A Lagos High Court in Igbosere Wednesday adjourned till May 30, to find a convenient courtroom to continue the ‘judge bribery’ trial of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr Rickey Tarfa.
Justice Adedayo Akintoye made the decision after being informed that Tarfa, who is recuperating from surgery, is – even on a wheelchair – unable to climb the staircase leading to her courtroom at the single-storey foyer of the high court complex.
The judge reasoned with prosecution counsel, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and defence counsel Mr Abiodun Owonikoko SAN, that Tarfa might be able to access a courtroom with minimal entry challenges, such as one on the ground floor.
Tarfa is standing trial on a 26-count charge of offering gratification to two judges of the Federal High Court – Justices Hyeladzira Nganjiwa and Mohammed Yunusa, as well as justice perversion.
The case has stalled since January 21, when Tarfa obtained leave of court to travel abroad for medical attention.
Upon his return, the defendant was unable to move into the courtroom on March 11 and 19, because, according to his counsel, he had difficulty moving or sitting for long.
At the commencement of proceedings yesterday, Tarfa was, yet again, not in the courtroom.
Owonikoko informed the judge that the defendant was in his car downstairs but could not enter the courtroom due to the severity of his condition.
He reminded the court that on March 19, he filed a medical recommendation from Tarfa’s doctors which stated that he required a minimum of three months medical leave to enable him recuperate.
Owonikoko suggested that but for the trial, the defendant would have been confined to a bed.
But Oyedepo observed that for the defendant to make the trip to court, there was a presumption that he could attend the trial.
He lamented that the situation was foisting a delay on the proceedings.
“If the defendant can manage himself to get here, I don’t think it will be out of place for him to come into the courtroom.
“I want to plead with the defence that they should do the needful for him to appear in court. His movement from the car to this place should not be impossible,” Oyedepo said.
Following the arguments, Justice Akintoye ordered the court registrar, Oyedepo and Owonikoko to go and verify that Tarfa was actually outside.
They did and upon their return, Oyedepo confirmed that they found Tarfa seated in the back seat of a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV).
He said: “One part of his leg is about swollen, but he was seated. If it’s possible to come up, if we can get another venue that is downstairs, it might be possible to continue the trial.”
But Owonikoko informed the judge that court access was not the primary problem.
“He (Tarfa) can’t sit for too long, he has to be lying for the wound to heal properly,” the Silk said.
Ruling, Justice Adedayo said: “We’ll look for a court that is downstairs and check if they can accommodate us. We’ll take two weeks (a two-week adjournment) during which we’ll look for a venue. If we find, the registrar will communicate a venue and time to the parties and we’ll come for trial.”
She adjourned further proceedings till May 31.
Tarfa was arraigned by the EFCC on March 9, 2016 and subsequently re-arraigned on November 16, 2016 on an amended charge.
The anti-graft agency claimed that between June 27, 2012 and January 8, 2016, Tarfa paid a total of N5.3 million in several tranches into Justice Nganjiwa’s account.
He was also accused of paying into Justice Yunusa’s account, N800,000 in three tranches between February 9 and November 30, 2015.
The SAN was equally accused of age falsification.
Tarfa pleaded not guilty and was granted bail on self-recognizance.
The EFCC has since closed its case, following which Tarfa opened his defence after the court dismissed his no-case submission.