Reactions trail Bode George’s acquittal

Culled from Saturday PUNCH
December 14, 2013 by Nonye Ben-Nwankwo and Gbenro Adeoye 3 Comments
Bode George
Bode George
| credits: File copy

The Supreme Court judgment which reversed the conviction of the former Deputy National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Olabode George, on Friday, has been trailed by reactions from the members of the public, including lawyers and activists.

A lawyer and human rights activist, Fred Agbaje, who praised the Supreme Court for its swift hearing of the case, said the court had done its job as “a final arbiter of justice in the country.”

Agbaje added that he was rather interested in the legality of the judgment than its political implications.

He said, “I’m not carried away by the political implications of the judgment but simply interested in the legality and the constitutional issue arising from the judgment, which is to the effect that contract splitting may simply be a civil matter but it is unknown in the realms of criminal jurisprudence. You can’t fault that.

“You can only punish somebody for an offence that is known to law, and not otherwise. If the Lagos High Court has punished George for contract splitting and the Appeal Court agreed with it and the Supreme Court has dispassionately as the final arbiter looked at it, that is the end of the matter.”

Agbaje also warned the public to be wary of unconfirmed allegations, saying that a former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who alluded to executive interference in the judgment of the judiciary in a recent letter to President Goodluck Jonathan, lacked evidence.

He said, “The fact that Obasanjo alluded to political intervention in judicialism in Nigeria does not make his position 100 per cent correct. Such an aspersion as stated in Obasanjo’s thesis to Jonathan will be a dangerous development in the judicial system in Nigeria. If he has security report that the judiciary was hampered with by the presidency, fine, but he didn’t say that.

“If there is any proven case of executive interference in judicialism, then it will be sad commentary for all that this country has attained. But since nothing has been established, I won’t jump into anybody’s ship since Obasanjo didn’t substantiate it. Once a situation is reached in which Nigerians cannot go to court and get justice, then it means that justice apart from being blind, is now a respecter of persons in authority. But as far as I’m concerned, none of these has happened in George’s case.

“I, therefore, warn that political colouration, no matter how palatable they may be in the realms of politics, must never be allowed to crawl into the concept of judicialism. The moment politics is brought into adjudicatory process, then it is goodbye to justice delivery in Nigeria. If true, then it’s dangerous.”

Speaking on the issue in a phone interview with Saturday PUNCH, the Executive Chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Debo Adeniran, said it would be wrong to jump to conclusions on the matter, adding that the public should not “sacrifice rule of law for rule of emotions.”

He said, “As much as we desire that all corruption suspects should be diligently prosecuted, we don’t preempt any court of law as to what the judgment should be, except in cases where we discover that the course of justice has been manipulated. This case is that an allegation has been leveled against Bode George for contract splitting, as a matter of fact, we published a poster of him as a convict when he was convicted by the Lagos court. But now, the Supreme Court has said that he’s not guilty. We are really not happy if it’s true that he was maliciously prosecuted in the first instance.

A situation whereby we do not have the fact of the case the way the judges have it, until when we are sure that the travesty of justice , we can’t condemn those who delivered the judgment. However, it is different from the case of Yakubu Yusuf who confessed to have stolen more than N27bn pension fund and was given a pat on the wrist judgment. In that case, the judges can be overwhelmingly condemned, but in a situation where the judges claim that what they have before them is not known to law. We will not want anybody to sidetrack the rule of law for the rule of emotion.”

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