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Saturday, November 7, 2009

BIG STRESS AS OLABODE GEORGE AND 4 OTHERS GO TO JAIL

The court house is second home to legal practitioners. It is understandable – it is where they as advocates, practice their profession daily and as honoured officers and priests at the temple of justice for that matter…

Little wonder it came as a rude shock to many Lagos lawyers on Monday 26th October 2009 when they arrived at the Ikeja High Court only to find the gates of the main compound (Compound A) locked against them and manned by armed policemen.

It was already a battle to get through to the gates of the court, courtesy of variegated traffic snarls in all directions and routes leading to the Ikeja High Court.

At the various entrances of the High Court, it was a situation of near bedlam as vehicles of all shapes and sizes were parked just about anywhere and anyhow, as the gates remained shut against people.

When the Squib got to the gates at about 8.55 am., more than forty people were jostling to gain entrance and it took the supreme persuasion for the legal practitioners amongst them to succeed. Most litigants and judiciary staffers were turned back.
It was a most curious situation as even some judges were turned back. At a point when the commotion at the gates was getting too much, the private security men who had the keys of the gates simply drifted away from the scene.

Of course, this only made the situation worse. By now the reason for the unusual development had become known – Honourable Justice Olubunmi Oyewole the trial judge in the case of I.D/71C/2008 Federal Republic of Nigeria versus Chief Olabode George and 4 others, would be delivering the judgment in the sensational case, that very morning and security operatives had taken over the court premises to forestall the possible breach of the peace. The Olabode George case became sensational because of the 1st accused person, a top notcher in the ruling party in Nigeria, and a flamboyant Lagos born politician who believes, it appears, in conquistador politics, practiced albeit in a quixotic fashion.

Olabode George as an accused person, brought colour and disquiet if not controversy to the case as deliberately organized political supporters, dressed in similar, gay, native apparels turned up in the court at every hearing session, in their scores. It was a move calculated to show that George was ‘a man of the people but the sight of several dozens of women in aso-ebi (uniform native dresses) just hanging around the trial court, anytime of the case, riled most observers.
Many people including the governor of the state Babatunde Raji Fashola S.A.N had complained about the spectacle of Olabode George’s “Supporters, turning the court into something of a jamboree or a circus show but the “show” did not stop.:

On D-day (26th October 2009) more “supporters” of Olabode George turned up for the case. They could not have numbered less than five hundred people. Rather surprisingly, despite the activities of the mobile policemen manning the gates, and who turned back many people with good reasons to be in the courts that morning, no less than three hundred of the said “aso-ebied” supporters of Olabode George gained entrance into the court premises.

In the court premises proper, only a few vehicles could be seen and except for the area of Justice Oyewole’s court, the rest of the court complex appeared unusually vacant and silent.

Apart from Justice Oyewole himself who was busy in his court wading through his 110 page judgment, only very few otherjudges, like Mojisola Dada J., Obadina J., Adefope Okojie J. sat in the Ikeja High Court, at least before 10.00 am.
A particular rumour gained ground that the “authorities” had ordered other judges not to sit at the normal hour of 9:am but at 12.30pm! Since it was such a rather curious information, most lawyers found it rather strange but were left in deeper confusion since there was no senior official of the judiciary to confirm or deny the news.

Of course, lawyers could be trusted to react to such a situation. Said one, “Ha, ha, what is this country turning into? Because of the judgment in one court, other courts will not work again?” Another said, “This is how we promote and glorify villains in this country. What is so special about the Bode George case that other courts that other courts must not sit? What of the numerous other cases? Are they now saying those other litigants are not important?”

Yet another counsel had this to say, “I find this directive, if indeed true, rather odd. This is not the first big case in this same Ikeja High Court and in all those instances, nobody stopped courts from working. The particular court handling a sensitive case is the only one, the security people secure. Not everybody is allowed in it or even around it.
Even if the security report indicates that there could be serious problems, then, the judgment should be delivered in the afternoon, say 2.00pm, when most other courts would have finished their business for the day.”

It was the view of yet another counsel that “I bet you that Olabode George will be jailed. It is so apparent that this will be so, otherwise why this unusual security arrangement?”

It was around 1.00pm that news came that judgment had been delivered in the Olabode George case and that the defendants were to spend two years in prison, although they were discharged and acquitted on some other counts. Immediately the judgement ended, the situation turned ugly. Highly disappointed at the judgement, supporters of Olabode George turned aggressive as they pranced about the court premises cursing the judge and “enemies” of their idol. Some of them were seen openly brandishing guns and other weapons, threatening to attack any person who dared take photographs of Olabode George, climbing into the “School Bus” (the maria) that would take him and his co-convicts to the School of Further Adult Education at the Maximum campus, Kirikiri Lagos (maximum security prison).

At this point a group of these supporters pounced on one legal practitioner, M.K.O. Olobi Esq., and beat him up, thoroughly. In previous sessions, Olobi was known for protesting against the turning up of Olabode George’s supporters in court in uniform dresses.

Another person, a journalist too was reportedly assaulted. In spite of all these incidents, the police made no arrests, in fact turned a blind eye, becoming dumb, deaf and blind, in spite of being in large numbers and sufficiently armed.

Said a judiciary staff who witnessed the departure of Olabode George and his case mates from the court after being sentenced, “it was unbelievable that the police could behave the way they did. Can you imagine those people shouting threats at us, in the court premises saying they would kill and and injure us if “anybody takes any picture of baba,” in the very presence of the police and the police just turned away?”

As the trial court has fixed November 9 2009 for the hearing of bail pending appeal application of the convicted men, there are concerns that 26 October 2009 could repeat itself. This, except, the judiciary and the police do things differently in terms of security arrangement.

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