Justice Olubunmi Oyewole of the Lagos High Court, Ikeja has sentenced Chief Olabode
George; former chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and five others to two and half years imprisonment each without an option of fine.
They were sentenced for two years each on a seven-count charge of abuse of office and six months each for a 27-count charge of disobedience to constituted authority.
Others convicted include; former CEO of NPA Aminu Dabo, O. Abidoye, Abdullahi Tafida, Zanna Maideribe and Sule Aliyu.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had arraigned them on charges of wilful disobedience to constituted authority, contract splitting and conspiracy in August, last year.
The sentence which was seen by many as a crushing defeat of three Senior Advocates Of Nigeria; Joe Gadzama, Tunji Ayanlaja and Dele Adesina, by fiery human rights lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo had suffered many encumbrances which necessitated several adjournments based on technicalities.
Strangely, Chief Bode George and other co travelers were not found guilty on the other charges as the prosecution led by activist lawyer Mr. Festus Keyamo, could not prove the commission of the offences alleged against them beyond reasonable doubt.
Defense had argued that the convicts were not charged in their personal capacities but as board members of NPA and asked the court to acquit their clients except the court can prove otherwise.
However, Justice Oyewole averred that; “The facts indisputably before the court are that the defendants are natural persons who were appointed to serve as directors on the board of the NPA, a public corporation owned solely by the Federal Government of Nigeria and established under an Act of the National Assembly. The judge noted that “It is an evident fact upon which the court can take judicial notice that only natural persons are appointed to hold public offices and not corporate or incorporate bodies.
He insisted that the board of a corporation is an organ of that organization and does not possess a corporate legal existence separate from that of the corporate body it belongs to and therefore cannot possess legal identity as to sue or be sued independently.
“Persons acknowledged out of millions of Nigerians by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to be of proven integrity and of cognitive experience in relation 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. It amounts to wilful blindness and must have its consequences” the court said.
“The prosecutor had argued that while there may be good reasons to seek a presidential waiver in respect of the application of the said circular, flagrant disobedience was not the proper course of action.
When the tide of the case became obvious, lead counsel, Mr Tunji Ayanlaja (SAN), pleaded for mitigated sentence, noting that the conviction of his client on a technical charge could scare others who are interested in serving the nation.
But the Justice Oyewole in his Sentence noted that: “When public office is abused, the entire system is assaulted. This must not be treated with kid gloves, if the quality of service in our public life is to be attained to an appreciable standard of the civilised world.
LoveWorld News Agency