An Ikeja High Court on Monday convicted Dr Joseph Nwobike, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
Justice Raliatu Adebiyi, in a lenghty four-hour judgment, found the embattled senior lawyer guilty of counts three to 17 of the 18-count charge slammed on him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Adebiyi, however, acquitted him of counts one, two, four, six and 18.
In her judgment, she found the behaviour of Nwobike of “unbecoming of a senior member of the bar”.
“The evidence against the defendant is damning, the court finds that the behaviour of the defendant is unbecoming.
“Why does the defendant, a senior member of the bar with juniors and other lawyers have the need to personally liaise with court registrars?
“The court finds that the prosecution was able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant perverted the course of justice by sending text messages to court registrars,” Adebiyi said.
After the judgment was read, Mr Olawale Akoni (SAN), Nwobike’s lawyer, in his allocutus asked the court to temper justice with mercy.
“The fact that the defendant is a first-time offender who has never had any brush with the law before until now.
“He is a senior member of the bar who has conducted himself appropriately, he has run a law firm which has quite a number of practitioners, he is a family man with aged parents and children.
“Your Lordship, we listened to your judgment carefully and ask that a non-custodial sentence be appropriate.
“He has a lot to offer and I pray that Your Lordship considers this in deciding the nature of punishment to give.
“I pray the court tempers justice with mercy and impose a very heavy slap on the wrist,” Akoni pleaded.
Responding, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, the EFCC Prosecutor, asked for the appropriate sentence for the SAN.
“Section 97 (3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011, says that he will be liable for two years imprisonment.
“Ordering Your Lord for a non-custodial sentence will amount to turning the law upside down.
“The sentence should serve as a deterrent to young lawyers like myself, SANs and other Senior members of the bar, ” he said.
At the time of filing this report, Justice Adebiyi had risen to write the sentence.
According to Oyedepo, the EFCC prosecutor, Nwobike had on March 19, 2015 given the sum of N750,000 to Justice Yunusa and also on Dec. 15, 2014 given N250,000 to Helen Ogunleye, a Senior Executive Officer of the Federal High Court, Lagos.
The anti-graft agency alleged that on March 4, 2014, Nwobike instructed Ogunleye (Justice Kurya’s registrar) to prevail on Justice Kurya to discharge a court order and on Dec. 15, 2014, he allegedly gave Ogunleye an envelope containing cash to give the judge.
It was also alleged that on March 4, 2014, Nwobike sent a text message to Ogunleye, saying “let Oga discharge that order.”
It is alleged by the EFCC that the instruction was acted upon with Ogunleye replying, “I‘ve told Oga the last time you called me that you are in Abuja sir, and he said there should be a cogent from you before he can do that sir. Just see him after court session sir, this is confidential sir, pls.”
The EFCC alleged that the embattled senior advocate exchanged text messages with some judges of the Federal High Court, Lagos.
Nwobike had on Nov. 27, 2015 sent a text message “FHC/L/CS/1799/15 between Godwin Nwekoyo and Inspector General of Police” to Justice Musa Kurya.
On Oct. 8, 2015, Nwobike had allegedly suggested in a text the assignment of Suit No. FHC/L/CS/1533/2015 between Mieka Dive Ltd and 3 Ors V EFCC to Justice Kurya.
The EFCC said on Sep. 23, 2015 Nwobike sent a text containing Suit No. FHC/L/CS/1471 between Mr Simon Adohmene and the EFCC to Justice Yunusa.
It is also alleged that the SAN sent a text to Justice Yunusa for the assignment to his court of Dr Olufemi Thomas Vs The EFCC with suit no. FHC/L/CS/1445/2015.
On June 4, 2015 Nwobike in the nee charges allegedly suggested by text that Suit No. FHC/L/CS/794/2015 between Transnational Corporation and Attorney General of the Federation be assigned to either justices Yunusa or Saidu.
On Feb. 12, 2015 Nwobike had suggested in a text message that Suit No. FHC/L/CS/127/2015 between AMCON and Delta Steel Company Ltd be assigned to either Justices Yunusa or Aneke.
The EFCC also in the charges alleged that Nwobike on a text message to Mr Jide a Federal High Court Assistant Registrar ordered that the case Odefa Obasi Odefa and the Security Exchange Commission (SEC) with Suit No. FHC/L/CS/13/2015 be assigned to either Justices Yunusa or Aneke.
On Oct. 8, 2014 Nwobike allegedly sent a text to Mr Jide with these words “Combase Energy Ltd and Anor Vs UBA Plz and Ors. FHC/L/CS/1492/2014, Saidu thanks, sorry Kurya, he said he will start sitting next week, thanks.”
On Sep. 22, 2014, the SAN allegedly sent to Mr Jide “Good afternoon sir, Wafa and Anor Vs Diamond Bank and two others, FHC/L/CS/1395/14, Kurya, Thanks so much.”
On June 30, 2014 Nwobike allegedly sent a text message to Mr Jide saying, “FHC/L/CS/1009/14, Lantern Olaoluwa and Federal Ministry of Power and Steel, Yunusa J, important Sir, please help me with this one, it had urgency, I will show tomorrow, goodnight my Lord.”
On March 13, 2014 Nwobike is alleged to have sent Mr Jide a text message stating “Suit No: FHC/L/CS/347/14 between Professor Emmanuel Adegbeyeni and six others and Mr Biodun Agbaje and 15 others Yunusa.”
The anti-graft agency also alleged that on Feb. 26, 2016, Nwobike made a statement to Mr Zakari Usman, an official of the EFCC.
The SAN allegedly told the EFCC investigator: “The only judicial officer that I had assisted financially is Justice Yunusa of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos.”
The offences, according to the prosecution, beached Sections 39 (2), 64 (1) and 97 (3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011. (NAN)