Ikeja – The prosecuting team of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Tuesday in Lagos confronted Dr Joseph Nwobike, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) with various the text messages he allegedly sent to court officials to unduly influence cases he was handling.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Nwobike is being tried by the EFCC on an 11-count charge bordering on perverting the course of justice and offering gratification to public officials at an Ikeja High Court.
The anti-graft agency alleged that Nwobike offered gratifications to some judges of the Federal High Court and the National Industrial Court to influence them to act contrary to their official capacities.
The EFCC also claimed that Nwobike engaged in sending illegal text messages with four registrars of the Federal High Court in a bid to unduly influence his cases being tried by the judges.
Nwobike, however, denied all the charges.
On July 3, while being led in evidence by his defence counsel, Mr Olawale Akoni (SAN), Nwobike had told the court that the money he allegedly gave to the judges was not gratification but “assistance”.
He insisted that the judges were old friends whom he had been acquainted with while in the university long before they were assigned as judges.
A compact disc (Exhibit P21) allegedly containing text messages from the SAN’s seized mobile phone (Exhibit P18) was projected on a screen during the cross-examination of Nwobike.
Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, the lead prosecution counsel of the EFCC during the proceedings on Tuesday, accused Nwobike of sending text messages to Mr Baruwa, a clerk of the Federal High Court, Lagos.
He claimed that Nwobike was aware that Baruwa worked with one Mr Jide, a Deputy Registrar of the court.
Responding, Nwobike said: “I know Mr Baruwa, he is a clerk of the Federal High Court, I do not know he works with Mr Jide, he told me that his office is directly opposite Mr Jide’s office.
“I have had cause to send messages to Baruwa in the course of my duties just like any other legal practitioner.”
Disputing Nwobike’s claims, Oyedepo said that Nwobike was aware that the clerk shared office with the Deputy Registrar.
“Would you be surprised if I tell you that Baruwa works directly with Mr Jide in the Federal High Court and that his desk is opposite Mr Jide’s desk.
“Baruwa informed you in a text that Mr Jide is back in the office,” he said.
Nwobike again denied reading the text message from Mr Baruwa, Oyedepo, however, confronted him with the evidence on the screen in the courtroom that he actually read the text message.
Oyedepo showed him text messages in which details of lawsuits were allegedly sent by Nwobike to Baruwa in a bid to assign the cases to some specific judges.
“On page 3984 of exhibit P21, there was a text from you to Mr Jide in which you mentioned a case AMCON V Bizel Finance and Investment Ltd.
“At 12.59 pm on Sept. 4, 2015, you forwarded the suit details of First Bank V O.P.I International Ltd, you mentioned that the suits should be assigned to Justice Buba.
“As at Sept. 4, 2015 when you sent that text message, the matter was not yet assigned to any judge and on Nov. 27, 2015, at 10.46 am, you sent a text message to Mr Jide giving details of Godwin Ewekolu Vs Inspector General of Police.
“When the text was forwarded, Justice Kurya was a judge of the Federal High Court and you impressed it on Jide that it was very urgent that the case be assigned to him.
“In the suit between Skye Bank Plc and Brokeyard Marine Oil and Gas Services Ltd, you forwarded the suit details to Mr Jide as shown on the screen.
“As at the time you forwarded the suit details to Mr Jide, Brokeyard Marine Oil and Gas Services Ltd were under investigation by the EFCC.
“The Kurya J you mentioned in that text message is Hon. Justice Kurya of the Federal High Court,” he said.
Denying Oyedepo’s accusations, Nwobike said “The text messages I sent were just confirmation text messages.
“On whether I knew that Brokeyard Marine Oil and Gas Services were under investigation by the EFCC, I don’t know because I don’t work for the EFCC.”
Oyedepo accused Nwobike of obstructing the prosecution of Dr Femi Thomas, his client, who was allegedly caught at the Muritala Muhammed International Airport with 200 million dollars.
“On Nov. 11, 2015 you sent a message to Mr Jide of the Federal High Court about a criminal charge filed against your client Dr Femi Thomas asking that it should be assigned to Justice Seidu.
“This suit was suit was eventually assigned to Justice Seidu and as at 1.23pm on the day you sent the text, this matter was not assigned to any judge.
