The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal has struck out an appeal filed by a former Senior Advocate of Justice (SAN), Mr Joseph Nwobike for lacking in merit.
Justice Raliat Adebiyi of the State High Court had on May 2018 convicted Nwobike on 12 out of 18 counts bordering on attempts to pervert the course of justice.
She sentenced him to one month’s 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 Nwobike was in constant communication with court officials to influence the assignment of his cases to his preferred judges.
The EFCC accused Nwobike of offering monetary gratification to judges of the Federal High Court to influence them to give judgments in his favour.
Following his conviction, the senior lawyer had approached the appellant court challenging the decision of the lower court.
Consequently, the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee (LPPC) stripped Nwobike of his SAN title.
But a three-man panel of the court comprising Justices Joseph Ikyegh (presiding), 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.
The court, however, discharged and acquitted Nwobike of the charge of offering gratification to a Federal High Court judge, Justice Mohammed Yinusa.
Nwobike’s counsel, Olawale Akoni (SAN) said afterward that the lawyer would appeal the conviction to the Supreme Court.
Akoni contended, amongst other things, that the allegation of attempt to pervert the cause of justice for which he was convicted was not proved by the EFCC.
The applicant also described the judgment as “unreasonable and unwarranted.”
The appellant formulated 14 grounds of appeal and raised six issues for determination through his counsel Olawale Akoni SAN.
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.
They are: 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)?
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.
He said: “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.”
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 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.”