The trial of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Rickey Tarfa, for alleged bribery of judges continued on Monday at the Lagos High Court in the Igbosere area of the state.
Mr Tarfa is being prosecuted on 26 counts for among other things offering monetary gratification to two judges of the Federal High Court – Justices Hyeladzira Nganjiwa and Mohammed Yunusa – to allegedly pervert the course of justice.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) claimed that Tarfa paid a total of N5.3 million in several tranches into Justice Nganjiwa’s account between June 27, 2012, and January 8, 2016.
He was also accused of paying a total of N800,000 in three tranches between February 9 and November 30, 2015, into Justice Yunusa’s account.
The senior advocate was equally accused of age falsification.
At his arraignment on March 9, 2016, and subsequent re-arraignment on November 16, 2016, Mr Tarfa pleaded not guilty to the charges.
He consequently called a Deputy Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court in Lagos, Mr Bello Okandeji, as his witness at the proceedings today (Monday).
Led in evidence by the defendant’s counsel, Jelili Owonikoko, Okandeji said he knew Tarfa very well as one of the counsels who appear before the Federal High Court in Lagos on a daily basis.
He explained that his appearance in court was based on a subpoena issued to him by the trial judge, Justice Adedayo Akintoye.
Okandeji, however, said he was not aware of any official complaint lodged with the Federal High Court authorities against Justices Nganjiwa and Yunusa.
He added that he did not know Justice Nganjiwa before his appointment as a judge, but knew that Justice Yunusa previously worked at the industrial court before his appointment as a judge.
The deputy chief registrar told the court in his testimony that only the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and the administrative judges in different divisions of the court were in charge of assignment of cases to judges.
Under cross-examination by the prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, Okandeji said he was aware that the National Judicial Council had sent a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, recommending Justice Yunusa for dismissal, “but the President was yet to sign it.”
When asked if he would be surprised to learn that Justice Yunusa’s suspension had to do with the way he handled a case filed before him by Tarfa, Okandeji said, “What I know is that there was a petition before the NJC.”
Also responding to a question about whether constant private communications between a judge and a lawyer who has a case before him were part of the Federal High Court’s policy, he answered, “My Lord, it is not in our rule.”
Okandeji affirmed that the court’s rule does not permit a serving judge to open and maintain a bank account in the name of a company.
He further testified that it was improper for a judge to recommend a lawyer to a defendant before him and receive payment for the services.
The witness said that if the Chief Judge or the administrative judge were aware of the relationship between Tarfa and Justice Yunusa, they would not have assigned Tarfa’s cases to the judge.
He went on to highlight several payments made by Tarfa into the bank accounts of the two judges, reading from Tarfa’s statement of account, which had been admitted as an exhibit.
Further proceedings were subsequently adjourned till Tuesday, May 8.