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SAN loses bid to quash conviction for attempt to pervert course of justice

By Yetunde Ayobami Ojo
20 December 2019   |   3:55 am
The Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos yesterday dismissed the appeal by a former senior advocate of Nigeria, Dr. Joseph Nwobike, to quash his conviction to one-month imprisonment

The Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos yesterday dismissed the appeal by a former senior advocate of Nigeria, Dr. Joseph Nwobike, to quash his conviction to one-month imprisonment for attempting to pervert the course of justice.

While delivering the judgment yesterday, the three-man panel of Justices Joseph Ikyegh, Jamilu Tukur and Ebiowei Tobi unanimously affirmed that the lower court properly convicted the lawyer in accordance with Section 97(3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State.

Justice Raliat Adebiyi of a Lagos High Court, Ikeja had on May 2018 sentenced Nwobike to one-month imprisonment for attempting to pervert the course of justice.

The Appeal Court dismissed Nwobike’s appeal for “mostly lacking in merit”. The court, however, discharged and acquitted him of the charge of offering gratification to a Federal High Court judge, Justice Mohammed Yinusa.

Nwobike’s counsel, Mr. Olawale Akoni (SAN), said that the lawyer would appeal the conviction to the Supreme Court.

Justice Adebiyi convicted Nwobike of 12 out of 18 counts bordering on attempt to pervert the course of justice. The judge entenced him to one month imprisonment on each of the 12 counts and said the sentences would run concurrently.

The judge held that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) proved its case beyond reasonable doubts.

The anti-graft commission had alleged that Nwobike was in constant communication with court officials to influence the assignment of his cases to his preferred judges. He was also accused of offering monetary gratification to judges of the Federal High Court to influence them to give judgments in his favour.

The embattled lawyer was said to have given N750,000 to Justice Yunusa, while he had cases pending before the judge and having constant communication, through text messages, with the registrar of justice.

It was alleged that at one occasion, the lawyer gave an envelope, to be containing money, to one Mrs. Helen Ogunleye to give to the judge, and followed up with a message that the registrar should tell “him to discharge the order.”

Dissatisfied with the judgement, Nwobike, who had since served his sentence, appealed the lower court’s decision at the Appeal Court on 14 grounds and raised six issues for determination.

The EFCC, through its counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, opposed the appeal and raised two issues in defence.

Justice Tobi, who read the lead judgment, reduced the issues to the following:
•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 Nwobike;
•whether the conviction was based on the non-penal rules (Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners); and
•whether the court was right in convicting Nwobike and whether it had enough evidence and properly evaluated the 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

“That money was given to a judge creates suspicion, particularly when you have matters before him, 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,” the judge said.

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, but Nwobike clarified that he gave the judge money for his mother’s burial.

The court 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.”