LAWYERS4CHANGE

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

THE BODE GEORGE CONVICTION: TRIAL JUDGE TO SUFFER FOR IT?






The Federal Republic of Nigeria versus Chief Olabode George & Ors decided recently by an Ikeja High Court, Lagos presided over by Honourable Justice Olubunmi Oyewole, has become a cause celebre.

For some weeks, the case has been a focal point of discussion in the public domain, especially now so, that the learned judge not only convicted the accused persons, but equally firmly rejected their application for bail pending appeal.

A striking feature of the case is the special attention to Chief Olabode George, the first accused person, by the press and members of the public.
So special is thus attention that one may be forgiven to think that it was only one person (Olabode George) that was the prosecuted party. However there were four other persons, all otherwise respectable Nigerians who have at one time or the other, held high public office..
Nobody however talks about any of the other five accused, excepting perhaps as a foot-note or a way laconic after-thought.
These other five are Aminu Dabo, an architect, Captain O. Abidoye, Alhaji Abdullahi Aminu Tafida, Alhaji Zama Maidaribe and Mr. Sule Aliyu, an engineer.

Together with Olabode George, a retired Navy commodore and a past Governor of old Ondo state the six men were arraigned on a 68 count charge on conduct splitting, abuse of abuse and disobedience to lawful orders.
On judgement day (26 October 2009) Oyewole J. presiding, convicted the defendants on 35 counts of the charge.
The judgement to say the least caught the defendants and their counsel napping. All through the trial, the defence team seemed to shine like a million stars while the prosecution were shored off as yokels, whose moves were easily punctured by the agile defence.

Thus on judgment day, the defendants, having as it were waltzed through trial, expected to receive a discharge and acquittal.
Confident in that hope, the clear leader of the group, Olabode George, a big talking, swash-buckling political conquistador practitioner of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) extraction and who had brought colourful controversy to attend the trial in the form of scores of gainly dressed and uniformly attired (mostly female) supporters ostensibly present to give moral support to George and the gang, simply tripled his effort.


Thus on judgment day it was in their hundreds that the “Georgitas” turned up at the court-house. However it was all in vain as Justice Oyewole waded through a 110 page judgement to send the accused on an admission to the Maximum Security Prison, Kirikiri having found them guilty on about half of the charges against them.
The accused persons simply could not believe their ears when the judge broke the news of their admission into the special 'guest house of the government' at Kirikiri Lagos.

The most devastated convict understandably was Mr. Bode George. His natural optimist and gang-to proclivity, as well as strong belief in the competence of his decorated counsel had driven the thoughts of possible imprisonment far away from his mind.
Turning to his lead counsel in utter bewilderment indeed stupefaction he beseeched that worthy, Mr. Tunji Ayanlaja S.A.N of the “Apoti Aje” fame in those words.
“Chief, Tunji please do everything in your powers to see that I do not go to that place (Maximum Security Prison).
Ayanlaja being merely a lawyer and no magician knew that there was no legal resource in his vast arsenal to stop his client’s passage to prison, was left with no option than to tell the devastated politician, the stark truth.
And so to 'college,' George and the gang went. Willy-nilly.
As the gang clambered into the School bus, the shame, nay ignominy of it all (and which was just nascent) stung the mobilized supporters of George to cursing, weeping and issuance of threats against the trial judge.

In their new 'homes,' the MSP, the new inmates continued to be in shock, particularly Olabode George.
A gecko, who had become a head-boy in the new school of Bode George sent information through the usual intelligence channels to the Squib that on the second day in prison a visitor to the Tsunami Exponent of political take-over of Lagos state could not help soliloquizing, this with cheeks resting on a pelion.
“Ah, Oyewole, Oyewole, that boy? He was agreeing with us. When we said this, he agreed, when we said that, he agreed. Then at the last day, he looked us in the face and sent our leader here. Oyewole, Oyewole, Oyewole, that boy, we’ll see how he’ll get to that Court of Appeal which he wants to go.
We’ll see. He’ll get there only if it is a place where ghosts and not human beings preside as judges.”
To the supporters of Bode George, some who are clearly violent and rough, the trial judge had a golden opportunity of “redeeming” himself when application for bail pending appeal was brought on behalf of George and the other convicts in the case.
A lot of media hoopla attended this routine application amidst speculations that huge pressure had come upon the judge to relent and grant the application.

However the judge remained convinced that George and his co-horts should remain in school to squarely face their studies, and so firmly and promptly denied the prayers for bail, on 9th November 2009.
In many quarters of well meaning Nigerians, there are concerns for the safety and progress of the man who prescribed a spell in prison for a political big-wig like Olabode George. Said a commentator-

“Although before the Olabode George case, Justice Oyewole had already became famous. After all he was the one who sent the big time fraudster Chief Emmanule Nwude to prison and was also responsible for putting Reverend King behind bars, sentenced to death, among so many other cases.
But Olabode George is a different kettle of fish. George is, unlike Nwude or King a politician, a very big one for that matter, and in the ruling party.
Politicians are dangerous people to offend - they are well connected and are deep-rooted. Governments go, governments come, but they are always there.
Another observer said “my fear for the judge (Oyewole J) is that he may have been caught unwittingly in a political war between the PDP and the Action Congress (A.C).
Some P.D.P. people are saying his judgement was the dictate of Bola Tinubu the god-father of politics in Lagos state and who appointed Oyewole as judge in 2001. Tinubu is a well known political adversary of Bode George and so meanings are read into the judgement mosre so as Lagos State belongs politically to the Action Congress and not the P.D.P. You know our politicians being bad losers, are always looking for scape-goats to blame their woes on.”


As far as the Squib is concerned, judges handling special and sensitive assignments such as presiding over anti-corruption case and high electoral matters should have a strong security support round them. This, is not the case presently. A clean conscience and a patriotic are not enough shields where security is concerned. Remember General Muritala Mohammed?

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