The Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos on Thursday affirmed the May 2018 conviction of a former Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Joseph Nwobike, to one month imprisonment for attempting to pervert the course of justice.
A three-man panel of the court comprising of Justices Joseph Ikyegh, Jamilu Tukur and Ebiowei Tobi, unanimously held that the lower court properly convicted the lawyer in accordance with Section 97(3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State.
It dismissed Mr Nwobike’s appeal for “mostly lacking in merit”.
The court, however, discharged and acquitted Nwobike of the charge of offering gratification to a Federal High Court judge, Justice Mohammed Yinusa.
Mr Nwobike’s counsel, Olawale Akoni, SAN, said afterwards that the lawyer would appeal the conviction to the Supreme Court.
News Agency of Nigeria reports that on May 18, 2018, Justice Raliat Adebiyi of a Lagos High Court, convicted Nwobike of 12 out of 18-count charge bordering on attempt to pervert the course of justice.
She sentenced him to one month imprisonment on each of the 12 counts but said the sentences would run concurrently.
The judge said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, proved beyond reasonable doubts that the SAN was in constant communication with court officials to influence the assignment of his cases to his preferred judges.
The EFCC had accused Mr Nwobike of offering monetary gratification to judges of the Federal High Court to influence them to give judgments in his favour.
The commission accused the defendant of giving N750,000 to Justice Yunusa, while he had cases pending before the judge.
He was also accused of having constant communication through text messages with the registrar of Justice Musa Kurya.
EFCC alleged that the lawyer on one occasion, gave an envelope, believed to be containing money to the registrar to give to the judge and followed up with a message that the registrar should tell “him to discharge the order.”
Mr Nwobike, who had since served his sentence, challenged the lower court’s decision at the Appeal Court.
The appellant formulated 14 grounds of appeal and raised six issues for determination through his counsel Akoni.
The EFCC opposed the appeal through its counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, who raised two issues in defence.
Justice Tobi, who read the lead judgment, reduced the issues to four.
The issues were: Whether Section 97(3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State upon which Nwobike was convicted did not define the offence and was contrary to Section 36(2) of the Constitution as contended by Mr Nwobike?
Whether the conviction was based on the non-penal rules (Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners)?
Whether the court was right in convicting Nwobike and whether it had enough evidence and properly evaluated same?
The judge resolved the issues in the respondent’s (EFCC) favour.
Concerning the issue of whether Nwobike offered gratification to Justice Yinusa, the court held that there was no such evidence.
He said: “that money was given to a judge creates suspicion, particularly when you have matters before the judge, it is most unethical.
“It is unethical for any judge to receive money from lawyers, particularly lawyers that have cases before him, but an action being unethical doesn’t necessarily mean it is criminal”.
According to him, the prosecution needed to go further to prove that the purpose for which the money was given was for perverting the course of justice.
He noted that Mr Nwobike clarified that he gave the judge money for his mother’s burial.
The judge held: “I reverse the decision of the lower court and find the appellant not guilty of the charge of gratification…. He is discharged and acquitted of counts 3, 12 and 14.
“But I cannot say the same of counts 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15, 16 and 17 (attempt to pervert justice).
“The finding of the lower court as it relates to counts 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15, 16 and 17 is correct and I see no reason to interfere.
“I am of the firm view that the respondent proved his case at the lower court beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant had the mind to interfere with and influence the assignment of case to preferred judges and in so doing is guilty of the offence of attempt to pervert the course of justice contrary to section 97(3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011”.