bola Tinubu; and Oyewole himself.

Those who did not weep confronted armed policemen and journalists, preventing the picture of George from being taken.

The convicts were driven out of the court premises at 2:07 p.m. in a prison van marked PS 523 A, amid  heavy security.

In his reaction, Action Congress (AC) National Chairman, Bisi Akande, said the verdict is punishment for George because he and others like him forcefully took the Yoruba to the mainstream of politics in order to realise the selfish ambition of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

“As the chief priest of Obasanjo’s campaign for the Yoruba to join mainstream politics it is good if he is going to lead other Yoruba like him to prison as this will serve as a lesson for others like him who have brought us to where we are today,” Akande declared.

National Publicity Secretary of the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Yinka Odumakin, added that the judgment is a good thing if it is extended to everyone from all parts of the country who looted the treasury.

“At least the country has recorded one causality in the war against corruption,” he noted.

But Lagos Democratic Peoples Alliance (DPA) Chairman, Supo Sonibare, said he believes that George is an honorable man, as gleaned from his interaction with him.

He advocated, however, that corrupt Nigerians should be sent to jail.

To Babalare Musa, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) National Chairman,  the two year jail term for George is a “political arrangement” and a “judicial disgrace” in view of the huge amount of money involved in the fraud.

Nonetheless, he said, the judgment is a good omen that the corrupt rich can be made to face the music.

Both Citizens Popular Party (CPP) National Chairman, Maxi Okwu, and  All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) National Chairman, Victor Umeh, also hailed the verdict.

Okwu said: “It is really good news for us. Let example be set as a deterrent to others. Bode George is a big fish in this country. Therefore, this will go a long way to tell the other big fish that their days are numbered.

“This class of people should be made to suffer and face the penalty of how much they have contributed to the destruction of Nigeria’s economy.”

Umeh noted that this is the first time a high profile corruption case has been pursued to its logical conclusion by the EFCC, and “We totally commend the judgment of the court that convicted Bode George without any option of fine.

“It is an indication that there is no sacred cow in Nigeria. You and I know that if it was Obasanjo’s regime that wouldn’t have been possible.

“Other corruption cases must as well be followed up to the point where everybody involved in corruption is also convicted. This is the only way we can truly tackle corruption in the country.

“It will reawaken the consciousness of Nigerians in the high places of authority as they will now have to caution themselves. It is indeed a great boost to the war against corruption. We hope the EFCC will not relent in its struggle to stamp out corruption from our society.”

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