The Supreme Court has upheld the decisions of lower courts regarding the imprisonment of Alexander Okoh, the former Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), for contempt of court. The apex court, on Friday, also affirmed a fine of N10 million imposed on Okoh, who was dismissed by President Bola Tinubu on January 8, 2024.
Okoh and the BPE had appealed to the highest court to overturn lower court decisions that led to his imprisonment. The case originated from Okoh’s refusal to grant ownership of the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria to BFIG Group Corporation.
In 2004, the BPE initiated a bid for the privatization of the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria, and BFIG won the bid. However, the BPE nullified the bid result, leading to a protracted legal dispute.
Although BFIG’s case was initially dismissed in lower courts, the Supreme Court allowed the appeal in 2012. The apex court directed the BPE to reverse its decision to cancel the bid and transfer the company to BFIG. Despite the court’s order, the BPE refused to comply.
In April 2019, BFIG initiated contempt proceedings against the BPE and Okoh. Consequently, the court ordered Okoh’s imprisonment for at least 30 days until he purged himself of the continued disobedience of the court and further contemptuous conduct.
In December 2019, the BPE sought a stay of execution of the committal order against Okoh, but the Appeal Court affirmed the Abuja Federal High Court order in a unanimous ruling.
Unhappy with the judgment, the BPE took the case to the Supreme Court for redress.
Justice Tijani Abubakar, reading the lead judgment on Friday, criticized the BPE and Okoh for disobeying several court orders, labeling their actions as “scandalously shameful and disgraceful.” He emphasized the importance of respecting court orders, stating that the appellants treated the court’s orders with disdain. Justice Abubakar dismissed the appeal, affirmed the judgment of the appeal court, and imposed a cost of N10 million on the appellants. The cost is to be paid personally by Okoh, in addition to serving the prison sentence.