The former chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Olabode George, who was sentenced to prison two years ago for fraud was released yesterday to rapturous welcome by his family and political associates.
Mr. George, a chieftain in the Peoples Democratic Party, exited the gates of the Kirikiri Maximum Prison, Lagos at exactly 10;10 am on Saturday morning amidst fanfare and jubilations.
He traded the Prison fatigues for a native attire and as he stepped out he was embraced by his wife, close family members and few party chieftains. He later moved to a church where a thanksgiving service was held for him. Leaders of the PDP, including former president, Olusegun Obasanjo and some senior government officials were present at the occasion.
His release papers were signed by the Deputy Controller of Prisons, Ailewon Noel, who was directly responsible for Mr. George during his incarceration.
Security details mounted a cordon about a half a mile from the Maximum Prison to prevent men and women wearing uniform clothing (Asoebi) from getting to close to the prison gates to receive him.
In the excitement, thugs believed to be faithful to Mr. George assaulted a photojournalist from a national daily. The journalist was beaten and his camera was smashed by the thugs.
Mr. George, Aminu Dabo (former Managing Director of the NPA); Olusegun Abidoye; Abdullahi Tafida; Zanna Maidaribe and Sule Aliyu, were convicted on charges of abuse of office and award of about N100bn contracts without due process.
Justice Olubunmi Oyewole of the Lagos High Court on October 26, 2009, sentenced Mr. George with the five other accused persons to six months’ imprisonment for each of the offences related to disobedience to lawful order, while each of them received two years’ imprisonment for each of the offences related to abuse of office.
The judge gave no option of a fine and the jail terms ran concurrently.
Justice Oyewole held that there were four major issues to be determined in his judgement – issues as to whether the prosecution was able to prove the allegation of inflation of contract, allegation of abuse of office by splitting contracts, disobedience to lawful order and conspiracy to disobey lawful orders.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had on August 8, 2008 arraigned George and the others on a 163-count charge-later reduced to 68– to which they all pleaded not guilty.
The convicts were said to have inflated contract prices, contrary to Section 22 (3) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 Politically motivated?
Some members of the PDP in Lagos say the imprisonment of Mr. Geroge was politically motivated.
The PDP senatorial candidate for Lagos West Constituency, Moshood Salvador, said Mr. George deserved a rousing welcome by party loyalists.
“It is glaring to any fool, any dummy that this is a politically motivated imprisonment. Therefore, it was not Chief Olabode George that was imprisoned; it was PDP that was jailed. And that is why you can see everybody going to that Kirikiri. I visited Kirikiri more than twice in a week because we want to sympathise with him. Therefore, when such a person is getting his release, the relief is on each and every member of the PDP in Lagos State.” Mr. Salvador said.
His life in prison
According to a NEXT investigation conducted a few weeks into Mr. George’s jail term, the influential politician still enjoyed the support of his aides while in jail.
As early as 9am, when the reporter got to the jail, there were already more than six cars, (four of them SUVs) driven right to the front door of the maximum security prison. All were occupied by those wishing to visit Mr. George. The familiarity and deference with which the guards greeted the visitors was a clear indication that not only were they regulars guests at the jail but also important people in society.
But it was not only ‘big men’ that regularly visited Mr. George. Many more people made the journey on foot, trekking the short distance from the registration point under a tree to the front gate. Beyond this point, the scene that unfolded before the eyes could be equated with that at a typical governor’s office on a working day. Visitors hang around the area until they are called. Priority is given to chauffeured guests. Once inside the waiting area, guests are screened by security operatives, while all belongings are left on shelves at the reception area, including mobile phones.
“Before, we could have over 100 people wanting to see him, then we have to start calling them in by batches, but now at least 50 visitors come here every day to see oga George,” an official told NEXT, pleading anonymity.
“Most of the visitors are from different wards of his party, mostly from Lagos State, with some PDP big men as well.”
With the April general elections approaching, observers are curious over what role the ex-convict and former South-West vice chairman of the PDP will play in the party.
Source: 234Next – 234next.com