Ofili-Ajumogobia’s trial: Judges are entitled to gifts, says SAN



A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Robert Clarke, on Friday told an Ikeja High Court in Lagos that Nigerian judges were entitled to receive all forms of gifts in line with the National Judicial Policy.

Clarke made the assertion while cross-examining a prosecution witness, Mr Lawal Abdullahi, during the trial of Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia.

Ofili-Ajumogobia, a judge of the Federal High Court, is standing trial alongside Mr Godwin Obla (SAN) over allegations of corruption.

Obla was a former prosecutor for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Clarke, who leads the defence team for Ofili-Ajumogobia, said:“A judicial officer is regarded as a ‘special specie’ under the law.

“In line with the National Judicial Policy, a judicial officer is allowed to receive gifts and the type of gifts are not specified under the policy.

“The law does not define it, the law does not forbid it, a judicial officer is different from a public officer.

“The definition of a judicial officer is well spelt out in the constitution and the definition of a pubic officer is in the Code of Conduct Act,” he said.

Abdullahi, an investigator with the EFCC, however, disputed the SAN’s claims during the cross-examination.

He said:“I’m only aware of customer’s gifts like souvenirs during celebrations like new year and Christmas.”

Abdullahi, during the cross-examination, admitted to the court to that he did not read the Nigerian Constitution and the Code of Conduct Act for the definition of a judicial officer and a public officer during his investigation of the judges.

The witness also told the court that he never cautioned the judge by reading to her the “Miranda Right” when he invited her to the EFFC  office on the phone.

The EFCC alleges that Ofili-Ajumogobia in a bid to avoid the interrogation, lied that she was on admission at the Goldcross Hospital, Ikoyi, Lagos.

Abdullahi, responding to Clarke’s questions, told the court that he did not investigate the earnings the judge acquired during Ofili-Ajumogobia’s private legal practice before she joined the bench.

The EFCC investigator said the anti-graft agency did not invite Mr Abdullahi Dikko, the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) to explain the alleged unlawful sum of N12 million paid into the judge’s bank account by the customs

“I did not see Mr Dikko. Though I did not see him, I saw the written note from him which instructed a NCS staff, Mr Musa Tahir, to effect payment into Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia’s account,” he said.

Abdullahi also admitted that the EFCC never used a forensic expert to verify the anti-graft agency’s claims that the judge forged a document.

Earlier, the EFCC investigator, while being led in evidence by Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, the EFCC lead prosecutor, told the court how the NCS unlawfully paid N12 million sourced from 12 commands in the country into the judge’s bank account.

“Three deposits totalling N12 million were paid into the Nigel and Colive bank account belonging to Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia from Mr Omale Musa, a customs officer’s FCMB account.

“The N12 million was not part of the lawful earnings of the first defendant. They were sums being paid by various Comptrollers of Customs into Musa’s personal account.

“Musa was invited by the EFCC for questioning and when we confronted the first defendant (Ofili-Ajumogobia), she said it was for the purchase of land on Rita Ajumogobia Street, Asaba.

“When we confronted Musa, he said that it was Mr Abdullahi Dikko, the Customs CG, who gave the instructions for the transfer.

“When we confronted him with the first defendant’s statement, he said that he has never been to Asaba. We took the first defendant to Asaba to trace the property but it was never found.

“Our findings was that there was no business relationship between Nigel and Colive and the NCS regarding the N12 million paid into the first defendant’s account.

“It was not the legitimate earning of the first defendant from her employer, she is also the sole signatory to the Nigel and Colive account,” he said.

NAN reports that earlier during proceedings, the EFCC had re-arriagned Ofili-Ajumogobia and Obla on a fresh amended 31-count charge and had withdrawn the former 30 counts filed against them.

In the new 31-count charge, Ofili-Ajumogobia and Obla are jointly charged with two counts of perverting the course of justice.

Obla is facing an additional two counts of offering gratification in the sum of N5 million to Ofili-Ajumogobia, a public official, while serving as a judge.

Ofili-Ajumogobia faces a 27-count charge bordering on unlawful enrichment, taking property by a public officer, corruption, forgery and giving false information to an official of the EFCC.

They, however, plead not guilty to the fresh charges.

Justice Hakeem Oshodi adjourned the case until March 23 for continuation of cross-examination of the EFCC investigator.

NAN

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