Justice Sherifat Solebo of an Ikeja Special Offences Court in a ruling on Monday, has ordered Justice Mohammed Yunusa, a suspended judge of the Federal High Court, Lagos to face trial for alleged corruption.
Yunusa’s defence counsel Chief Robert Clarke (SAN) had on March 9, in a preliminary objection said the embattled judge had been absolved of the corruption charges by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
Citing the case of Federal Republic of Nigeria Vs Nganjiwa, Clarke had said that for Yunusa’s dismissal to be valid, President Muhammadu Buhari had to give a recommendation for his suspension.
Solebo in the lengthy two hour ruling, however held a contrary view.
Referring to a Nov. 8, 2016 letter from the NJC to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) suspending the judge, Justice Solebo noted that the NJC had already exercised disciplinary action against the embattled judge.
“I do not think that the defendant is a sitting judge having been suspended, I thereby agree that prosecution cannot be brought until the NJC exercises its disciplinary powers against a judicial officer.
“Going through Nganjiwa’s case there is no evidence that the NJC investigated Nganjiwa but in the case against the first defendant (Yunusa) the NJC on its 76th meeting investigated him.
“What is left to be done? The NJC has done what it is empowered to do, it is my decision that I am not bound by Nganjiwa Vs Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“It is my conclusion that the first defendant has to defend himself in the information filed by the prosecution.
“It is my decision that this court has jurisdiction on the charges filed against the first defendant in this case and the notice of preliminary objection is dismissed,” Justice Solebo said.
Reacting to the prosecution judgment, Mr Wahab Shittu, the prosecuting counsel for the EFCC thanked the judge for her decision.
“I thank My Lord for this ruling, this is an uncommon display of judicial courage this cannot be called judicial rascality, we commend this ruling,” Shittu said.
The EFCC had arraigned Yunusa, formerly a judge of the Lagos Division of Federal High Court, alongside Esther Agbo, a staff of the law chambers of Mr Rickey Tarfa (SAN) on Jan. 17.
Yunusa was arraigned on four counts bordering on attempted perversion of the course of justice and corruption by a public official, while Agbo was charged with offering gratification to a public official.
They, however, denied the charges.
According to the EFCC, Yunusa had constant and confidential communications with Tarfa, who was handling three lawsuits marked FHC/L/CS/714/2015, FHC/L/CS/715/2015 and FHC/L/CS/716/2015 before him.
It also alleged that Yunusa collected N1.5 million bribe from Tarfa for the purpose of giving favourable rulings and judgments in the cases.
The judge is also being accused of receiving N750, 000 from Mr Joseph Nwobike (SAN), between March 2015 and September, 2015, to get “favourable” judgment in some cases.
Agbo, the second defendant who is an employee of Rickey Tarfa and Co., on May 14, 2015 paid the N1.5 million allegedly from Tarfa into Yunusa’s UBA account number 1005055617.
The offences violated Sections 64(1)(a) and 97(3) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011.
Earlier during Monday’s proceedings, Justice Solebo had in the ruling also dismissed the three grounds in a preliminary objection filed by Mr John Odubela (SAN), Agbo’s defence counsel.
On March 9, Odubela had also asked the court to dismiss the charges against Agbo on three grounds – the first is that the amended information was incompetent because it was signed by Mr E. E Iheanacho an EFCC official, instead of the Attorney-General (A-G) or an official from the A-G’s office.
The other two grounds are that the National Industrial Court is the court with jurisdiction because the alleged crime was made in the course of Agbo’s employment and that the case against her is unknown to law.
Citing Section 174 of the Constitution, Justice Solebo said “The EFCC does not require a fiat or the consent of the A-G to prosecute as contained in Section 43 of the EFCC Act.
“General prosecutory power has been delegated by the A-G to the EFCC.
“It is my modest view as presented, that the amended charge filed by the applicant is competent and validly signed by E. E Iheanacho and this court is competent to adjudicate same,” Solebo said.
On the issue of jurisdiction the judge said “It is my modest opinion that for criminal matters exclusive jurisdiction is not conferred on the National Industrial Court according to Section 254(C)(5) of the Constitution.
“I therefore hold that this court has concurrent jurisdiction with the National Industrial Court to hear criminal matters that arise in the course of employment,” she said.
Justice Solebo in the ruling noted that the offence in which Agbo was charged under Section 64(1)(a) of the Criminal Law of Lagos was known to law.
“It is my opinion that the amended information is validly issued, I do not find merit in the objection and same is held in favour of the applicant,” the judge said.
Justice Sherifat Solebo adjourned the case until June 11, 13 and 14 for trial.