S’Court upholds jail term for ex-BPE DG, Okoh

The Supreme Court on Friday affirmed the decisions of the lower courts which imprisoned the immediate-past Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises, Alexander Okoh, for contempt of court.

In addition, the apex court slammed a fine of N10m on Okoh who was sacked by President Bola Tinubu on January 8, 2024.

The BPE and Okoh appealed to the highest court to overturn the lower court’s decisions that led to his imprisonment for refusing to grant ownership of the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria to BFIG Group Corporation.

In 2004, the BPE advertised an application of interest for bidders for the privatisation of the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria.

At the end of the exercise, BFIG won the bid and BPE notified the company with a letter dated June 17, 2006.

Nevertheless, the BPE nullified the bid result, which led to a long legal dispute.

BFIG’s case was dismissed at the lower courts but the Supreme Court allowed the appeal in 2012.

The apex court ordered the BPE to rescind its decision to cancel the bid and hand over the company to BFIG but the BPE refused.

In April 2019, BFIG initiated contempt proceedings against the BPE and Okoh.

The court then ordered that Okoh be remanded in prison for at least 30 days until he purged himself of the continued disobedience of the court and further contemptuous conduct.

In December 2019, BPE prayed for a stay of execution of the committal order against Okoh, the Appeal Court in a unanimous ruling affirmed the Abuja Federal High Court order.

Not satisfied with the judgment, the BPE approached the apex court for redress.

Reading the lead judgment on Friday, Justice Tijani Abubakar resolved all the issues against the appellants.

Abubakar tongue-lashed the BPE and Okoh for disobeying several orders issued on the matter, describing their actions as “scandalously shameful and disgraceful.”

He said, “The above application leaves no one in doubt that the appellant disobeyed the other of this court, especially the order that restrained the appellants or their agents from reselling, negotiating, or transferring the company. This is a flagrant disobedience to the order of this court.

“Court orders are meant to be obeyed and must be obeyed. The appellants treated the order of this court with total disdain and disrespect. The conduct of the appellants is scandalously shameful and disgraceful.

“Agencies of government must respect the law. Nobody in this country is above the law. The appellants are not to choose the order of the court to obey or not. For this reason, I resolve the issues against the appellants.

“This appeal deserves to be dismissed and it is thereby dismissed. The judgment of the appeal court is affirmed. The cost of N10m is awarded against the appellants. The cost is to be paid personally by the second appellant (Okoh) in addition to going to prison.”

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