The Lagos State High Court in Ikeja has fixed April 30, 2018, to deliver judgment in the case of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Joseph Nwobike, who was accused of offering gratification of to judges.
Justice Raliat Adebiyi fixed the date on Thursday after both the prosecution and the defense had adopted their final written addresses.
Nwobike was first arraigned on five charges on March 9, 2016.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which is prosecuting him, later amended the charges on two different occasions, each time leading to the re-arraignment of the SAN.
The last amendment to the charges saw Nwobike re-arraigned on Thursday, after which the lawyers canvassed their final arguments.
In the charges, EFCC claimed that Nwobike offered N750,000 and N300,000 gratifications to Justices Mohammed Yunusa and Hyeladzira Nganjiwa, respectively. Both judges are Federal High Court judges.
The EFCC claimed that Nwobike offered them the money to allegedly perverting the course of justice.
Counsel for the EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, claimed that Nwobike acted contrary to Section 97 (3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State No. 11, 2011. But the senior lawyer pleaded not guilty.
Canvassing final arguments on Thursday, Nwobike’s lead counsel, Mr. Wale Akoni (SAN), urged the court to discharge and acquit his client, contending that the EFCC failed to substantiate its allegations against him.
“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 favor of the defendant,” Akoni said.
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.
He said in the EFCC’s desperation, it had amended the charges on three occasions after seeing that its case was going nowhere.
“As of today, they have withdrawn all the initial counts after destroying the man’s integrity; they withdrew the charges with no consequences,” Akoni fumed.
He said the EFCC’s case was based on mere suspicion or speculation, maintaining that “no matter how sweet or interesting it (speculation) may sound, speculation cannot amount to proof.”
Akoni said contrary to the claim by the EFCC, the N750,000 that Nwobike gave to Justice Yunusa was not a bribe but “for the specific purpose of helping the (sick) mother of the gentleman.”
He said all the judgments which the EFCC claimed that Nwosu paid Justice Yunusa to give in his favor were all upheld by the Court of Appeal.
He also wondered why the EFCC failed to call the judges and court officials that Nwobike allegedly bribed to come and testify in court, despite interrogating all of them.
“Where a vital witness is not called, Your Lordship is entitled to infer that if that witness had been called, the evidence to be elicited from the witness would be against them."
“They knew that if they called Justice (Musa) Kurya, the evidence would go against them. Who could be more vital than Jide (court official)? But they did not call him. Justice Fishim was interviewed but he wasn’t called as a witness,” Akoni contended.
He urged Justice Adebiyi to dismiss the charges and set Nwobike free. But the EFCC prosecutor, Oyedepo, countered him, urging the court to convict Nwobike.
“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 offense 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 defense that the Court of Appeal upheld Justice Yunusa’s judgments in the cases.
Oyedepo said Akoni turned the law on its head with the arguments that judges can receive monetary gifts.
“The only gifts that are allowed are complimentary gifts – cards, books,” he said.
He said it was implausible that the EFCC would call the judges whom Nwobike allegedly bribed as witnesses since they were also complicit.
“As it stands today in our administration of criminal justice system, both the giver and the receiver of gratification are suspects; so, if that is taken, the evidence of Justice Yunusa, who is the recipient of the gratification, a co-accused, cannot incriminate another accused; his evidence goes to no issue,” he said.
He noted that already those judges had been separately charged in relation to the allegations.
He urged the judge to apply full probative value to all the evidence given by the prosecution and convict Nwobike accordingly.
After hearing the parties out, Justice Adebiyi adjourned till April 30, 2018, for judgment.