The Supreme Court on Friday discharged and acquitted Olabode George, former Board Chairman of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), and five others convicted of fraud in October 2009.
George, a PDP chieftain, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for contracts’ inflation during his tenure at NPA.
Setting aside the judgment of the lower court, Justice Afolabi Fabiyi, who led three other justices of the court, said the allegations were not proved at the lower courts.
He held that George was wrongly convicted of fraud. “I must state it in clear terms that I fail to see how intention to defraud was proved as affirmed by the court below.
“In reality, it was not proved. It was an element or ingredient of the offence as charged, which needed proof beyond reasonable doubt.
“Where such a vital element was not proved as herein, the prosecution’s case must fail. It has been established that the case of the respondent rests on shifting sand.’’
Fabiyi held that the charges against the appellant in respect of the splitting of contracts and disobedience of guidelines in exhibit P3 were “unknown to any written law at the material time’’.
“They rest on nothing in the face of the provision of Section 36 (8) and (12) of the 1999 Constitution. They cannot stand as they fall flat.
“And to cap it, the prosecution laced the extant charges with intention to defraud, an extra element of the charge which was not proved beyond reasonable doubt.’’
The judge said convicting George was a complete mistrial by the lower court. “I must stop here as nothing useful will be served in moving forward in respect of the other issues. The appeal is allowed as same is, no doubt, meritorious.
“The judgment of the lower court is accordingly set aside. The appellant is hereby acquitted and discharged forthwith,’’ he said.
Justice Olubunmi Oyewole of the Ikeja High Court in Lagos had convicted George and five others for the offence of inflating contracts.
Others were former NPA Chief Executive Aminu Dabo, O. Adeboye, Abdullahi Tafida, Zanna Mai-Deribe and Sule Aliyu.
George was probed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under the Obasanjo administration.
The EFCC, under Nuhu Ribadu, had indicted George in its report submitted to the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
In separate judgments, the court discharged and acquitted Dabo, Adeboye, Mai-Deribe and Aliyu who adopted George’s address.
Meanwhile, Tafida got his acquittal on the grounds of some breaches of the 1999 Constitution by the prosecution.
He had urged the court to determine whether the Court of Appeal did not occasion a failure of justice when it failed to consider some points.
Tafida had raised serious constitutional issues of breaches of Section 36 (12) (8).
He submitted that the lower court denied him of his constitutional right of appeal and fair hearing, among others.
George and the others had appealed against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, delivered in October 2009