A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dr Joseph Nwobidike, is to spend the next 30 days behind bars for perverting the course of justice, an Ikeja High Court handed down the verdict on Monday.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Justice Raliatu Adebiyi, who gave the sentence, said Nwobike was found guilty of 12 counts of the 18-count charge slammed on him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The 18-count charge bordered on attempting to pervert the course of justice, offering gratification to a public officer and giving false information to an EFCC official.
Adebiyi ruled: “The defendant’s level of culpability was high and was carried out with impunity repeatedly over a period of time.
“The level of culpability was high but the level of consequence was limited.”
The judge said the sentence would serve as a deterrent to lawyers and other stakeholders in the justice sector to desist from such acts.
“The defendant, Dr Joseph Nwobidike, is hereby sentenced to a period of 1 month of 30 days imprisonment for each of the 12 counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
“The sentence is to run concurrently,” Adebiyi said.
Earlier, Justice Adebiyi, in a lengthy four-hour judgment, had convicted the embattled senior lawyer of 12 of the 18-count charge.
She, however, acquitted him on counts one, two, four, six and 18 of the charge.
Adebiyi said she found the behaviour of the senior advocate 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.
The judge had said that on count one, the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that N750, 000 was paid by the SAN to influence an order given by Justice Yinusa of the Federal High Court.
On count two, the judge had acquitted the SAN because the EFCC failed to prove that Mrs Helen Ogunleye, a Federal High Court Registrar to Justice Musa Kurya, performed the act for which N250,000 was given to her.
Quoting Rules 34 and 35(5) of the Legal Practitioners Rules of Professional Conduct, she convicted Nwobidike on count three.
“The prosecution was able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that by paying N750, 000 into Justice Mohammed Yinusa’s account, the defendant perverted the course of justice.”
She noted that on counts four, five and six, the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the order for which the alleged payment via Ogunleye to Justice Kurya was given.
Convicting Nwobidike on counts seven to 17, the judge noted: “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 registrars.”
Adebiyi noted that the EFCC failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant gave false information to an official of the anti-graft commission.
She added: “The defendant is found not guilty of offering gratification to public officers on counts one and two.
“On counts four, five and six, the defendant is found not guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
“On count 18, the defendant is found not guilty of making false statements to an EFCC official.
“The defendant is found guilty and convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice in counts seven to seventeen of the charge.”
In his allocutus, Mr Olawale Akoni (SAN), Nwobidike’s lawyer, 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 said.
Responding, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, the prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, asked for the appropriate sentence for the convicted senior advocate.
He said:“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.”
According to the EFCC, 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, Nwobidike 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, Nwobidike 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 Nwobidike sent a text containing Suit No. FHC/L/CS/1471between 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 new 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 Nwobidike 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 Nwobidike 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 Nwobidike 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 breached Sections 39(2), 64(1), and 97(3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011.