The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Tuesday confronted embattled Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dr. Joseph Nwobike, with various text messages he allegedly sent to court officials to illegally influence court cases he was handling.
Nwobike is being tried by the EFCC on 11 counts bordering on perverting the course of justice and offering gratification to public officials.
The judges involved in the alleged gratification scam are Justice H. A. Nganjiwa and Justice Musa Kurya, all of the Federal High Court, Lagos and Justice Agbadu Fishim of the National Industrial Court.
The EFCC claimed that Nwobike engaged in sending illegal text messages to four registrars of the Federal High Court in a bid to unduly influence his cases being heard by the judges.
Nwobike, however, denied all the charges.
While being led in evidence by his counsel, Mr. Olawale Akoni (SAN), Nwobike had told the court that the money he allegedly gave to the judges was not gratification but to assist them.
He had noted that the judges were old friends who he had been acquainted with while in the university which was long before they were appointed as judges. A compact disc (Exhibit P21) allegedly containing text messages from the SAN’s seized mobile phone (Exhibit P18) was projected on a screen during the cross-examination of Nwobike at his ongoing trial at an Ikeja High Court.
During cross-examination, the EFCC counsel, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, accused Nwobike of sending text messages to one Mr. Baruwa, a clerk of the Federal High Court, Lagos. He claimed that Nwobike was aware that Baruwa worked with one Mr. Jide, a Deputy Registrar of the court. Responding, Nwobike said,
“I know Mr. Baruwa; he is a clerk of the Federal High Court. I do not know he works with Mr. Jide; he told me that his office is directly opposite Mr. Jide’s office.
“I have had course to send messages to Mr. Baruwa in the course of my duties just like any other legal practitioner,” Nwobike said.
Disputing Nwobike’s claims, Oyedepo maintained that Nwobike was aware that the clerk shared an office with the Deputy Chief Registrar.
Confronting the SAN further, Oyedepo showed him text messages in which details of lawsuits were allegedly sent by Nwobike to Baruwa in a bid to assign the cases to some specific judges.
“On page 3984 of exhibit P21, there was a text from you to Mr. Jide, in which you mentioned a case, AMCON V Bizel Finance and Investment Ltd. At 12.59pm on Sep. 4, 2015, you forwarded the suit details of First Bank V O.P.I International Ltd, 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.
“On November 27, 2015, at 10.46am, 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.
“In the suit between Skye Bank Plc and Brokeyard Marine Oil and Gas Services Ltd, you forwarded the suit details to Mr. Jide as shown on the screen. “As at the time you forwarded the suit details to Mr. Jide, Brokeyard Marine Oil and Gas Services Ltd were under investigation by the EFCC. “The Kurya J you mentioned in that text message is Hon. Justice Kurya of the Federal High Court,” the prosecutor said.
Denying Oyedepo’s accusations, Nwobike said “The text messages I sent were just 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,” Nwobike said.
Oyedepo accused the SAN of obstructing the prosecution of Dr. Femi Thomas, a client of Nwobike who was allegedly caught at the Muritala International Airport with $200m dollars.
“On Nov. 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 Saidu and as at 1.23pm on the day you sent the text, this matter was not assigned to any judge.
“Are you aware, as a SAN, that it is an offence not to declare an amount exceeding $10,000? Are you aware that the amount your client travelled with was $200m?
“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.
“You also did not file any process for the execution of the order you bought from Hon. Justice Yinusa.
“On Nov. 9, 2015, Mr. Felix Deckon, your litigation officer, forwarded a text message to Mr. Jide.
“The text contained details of the charge proffered against your client by the EFFC,” Oyedepo said.
“I will not agree with you that in a desperate bid to stop the EFCC, I filed the fundamental rights action.
“The money in question was $2.2m and not $200m and my client was asking for the return of the $2.2m seized from his agent at the airport.
“I forwarded details of this suit to Mr. Jide for confirmation purposes,” Nwobike claimed.
Showing the SAN the documents on the screen in the courtroom, Oyedepo said “At 9.38am on November 5, 2015, you received and read a text from Mr. Baruwa.
“The text read ‘good morning Sir, no charges have been filed against your clients by the EFCC…’
“Your reply was ‘Thanks I am grateful.’
“These instructions you gave to Mr. Baruwa, were they for free, have you had course to give him money through your juniors, money transfer to him in the exercise of his duties?”
Responding, Nwobike said “No I have not given him any money.”
The EFCC prosecutor, disputing the claim, asked Nwobike if he knew any person called Zainab Kilani, the SAN answered in the affirmative, saying that she was a junior in his law chambers.
“You received and read a text from Mr. Baruwa saying ‘Thank you Sir, Kilani gave me your special package.
“On June 3, 2015 at 10.10am, 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 Jan. 17, 2011 you transferred N50,000 to Mr Baruwa,” Oyedepo said.
Accusing the SAN further of obstructing justice, Oyedepo said Nwobike received photocopies of the EFCC charges that were not yet filed in court.
“Mr. Baruwa sent a text message acknowledging handing over the charges to Mr. Felix Deckon, your litigation officer.
“A charge that is not filed was given to you by your litigation officer without you applying for a certified true copy,” Oyedepo said.
Denying the accusations, Nwobike said, “I did not apply for a certified true copy and I did not receive photocopy of the charge.
“I only received the charged when it was served on my clients.”
Justice Raliat Adebiyi adjourned the case till July 12 for continuation of trial.