“Are you aware as a SAN that it is an offence not to declare an amount exceeding $10,000, are you aware that the amount your client travelling with was 200 million dollars ?
“In a desperate bid to prevent the EFCC from continuing the investigation, you instituted a fundamental rights action (exhibit P23).
“You forwarded details of this suit in a text to Mr Jide and in the usual manner, you mentioned Justice Yinusa to handle the case.
“Upon instituting this suit, the EFCC appeared before Justice Yinusa and the matter was resolved by His Lordship; you also did not file any process for the execution of the order you bought from Hon. Justice Yinusa.
“On Nov. 9, 2015, Mr Felix Deckon your litigation officer forwarded a text message forwarded a text message to Mr Jide.
“Text contained details of the charge preferred against your client by the EFFC,” Oyedepo said.
“I will not agree with you that in a desperate bid to stop the EFCC, I filed the fundamental rights action.
“The money in question was $2.2million and not $200million and my client was asking for the return of the $2.2million seized from his agent at the airport.
“I forwarded details of this suit to Mr Jide for confirmation purposes,” Nwobike claimed.
The EFCC also accused the SAN of undue interference in a case involving Mrs Beauty Akpobolokemi and the anti-graft agency.
Beauty Akpobolokemi is the wife of Mr Patrick Akpobolokemi, the former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), standing trial over alleged fraud.
“On Nov. 9, 2015, you received and read a message from Mr Baruwa of the Federal High Court forwarding the details of a case between Mrs Beauty Akpobolokemi and the EFCC.
“The text informed you that the case has been assigned to Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia and you filed a suit against the EFCC.
“You filed the suit against the EFCC in the middle of an EFCC investigation of Mr Patrick Akpobolokemi.
“Prior to Nov. 9, 2015, you forwarded a text to Mr Jide where the name of Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia was mentioned.
“At 8.50am on that day, you sent a text to Mr Baruwa saying ‘Okay please take the file there now.’
“At 5.32pm, you forwarded the particulars of the case to Jide and this matter was eventually assigned to Justice Ajumogobia,
“Before Beauty Akpobolokemi suit was filed, you sent some names to Mr Baruwa to monitor in case the EFCC prefers some charges against them,” Oyedepo said.
“I don’t know when the case of Beauty Akpobolokemi Vs the EFCC was assigned, it is not correct that I sent some names to Baruwa to monitor in case the EFCC files some charges,” Nwobike said.
Showing the SAN the documents on the screen in the courtroom Oyedepo said “At 9.38am on Nov. 5, 2015 you received and read a text from Mr Baruwa.
“The text read ‘good morning sir, no charged have been filed against those clients by the EFCC…’
“Your reply was ‘Thanks I am grateful.’
“These instructions you gave to Mr Baruwa, were they for free, have you had cause to give him money through your juniors, money transferred to him in the exercise of his duties? ”
Responding, Nwobike said “No I have not given him any money.”
The EFCC prosecutor disputing the claim asked Nwobike if he knew any person called Zainab Kilani, and he answered in the affirmative, saying she is a junior in his law chambers.
“You received and read a text from Mr Baruwa saying ‘Thank you sir, Kelani gave me your special package.
“On June 3, 2015 at 10.10am, you received a text from Mr Baruwa saying ‘Good morning Sir, I just got a golden handshake from Mr Felix Sir.
“Exhibit D2 is a statement of account from your law chambers, on Jan. 17, 2011 you transferred N50,000 to Mr Baruwa,” Oyedepo added.
Accusing the SAN further of obstructing justice, Oyedepo said Nwobike received photocopies of EFCC charges that were not yet filed in court.
“Mr Baruwa sent a text message acknowledging handing over the charges to Mr Felix Deckon, your litigation officer.
“A charge that is not filed was given to you by your litigation officer without you applying for a certified true copy,” Oyedepo said.
Denying the accusations, Nwobike said “I did not apply for a certified true copy and I did not receive photocopy of the charge and I only received the charge when it was served on my clients.”
Justice Raliatu Adebiyi adjourned the case until July 12 at 10.3 a.m.for continuation of trial.