The defence team of Dr Joseph Nwobike, the embattled Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), on Thursday told an Ikeja High Court that there was no offence in giving judges money.
Mr Olawale Akoni (SAN) , the lead defence counsel, made the assertion while giving his submission of his final written address dated Nov. 27, 2017 in the corruption trial of Nwobike.
Nwobike is facing trial for perverting the course of justice, offering gratification to public officials (judges and court registrars) and giving false statements to an official of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Akoni said: `There is no offence in giving money to a judge, it is only an offence when the money is given to a judge on account of his judicial functions.
“On Justice Mohammed Yunusa, the N750,000 they (the EFCC) are talking about was for the sole purpose of assisting him (Yunusa) for his mother’s funeral.
“These charges are based on suspicion and speculation which however sweet it may sound may not replace proof beyond reasonable doubt.
“Mrs Helen Ogunleye (a court registrar) when called as a witness testified that the money given to her by the defendant was not for what it was alleged to be for.
“Whose evidence can be more vital than Mr Jide (a court registrar), they did not call him because they knew his evidence will be against him.
“We elicited evidence that Mr Jide is not the one who assigns cases, they did not interview the admin judge who assigns cases and they did not find out the requirements used to assign cases.
“They (the EFCC) interviewed Justice Yunusa and Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa but they did not call them to testify.
“When they don’t call a witness to testify for them, it is because their testimony is not in favour of the prosecution.”
He continued: “There was no evidence handed over by the EFCC of Justice Musa Kurya, he was interviewed by the prosecution but they never called him to testify.
“They did not call him to testify because they knew his evidence will be against them.
“Justice Agbadu-Fishim was interviewed, his statement taken but he was never called to testify.”
Akoni told the court that the EFCC in their attempt to indict Nwobike had tarnished the reputations of Justice Mohammed Yunusa, Justice James Agbadu-Fishim, Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa and Justice Musa Kurya.
The lead defence counsel said that a National Judicial Commission (NJC) report never indicted the embattled Nwobike because of the alleged gratification to Justice Yunusa.
“The cases in which they alleged were ruled by Justice Yunusa in favour of the defendant because of gratification given to him were also upheld on appeal.
“It is based on this evidence that the prosecution wants to convict a senior lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
“There is no evidence of any order that had to be discharged and PW7 (Mr Danladi Daniel, an EFCC investigator) confirmed that there was no evidence,” he said, and urged the court to discharge and acquit Nwobike.
“At the end of the day, a written address no matter how well written can never substitute evidence.
“I urge Your Lord to discharge and acquit the defendant.”
Replying Akoni, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, the EFCC prosecutor, in his written address, urged the court to convict the SAN.
He said: “In line with the evidence of PW1 to PW7, it can be reasonably shown that we have proved our case beyond reasonable doubt.
“Exhibit P3 was the instrument of disposition used to transfer his (Nwobike’s) proprietary interest in the sum of N750,000 to Justice Yunusa the beneficiary.
“No oral evidence can be added to the content of a document, the overt act of the defendant in relation to Justice Yunusa did show that the payment was for gratification.
“By the standing of the defendant is society and his rank in the profession, it is easily deduced that counsel and parties in a matter really precluded from holding exparte communications with judges in pending suits.
“The defendant admitted that he had a meeting with Hon. Justice Yunusa which is clearly in breach of his rules of professional conduct.
“They exchanged account details and other parties were not present in that meeting.”
Oyedepo disputed Akoni’s claims that there was no law preventing an individual from giving judges money.
“They submitted that there is no law that stops you from giving money to judges.
“The only gifts allowed are customary gifts like cards and books, the giving of cash gifts were done behind the backs of other parties to the suits.
“We (the EFCC) were victims of this, if we knew there was a relationship between him and the judge, we would have excluded Justice Yunusa from hearing the matters,” he said.
The EFCC prosecutor said the anti-graft agency did not call the implicated judges and court registrars in to testify because they were all suspects in the case.
“The interpretation of our law is that the giver and the recipient of gratification are both suspects.
“A co-accused cannot implicate another accused, what will be the probative value of his testimony?
“The law is not to call all witnesses but to call material witnesses, there is a pending charge before Justice Yunusa and he has been arraigned in this High Court.
“We did not call Justices Agbadu-Fishim, Nganjiwa because our argument in respect of receiver and giver of gratification stands and Justice Agbadu-Fishim is also standing trial in relation to giving of gratification in this same charge,” he said.
Oyedepo, who said Nwobike had sent text messages to court officials in a bid to influence the assignment of his cases, noted that the SAN had admitted in his court testimony to giving an envelope filled with cash to Ogunleye, a court registrar.
“The sending of those text messages amounts to perversion of the course of justice and the defendant admitted sending them.
“As at the dates of sending those text messages to Mr Jide, those cases were barely filed, there were days he (Nwobike) threw caution to the wind and indicated that this case should go to Justice Yunusa, Justice Aneke etc.
“The very act of suggesting the judges to hear his cases is an attempt to pervert the cause of justice.
“The defendant gave money to. Justice Nganjiwa, it was given to Ogunleye (Kurya’s registrar) and according to him the money was for the buying of books.
“The defendant admitted that the envelope given to Mrs Ogunleye contained money
“The transactions with Justice Agbadu-Fishim were three different times, he refused to say the intent of the transactions to the EFCC, this shows an attempt to give false information.
“I urge Your Lordship to look at the evidence of PW7 (the EFCC investigator) he did not personally say the money was gratification, he interviewed the judges and told us their claim.
“I urge My Lord to ascribe full probative value to the evidence that has been adduced and convict the defendant as charged,” Oyedepo said.
Justice Raliatu Adebiyi reserved judgment until April 30.