Some lawyers in Lagos have reacted to the acquittal of a People’s Democratic Party leader, Olabode George, of corruption charges.
The Supreme Court on Friday discharged and acquitted George of the charge.
Justice Joseph Oyewole of an Ikeja High Court had convicted George of contract splitting on Oct. 26, 2009, and sentenced him to 30 months imprisonment without an option of fine.
The politician allegedly committed the offence at the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) when he was the Chairman of the organisation’s board of directors.
Mr. George challenged his conviction before the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, but lost.
The Supreme Court held on Friday that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had no evidence against George.
According to the apex court, a charge of contract splitting was unknown to Nigerian laws.
Reacting to the judgment, a human rights activist and lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, said that it was a setback in Nigeria’s fight against corruption.
Mr. Aturu said: “I think it is unfortunate and that decision is going to encourage corruption.
“What the trial judge (Oyewole) said is that if you went beyond the approved contract limit, you have committed what the law cannot close its eyes to.
“For the Supreme Court to say that there is no such concept in our law, may encourage public officers to circumvent the restrictions placed on their spending.”
Onyekachi Ubani, Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, described the decision of the apex court as “shocking”.
Ubani said: “I won’t want to say much until I see the detail of the judgment and the reasons the judges adduced for upturning the conviction.’’
However, Adetokunbo Mumuni, Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a human rights group, blamed the EFCC for alleged shoddy investigation and prosecution of the case.
“It is the duty of the prosecution to gather the necessary facts and build a good case against an accused before charging him to court.
“If they fail to file a competent charge against the person, it is the duty of the court to apply the law and acquit him,” Mr. Mumuni said.
He said that the judiciary would not sacrifice the law and the Constitution for fighting corruption.
Another lawyer and former lawmaker, Ehiogie West-Idahosa, noted that any judgment of the Supreme Court was final and should be accepted in good faith.
Mr. West-Idahosa, a former member of the Federal House of Representatives (Ovia North-East and Ovia South-West Constituency), urged the EFCC to intensify its anti-corruption campaign.
“The lesson to be learnt from this case is that nobody is above the law.
“The reason corruption is ravaging this country is that some people believe that they can get away with anything.
“The EFCC should continue the fight against corruption by charging those high profile suspects, who are still walking free, to court,” he said.