The prosecutor for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Rotimi Oyedepo, in a cross examination session at the Lagos State High Court in Ikeja, grilled Joseph Nwobike on charges of perversion of the course of justice and unlawful gratification of public officials.
Mr. Nwobike, who took the witness stand to give testimony in his own criminal trial on Tuesday, answered a series of questions that the prosecution asked to prove that the embattled senior advocate gratified justices and other court clerical staff of the Federal High Court.
The EFCC also claimed that Mr. Nwobike 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.
Mr. Nwobike, however, denied all the allegations.
The prosecutor asked the senior lawyer if he had forwarded some names to one Mr. Baruwa, a clerk of the Federal High Court, to monitor in the event that the commission preferred charges or instituted any action against them.
Mr. Nwobike denied ever engaging the clerk in such a manner.
To further prove the charges, Mr. Oyedepo showed the court an exchange of SMS texts between Mr. Baruwa and Mr. Nwobike.
In one of the messages sent by Mr. Baruwa, he acknowledged receiving the “golden handshake” of the lawyer and prayed for “more grease on his elbow.”
“You received and read a text from Mr. Baruwa saying, ‘Thank you sir, Kelani gave me your special package.’ On June 3, 2015 at 10:10 a.m., you received a text from Mr. Baruwa saying ‘Good morning sir, I just got a golden handshake from Mr. Felix, sir.’ Exhibit D2 is a statement of account from your law chambers. On January 17, 2011 you transferred N50,000 to Mr. Baruwa,” Mr. Oyedepo said.
The counsel for the EFCC also informed the court that Mr. Nwobike sent text messages to a deputy registrar of the Federal High Court, one Mr. Jide, to influence the assignment of his cases to his preferred judges.
“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. Oyedepo asked, to which Mr. Nwobike responded by saying, “I can’t say.”
Mr. Oyedepo also claimed that the suit MR. Nwobike allegedly tried to influence was between AMCON and Delta Steel Company Ltd with suit no. FHC/L/CS/127/2015.
“At 12:59 p.m. on September 4, 2015, you forwarded the suit details of First Bank v. O.P.I International Ltd, and you mentioned that the suits should be assigned to Justice Buba. As at September 4, 2015 when you sent that text message, the matter was not yet assigned to any judge,” Mr. Oyedepo said.
“On November 27, 2015, at 10:46 a.m., you sent a text message to Mr. Jide giving details of Godwin Ewekolu v. Inspector General of Police. When the text was forwarded, Justice Kurya was a judge of the Federal High Court and you impressed it on Jide that it was very urgent that the case be assigned to him.”
Mr. Oyedepo also said in the suit between Skye Bank Plc and Brokeyard Marine Oil and Gas Services Ltd, the embattled lawyer forwarded the suit details to Mr. Jide when the said oil company was under the investigation of the commission.
Mr. Nwobike denied the allegation, saying the messages were “confirmation text messages.”
“On whether I knew that Brokeyard Marine Oil and Gas Services were under investigation by the EFCC, I don’t know because I don’t work for the EFCC,” he added.
The prosecution accused the senior advocate of obstructing the prosecution of one Femi Thomas, a client of Mr. Nwobike, who was allegedly caught at the Murtala International Airport with $200 million.
The EFCC lawyer said, “On November 11, 2015, you sent a message to Mr. Jide of the Federal High Court about a criminal charge filed against your client, Dr. Femi Thomas, asking that it should be assigned to Justice Seidu. This suit was eventually assigned to Justice Seidu and as at 1:23 p.m. on the day you sent the text, this matter was not assigned to any judge.
“Are you aware, as a senior advocate of Nigeria, that it is an offense not to declare an amount exceeding $10,000? Are you aware that the amount your client was traveling with was $200 million?”
The senior lawyer said he was not aware that it was crime.
“In a desperate bid to prevent the EFCC from continuing the investigation, you instituted a fundamental rights action (exhibit P23). You forwarded details of this suit in a text to Mr. Jide and in the usual manner, you mentioned Justice Yinusa to handle the case. Upon instituting this suit, the EFCC appeared before Justice Yinusa and the matter was resolved by his lordship,” the prosecution claimed.
The prosecution also strived to prove, through a number of questions, that Mr. Nwobike influenced the assigning of his cases to Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia.
Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia, who is currently answering charges of unlawful enrichment at the same court but before Justice Hakeem Oshodi, was indicted in the course of the cross examination.
Mr. Nwobike was also accused of interfering in a case involving Mrs. Beauty Akpobolokemi, the wife of Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi, the former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), who is standing trial over alleged fraud.
“On November 9, 2015, you received and read a message from Mr. Baruwa of the Federal High Court forwarding the details of a case between Mrs. Beauty Akpobolokemi and the EFCC. The text informed you that the case had been assigned to Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia and you filed a suit against the EFCC,” the prosecutor said.
He accused the lawyer of filing the suit against the EFCC in the middle of an EFCC investigation into Mr. Akpobolokemi.
“Prior to November 9, 2015, you forwarded a text to Mr. Jide where the name of Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia was mentioned. At 8:50 a.m. on that day, you sent a text to Mr. Baruwa saying, ‘Okay, please take the file there now.’ At 5:32 p.m., you forwarded the particulars of the case to Jide and this matter was eventually assigned to Justice Ajumogobia,” Mr. Oyedepo said.
“I don’t know when the case of Beauty Akpobolokemi v. the EFCC was assigned. It’s not correct that I sent some names to Baruwa to monitor in case the EFCC files some charges,” Mr. Nwobike responded.
Justice H.A. Ngajiwa was also mentioned. Other judges mentioned are Justices Samson Uwaifo, Justice Yinusa, and Justice Agbadu Fishim.
On July 3, while being led in evidence by his defense counsel, Mr. Olawale Akoni (SAN), Mr. Nwobike told the court that the money he allegedly gave to the judges as gratification was assistance.
He had noted that the judges were old friends with whom he had been acquainted while in university, long before they were assigned as judges.
Mr. Nwobike is being tried by the EFCC on an 11-count charge bordering on perverting the course of justice and offering gratification to public officials.
Justice Raliatu Adebiyi adjourned the case to 10:30 a.m. on July 12 for continuation of trial.