A senior advocate, Joseph Nwobike, who is standing trial on charges of offering gratification to some judges, told an Ikeja High Court why he gave money to the judges on Monday.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that Mr. Nwobike is being tried by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on an 11-count charge bordering on perverting the course of justice and offering gratification to public officials.
The anti-graft agency alleged that Mr. Nwobike offered gratifications to some judges of the Federal High Court and the National Industrial Court to influence them to act contrary to their official capacities.
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The EFCC also claimed that Mr. Nwobike engaged in sending illegal text messages with four registrars of the Federal High Court in a bid to unduly influence his cases being tried by the judges.
Mr. Nwobike, however, denied giving gratification to Justice Samson Uwaifo, a retired justice of the Supreme Court while being led in evidence by his lawyer, Olawale Akoni.
According to Mr. Nwobike, “I don’t know retired Justice Samson Uwaifo of the Supreme Court personally, long after Justice Uwaifo retired, we had a client who had a dispute with the National Examinations Council (NECO).
“The parties went to court and the court appointed Hon. Justice Uwaifo as the sole arbitrator to the dispute.
“As it is customary in arbitration, we and the other party were asked to provide money for the preliminary stages of the arbitration.
“We sent some money to him and one Mr Seun Ibitoye, a registrar, to kick-off the preliminary stages of the arbitration.
“My Lord, Justice Uwaifo had retired about eight or nine years before he was contracted to do the arbitration.
“We initially purchased a bank draft for N1.5 million in the name of Justice Uwaifo as the arbitrator, but we were later advised to purchase it in the name of the registrar,” Mr. Nwobike said.
He also denied giving false information to the anti-graft agency by saying that the only judicial officer he had ever helped was Justice Mohammed Yinusa.
He said: “I did not give false information to the EFCC and there was no intention on my part to give false information to the EFCC or their officials.
“In my statement to the EFCC, I stated that I gave Justice H.A Ngajiwa money for the purchase of books for his library.
“I wrote in my statement that I gave N300,000 to Justice Ngajiwa and N750,000 to Justice Yinusa and I stated their purposes.”
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On the alleged gratification he gave to Justice James Agbadu-Fishim, the SAN said the money was given as a form of assistance to a friend.
He said: “Justice Fishim and I became friends when we were post-graduate students of the University of Lagos, he left for the University of Abuja.
“I did not see him until after a while and it took a long time before I got to know that he had been appointed a judge of the National Industrial Court.
“Justice Fishim told me that his guardian who trained him died and as it is customary among friends, I made my contributions toward the burial.
“He told me some time later that his father died and I contributed some money for him as it is customary among friends.
“Some time later, he told me that he had eye problems and he needed to go for eye surgery and that I should pray for him.
“I gave him some money as it is customary among friend to help each other.”
Mr. Nwobike told the court that he was innocent of the allegations of the EFCC.
“I have contributed to the law, I have no other job but litigation and practice. I have a lot of respect for the law and I have been very generous to people.
“I am an employer of lawyers and I don’t pervert the course of justice and I will never pervert the course of justice,” he said.
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Under cross-examination, Rotimi Oyedepo, counsel to the EFCC, confronted Nwobike with a text message he allegedly sent to a registrar of the Federal High Court to unduly influence one of the cases he was handling.
“You sent this text to one Mr. Jide of the Federal High Court, the text reads: ours should go to Justice Yinusa or Justice Aneke.
“The `ours’ in the text message was it a case that you filed?” Mr. Nwobike said: “I can’t say.”
Mr. Oyedepo alleged that the suit Mr. Nwobike allegedly tried to unduly influence was between AMCON V Delta Steel Company Ltd with suit no FHC/L/CS/127/2015.
“I put it to you then what you were seeking Jide to do was in not in exercise of his judicial function,” Mr. Oyedepo said.
Replying, Mr. Nwobike said: “Jide has no judicial function and the text was conversational as Jide has no power to assign cases.
“Mr Felix Deckon is our Senior Litigation Clerk, upon filing of the AMCON case, he sent the particulars of the case to me to
confirm which of the judges did the earlier one.
“Felix being my subordinate, speaks to me before sending texts and he called me on another line after sending that particular text.”
Mr. Oyedepo, however, disputed Nwobike’s claims about the timing of the text messages and asked: “Are you aware that your phones record your phone logs? Will you be surprised that Felix did not call you before sending the text?
“You received a text from Felix at 12.53 p.m. on February 12, 2015; at 12.56 p.m. you forwarded the particulars of the case to Mr. Jide of the Federal High Court.
“By 1.07 p.m. you sent a text message to Mr. Jide which reads: “The one Aribisala filed is before Justice Idris.’’
“You immediately forwarded the text message to him saying, “ours should go before Justice Yinusa or Justice Aneke, we need to do so today please,” Oyedepo said.
Justice Raliatu Adebiyi adjourned the case until July 4 for continuation of trial.