A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Joseph Nwobike, has been sent to jail for giving bribes to judicial officers in an attempt to pervert course of justice.
Nwobike was convicted on 12 counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice by Justice Raliat Adebiyi of the Ikeja Division of the Lagos State High Court.
According to the judge, the maximum penalty on each count of perverting justice is two years jail term, but used her discretion by being mild in her sentence.
“The defendant is hereby sentenced to one month of 30 days on each count for attempting to pervert the course of justice,” Mrs Adebiyi said.
According to the judge, the sentence is to send a strong warning to other lawyers, who are fond of bribing judges to pervert justice.
Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had charged the senior lawyer to court for transferring money into the bank account of a serving federal judge with the aim of perverting the course of justice.
According to the EFCC, Mr Nwobike paid N750,000 into the United Bank for Africa account of Mohammed Yunusa, a federal judge, and N250,000 to one Ronke Ogunleye, a registrar to another federal judge, Musa Kurya.
The lawyer pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Nigerian lawyers have been accused in the past of twisting the course of justice, and they mostly go unpunished.
Mr. Nwobike was conferred the title of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2010, after almost 20 years of legal practice.
He’s the first Nigerian lawyer to be so sentenced on account of perversion of justice, though some of his fellow senior lawyers – Godwin Obla and Rickey Tarfa – are facing currently facing similar charges.
The judges, who also allegedly received the gratification from the lawyers, are also facing criminal prosecution by the EFCC.
Mr Nwobike was first arraigned in March 2016 on a five count charge; but the charges were amended twice to 18 counts of offering gratification to a judicial officer, attempting to pervert the course of justice, and making false declaration to an EFCC officer
According to EFCC, “For instance, after the payment to Ms Ogunleye, the convict followed up with a text message from Mr Nwobike which read: “Tell Oga to discharge that order.”
The EFCC also said Mr Nwobike sent about a dozen other text messages to one Mr Jide of the Federal High Court directing that cases be assigned to specific judges, including Justices Yunusa, Kurya, and others.
The commission further accused the lawyer of making false declaration to an officer of the EFCC by naming Mr Yunusa as the only judge he had “assisted.”
The agency said he had made similar payments to James Agbadu-Fishim and Hyeladzira Nganjiwa, both judges of the Federal High Court.
The prosecution called seven witnesses before closing its case while the defence opened with only one witness – Mr Nwobike.
In his defence, Mr Nwobike said the money given to Mr Yunusa was for the dialysis treatment of the judge’s mother. He added that he had known the judge since his days as a counsel at the Federal Ministry of Justice.
He also said he had known Mr Nganjiwa since 1995 when he was a legal officer at the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, and that he had no case pending before the judge at the time he paid N300,000 to a company belonging to him.
The lawyer further admitted to giving N250,000 to Ms Ogunleye for his brother’s education abroad and that the text message ‘Tell Oga to discharge that order’ was sent to her in error.
He denied having any intention to influence cases or assign cases to judges.
In her judgment, Mrs Adebiyi said the prosecution failed to prove that the monies paid to the judges and to Ms Ogunleye were intended to influence justice.
She, however, said the ‘father and daughter’ relationship between the lawyer and Mr Nwobike is “unbecoming” of a senior member of the bar.
On the text messages the lawyer sent to Mr Jide naming particular judges he wanted to handle cases, the judge said the prosecution was able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they were intended to pervert the course of justice.
Out of the 11 text messages sent to Mr Jide, six of the cases were assigned to judges named by Mr Nwobike. The rest were not disclosed by the EFCC.
“Why did the defendant, a senior member of the bar with junior lawyers in his chamber be the one to send messages to a registrar?” the judge asked.
On the charge of false declaration to an EFCC officer, Mrs Adebiyi said the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Nwobike’s claim of assisting only Mr. Yunusa was untrue.
His case is a giant breakthrough in the Nigerian justice system, considering delay tactics and several allegations of corruption leveled against senior lawyers in a country that has been described as “fantastically corrupt” by a former British Prime minister.