On Monday 30, 2018, Justice Raliat Adebiyi of the Ikeja Division of the Lagos State High sentenced Joseph Nwobike, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN to one month in prison for attempting to pervert the course of justice.
This Judgement brought to an end the case of Nwobike who was first arraigned on five count charges on March 9, 2016, of allegedly offering gratification and attempting to pervert the course of justice.
The charges against Nwobike who has been practicing for about 20 years, was later amended and expanded to 18 counts by Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC on which he was finally prosecuted.
In the new charges, the Senior Advocate was accused of offering the sum of N750,000 and N300,000 as gratifications to Justice Mohammed Yunusa and Hylladzira Nganjiwa both judges at the Lagos Division of Federal High Court.
The trial of the senior lawyer dragged on, taking different twists and turns, until Justice Raliat picked April 30 as the date for Judgement.
On the D-day, Justice Raliat after in a judgment which lasted over two hours found Barrister Nwobike, guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
While pleading with the court not to descend with the full hammer on his client, counsel to Nwobike, Barrister Omotola Akoni, said that the accused is a family man and a senior member of the bar who has always conducted himself in the right manner.
He also reminded the court that Nwobike is a first-time offender who until the beginning of the suit has not had any cause to stand in an accused box.
Mr. Akoni said, “Your Lordship, we listened to your judgment carefully and ask that a non-custodial sentence be appropriate. He has a lot to offer and I pray that Your Lordship considers this in deciding the nature of punishment to give. I pray the court tempers justice with mercy and impose a very heavy slap on the wrist.”
But his plea for ‘mercy’ was opposed by the prosecuting counsel to EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo.
The EFCC counsel told the court that, “Section 97 (3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011, says that he (Nwobike) will be liable to two years imprisonment. Ordering your Lord for a no-custodial sentence will amount to turning the law upside down. The sentence should serve as a deterrent to young lawyers like myself, SANs and other Senior members of the bar.”
After hearing from both sides, the judge went on a recess, while she prepared her judgment.
While delivering her judgment after the resumption of the court session, Justice Raliat Adebiyi, said, “The defendant’s level of culpability was high and was carried out with impunity repeatedly over a period of time. The level of culpability was high but the level of consequence was limited. The defendant Dr Joseph Nwobike, is hereby sentenced to a period of one month of 30 days imprisonment for each of the 12 counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice. The sentence is to run concurrently.”
Adebiyi sentenced Nwobike under Section 97(3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011.
The section says “Any person who attempts in any way not specified in this law, to obstruct, prevent, pervert or defeat the course of justice, is guilty of a misdemeanor, and is liable to imprisonment for two years.”
The conviction of Mr. Nwobike who was conferred the title of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2010, came on the heels of the current trials of other senior lawyers of the same rank – Godwin Obla and Rickey Tarfa on similar charges.
Also, Mohammed Yunusa and Hyeladzira Nganjiwa, the federal high court judges whom Nwobike paid N750, 000 and N300,000 respectively are also facing criminal trials.
The EFCC had claimed that Nwobike offered the judges the money in an attempt to pervert the course of justice.
The accused did not deny giving Justice Yunusa the said amount, but he said he gave the money “for the specific purpose of helping the (sick) mother of the gentleman (Yunusa),” adding that he and the judge have been close right from when he was a counsel at the Federal Ministry of Justice.
For Nganjiwa, Nwobike said at the time he deposited N300,000 in the account of the company belonging to the judge, he had no pending case before him.
He added that he had known the judge since 1995 when Nganjiwa was a legal officer at the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency.
But counsel for the EFCC, Mr. Oyedepo, said Nwobike acted contrary to Section 97 (3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State No. 11, 2011.
The judgment of Justice Raliat brought the case to a conclusion as the fate of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Nwobike was sealed: he would be wining and dining with convicts for the next one month except he appealed the judgment.
“Let us see if this judgment is upheld by the higher court, I see Nwobike appealing this judgment up to the Supreme Court,” a senior member of the Bar, Mr. Wahab Shittu who described the sentence as a sad development and sad day for the legal profession said.
“If this judgment is upheld at the level of the Supreme Court, it means he can no longer practice law as a legal practitioner and will lose his privileges as a SAN.
“I know it has a wider implication for his career and that is why I know he will fight it up to the Supreme Court. But for now, let us be content that justice is done,” Shittu added.