Justice Raliat Adebiyi of the Lagos State High Court Sitting in the Ikeja division, yesterday convicted and sentenced a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dr. Joseph Nwobike to 30 days imprisonment for offering bribes to influence court judgment
Justice Adebiyi convicted the senior lawyer on 12 of the 18 count charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice and offering gratification to a public official brought against him by the the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The court also held that Nwobike deliberately attempted to pervert the cause of justice by sending text message to a judicial official with instruction to influence the assignment of several cases to Justice Yunusa.
The court upheld the argument of the EFCC that Nwobike at several occasions sent text messages to one Jide, a Federal High Court official with instruction to ensure certain case he filed should be assigned to a specific judge.
The anti-graft agency had accused Nwobike of offering gratifications to some judges of the Federal High Court and the National Industrial Court to influence them to act contrary to their official capacities.
The commission had also alleged that the senior lawyer engaged in sending illegal text messages to four registrars of the Federal High Court in a bid to unduly influence his cases being tried by the judges.
Nwobike had pleaded not guilty to the 18-count charges.
His lawyer, Wale Akoni (SAN) had during the proceedings urged the court to discharge and acquit his client, contending that the EFCC failed to substantiate its allegations against him.
He said, “Our contention is that the prosecution has not been able to produce any cogent or reliable evidence proving the essential ingredient of the charges – proving beyond reasonable doubts – and we urge Your Lordship that where there is any doubt at all, that doubt should be resolved in favour of the defendant.”
Akoni, who argued that there was no law that makes giving gifts to judges a crime, accused the EFCC of being desperate to nail his client at all costs.
But the anti-graft agency’s counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, countered him, urging the court to convict Nwobike.
Oyedepo said, “Could it be said that in line with the evidence of PW1 to PW7, the exhibits that we have tendered and the evidence elicited from the defendant during cross-examination, the defendant did not commit the offence he was charged with?” Oyedepo queried.
He noted that Nwobike did not deny giving N750,000 to Justice Yunusa when he had cases before the judge, adding that it was no defence that the Court of Appeal upheld Justice Yunusa’s judgments in the cases.
In his judgment, Justice Adebiyi held that the EFCC did not present concrete evidence to prove the more serious offence of perversion of justice, but she stated that the fact that the 6 out of the 10 cases which Nwobike requested to be assigned, were successfully assigned to the judge he wanted, showed a deliberate attempt to pervert the cause of justice.
”It is curious that 6 out of the 10 cases filed were assigned as suggested by the defendant to Jide inspite of the fact the he is not an assigning authority.
“In proving the ingredient of attempt to pervert justice, act must be immediately connected to an attempt. From the evidence before me, it is clear that the defendant attempted ti pervert the cause of justice. He is accordingly convicted ,” she held.
On the allegation of offering gratification to Justice Yunusa and other judges with the aim of influencing his the outcome of his cases, the judge held that EFCC failed to prove that the N750,000 given to Justice Yunusa actually influenced any case before the judge.
The judge also held that the EFCC failed to prove the allegation that the defendant gave false information to its official during the cause of their invesigation.
Justice noted that Nwobike conviction should send a signal to others members of the bar and the general public of the seriousness of the government to fight corruption.
She observed that Nwobike was obviously motivated by the zeal for success and the will to succeed at all cost.
In considering the plea for leniency by Nwobike’s lawyer, Wale Akoni, SAN, Justice Adebiyi stated that Nwobike being a senior advocate has brought shame to the legal profession.
She however stated that in sentencing the defendant, the court considered his no previous criminal record, his comportment in court and other factors in reducing the 2 years prescribed jail term to 30 days in prison.
Shortly after his conviction, Nwobike filed a notice of appeal against the judgment.
In a notice of appeal filed by his lawyer, Wale Akoni (SAN), the senior lawyer contended amongst other things that the allegation of attempting to pervert the cause of justice for which he was convicted was not proved by the EFCC.
The appeal also insists that the judgment was unreasonable and unwarranted.
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