Justice Sherifat Solebo of an Ikeja Special Offences Court on Monday ordered Justice Mohammed Yunusa, a suspended judge of the Federal High Court, Lagos, to face trial for alleged corruption.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Mr Yunusa’s defence counsel, Robert Clarke, had on March 9, in a preliminary objection, said the embattled judge had been “absolved of the corruption charges” by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
Citing the case of Federal Republic of Nigeria Vs Nganjiwa, Mr Clarke had said that for Mr Yunusa’s dismissal to be valid, President Muhammadu Buhari, had to give a recommendation for his suspension.
Justic Solebo, in the lengthy two-hour ruling, however, held a contrary view, referring to a Nov. 8, 2016 letter from the NJC to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) suspending the judge, noting that the NJC had already exercised disciplinary action against the embattled judge.
“I do not think that the defendant is a sitting judge having been suspended, I thereby agree that prosecution cannot be brought until the NJC exercises its disciplinary powers against a judicial officer.
“Going through Nganjiwa’s case there is no evidence that the NJC investigated Nganjiwa but in the case against the first defendant (Yunusa) the NJC on its 76th meeting investigated him.
“What is left to be done? The NJC has done what it is empowered to do, it is my decision that I am not bound by Nganjiwa Vs Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“It is my conclusion that the first defendant has to defend himself in the information filed by the prosecution.
“It is my decision that this court has jurisdiction on the charges filed against the first defendant in this case and the notice of preliminary objection is dismissed,” Justice Solebo ruled.
Reacting, Wahab Shittu, the prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, thanked the judge for her decision.
“I thank My Lord for this ruling, this is an uncommon display of judicial courage. This cannot be called judicial rascality, we commend this ruling,” he said.
The EFCC arraigned Mr Yunusa, formerly a judge of the Lagos Division of Federal High Court, alongside Esther Agbo, a staff of the law chambers of Rickey Tarfa on Jan. 17.
Mr Yunusa was arraigned on four counts bordering on attempted perversion of the course of justice and corruption by a public official, while Mrs Agbo was charged with offering gratification to a public official.
They, however, denied the charges.
According to the EFCC, Mr Yunusa had constant and confidential communications with Tarfa, who was handling three lawsuits marked FHC/L/CS/714/2015, FHC/L/CS/715/2015 and FHC/L/CS/716/2015 before him.
It also alleged that Mr Yunusa collected N1.5 million bribe from Mr Tarfa for the purpose of giving favourable rulings and judgments in the cases.
The judge is also being accused of receiving N750, 000 from Joseph Nwobike, between March 2015 and September, 2015, to get “favourable” judgment in some cases.
Mrs Agbo, the second defendant who is an employee of Rickey Tarfa and Co., on May 14, 2015 paid the N1.5 million allegedly from Tarfa into Yunusa’s UBA account no.1005055617.
The offences violated Sections 64(1), (a) and 97(3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011.
Earlier during Monday’s proceedings, Justice Solebo had in the ruling also dismissed the three grounds in a preliminary objection filed by John Odubela (SAN), Agbo’s defence counsel.
On March 9, Mr Odubela had also asked the court to dismiss the charges against Mrs Agbo on three grounds — the first is that the amended information was incompetent because it was signed by E. E Iheanacho an EFCC official, instead of the Attorney-General (AG) or an official from the AG’s office.
The other two grounds are that the National Industrial Court is the court with jurisdiction because the alleged crime was made in the course of Agbo’s employment and that the case against her is unknown to law.
Citing Section 174 of the Constitution, Justice Solebo said, “the EFCC does not require a fiat or the consent of the A-G to prosecute as contained in Section 43 of the EFCC Act.
“General prosecutory power has been delegated by the AG to the EFCC.
“It is my modest view as presented that the amended charge filed by the applicant is competent and validly signed by E. E Iheanacho and this court is competent to adjudicate same,” Solebo said.
On the issue of jurisdiction the judge said, “it is my modest opinion that for criminal matters exclusive jurisdiction is not conferred on the National Industrial Court according to Section 254(C)(5) of the Constitution.
“I, therefore, hold that this court has concurrent jurisdiction with the National Industrial Court to hear criminal matters that arise in the course of employment,” she said.
Justice Solebo had in the ruling noted that the offence in which Mra Agbo was charged under Section 64(1)(a) of the Criminal Law of Lagos was known to law.
“It is my opinion that the amended information is validly issued, I do not find merit in the objection and same is held in favour of the applicant.”
Justice Solebo adjourned the case until June 11, June 13 and June 14 for trial.