Hon. Justice Rita Ngozi Ofili-Ajumogobia and Godwin Obla SAN were today arraigned before Hon. Justice Oshodi sitting in the Ikeja Division of the High Court of Lagos State. Rotimi Oyedepo who appeared for the prosecution informed the court of the information filed by the Commission on the 17th of November 2016 and applied that the plea of the defendants be taken in respect of the said information. Thereafter the 30 counts preferred against the defendants were read to them and their pleas taken. Godwin Obla SAN who was mentioned in only the first four counts of the information is accused in count 1 of conspiring with Justice Ajumogobia to prevent the course of justice when sometime on or about the 24th of May 2015, he paid her the sum of 5 Million Naira for Charge FHC/L/C/482C/10 which was pending before her. The duo are accused in count 2 of attempting to prevent the course of justice in respect of the same particulars contrary to Section 97 (1) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State No 11 2011.
In counts 3 and 4, Godwin Obla SAN is accused of offering gratification to a public official when he paid the sum of 5 Million Naira to Justice Ajumogobia contrary to Section 64 (1) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State No 11 2011.
In counts 5 to 21, Justice Ajumogobia is accused of unlawful enrichment so as to have significant increase in her assets which she cannot reasonably explain in relation to her lawful income in respect of a total of about 23 Million Naira and 788,800 US Dollars domiciled in her accounts with Diamond Bank Plc. contrary to Section 82(a) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State No 11 2011.
In count 22, she is accused of taking advantage of her employment by taking property (the sum of Five Million Naira) from Godwin Obla SAN on the 24th of May 2014 contrary to Section 69 (1) (a) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State No 11 2011. In count 23, she is accused of corruption by taking the sum of Five Million Naira from Godwin Obla SAN contrary to Section 63 (1) (a) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State No 11 2011.
In counts 24 to 28, she is further charged with unlawful enrichment of a total sum of 51, 230,000 Naira through her company and in count 29 she is charged with forgery of a Deed of Assignment contrary to Section 467 of the Criminal Code. In count 30, she is charged with giving false information to an officer of the EFCC when she stated that she was on admission on the 19th of October 2016 contrary to Section 39(2) of the EFCC Establishment Act 2004.
The Defendants pleaded not guilty to all the counts. After their plea had been taken, Olawale Akoni SAN who led the team representing Justice Ajumogobia informed the court of the pending application seeking an order of the court admitting the Judge to bail. Chief Ifedayo Adedipe SAN who led the defence team representing Godwin Obla SAN which includes Chief Orbih Ferdinand SAN also told the court that they had also filed an application seeking an order admitting the 2nd Defendant to bail. Arguing the application for bail on behalf of the 1st Defendant, Mr. Akoni SAN stated that the charges against the 1st Defendant are bailable offences and that the Judge does not pose a flight risk and is ready to stand trial as it is of utmost importance to her to clear her name. He argued that the major principle behind granting bail is to ensure the presence of the accused person to stand trial and the Judge who wants to clear her name would make herself available for trial. He relied on the case of OKOMODA V FRN (2016) LPELR – 40191 (CA). He stated that the affidavit evidence before the court shows the willingness and readiness of the 1st Defendant to stand trial adding that the EFCC had not successfully countered that position in the counter affidavit it filed in opposition to the bail application. He stated that the counter affidavit of the EFCC had merely rehashed the charges which were pending against the 1st Defendant to which she had pleaded not guilty. He further argued that the allegation by EFCC in its counter affidavit that she would interfere with investigations and witnesses does not state how she has or would do so and therefore constitute mere assertions devoid of material substance. He urged the court to admit the 1st Defendant to bail on her own recognizance or alternatively on very liberal conditions. He finally argued that if the court were to give conditions, the verification of documents in fulfillment of the conditions ought not to be carried out by the EFCC who is the prosecuting agency and relied on the case of OBIOMA V FRN (2005) 13 WRN PG 131 at 165.
Mr. Oyedepo opposing the application for bail of the 1st Defendant argued that the court can at this stage look at the proof of evidence to see if there is overwhelming evidence against the 1st Defendant and that if the court finds that there is a prima facie case against the 1st Defendant, it can refuse the application for bail on that ground alone. He referred to the statement of one Ademola Oshodi contained in the proof of evidence where he stated that the 1st Defendant called him a day to when he was invited to appear before the Commission so she can tell him how to answer the interrogations of the EFCC. He urged the court to thus make a finding of fact that the 1st Defendant has tried to interfere with the witnesses of the EFCC. On the issue of verification of documents by the prosecuting agency, Mr. Oyedepo argued that the principle of stare decisis has its limitations, as the Court of Appeal cannot take away the discretion of the trial judge to grant or refuse bail.
In his reply on points of law, Mr. Akoni SAN argued that the court cannot make a finding of fact based on the statement of an alleged proposed witness to the Commission which was not made on oath and had not been subjected to cross-examination. He further argued that the allegation of interference with witnesses is itself a criminal offence and the proof required to establish it is proof beyond reasonable doubt, which the EFCC has failed to do.
Chief Adedipe SAN arguing the application for bail on behalf of the 2nd Defendant stated that the charge, which the 2nd Defendant is accused of gratifying the Judge in respect of, was prosecuted by him for EFCC. He also stated that the Commission had previously deemed it fit to grant him administrative bail and allowed him to travel to the United States of America and when he returned, he deposited his international passport with the Commission. He added that the 2nd Defendant had no criminal record and is a prosecutor for the EFCC. He urged the court to grant him bail on his self-recognizance or on very liberal terms.
In his ruling, Justice Oshodi identified the considerations in the grant of an application for bail and stated that they include the nature of the offences charged, the severity of the punishments, the antecedents of the applicants, the likelihood of interference with witnesses and the availability of the defendants for the trial. In respect of the 1st Defendant, he stated that the allegations against her are weighty but bailable and noted that the 1st Defendant is not a serial offender, neither does she pose a flight risk. He stated that the prosecution’s affidavit contained mere assertions and nothing more and that he could not place value on the statement of a witness at this stage unless tested. In respect of the 2nd Defendant, he stated that he could see from affidavit evidence that the 2nd Defendant has a going concern which is his legal practice and has prosecuted cases on behalf of the EFCC and that though the offences were serious, they were bailable. He therefore proceeded to admit the two defendants to bail on their self-recognizance and stated that they shall deposit their international passports of any class and the sum of 20 Million Naira to the registrar of the High Court of Lagos State within 7 days failing which their bail would be revoked.
After the ruling, the court asked the prosecution to open its case and Mr. Oyedepo called his first witness – Mr. Ademola Oshodi of Diamond Bank Plc. The court was however minded to grant an adjournment on the application of the lawyers to the Defendants when Mr. Oyedepo sought to tender the Statements of accounts of Justice Ajumogobia through the witness. Mr. Akoni SAN stated that because of the incarceration of his client, he had been unable to meet with her to adequately prepare her defence. He argued that the 1st Defendant was entitled to the constitutionally provided time and facilities to defend the charge. Chief Orbih Ferdinand made the same application for the 2nd Defendant.
The charge was therefore adjourned to the 9th of January 2017 for continuation of trial.
READ THE RELEVANT PROVISIONS OF THE CRIMINAL LAW OF LAGOS STATE NO 11 OF 2011 BELOW:
Section 97 (1)
Any person who conspires with another to and attempt to obstruct, prevent, pervert, or defeat the course of or pervert justice is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.
Section 64 (1)
(1) (a) Any person who intentionally promises, offers, to a public gives or attempts to offer or give to a public official official. directly or indirectly any property or benefit of any kind for the official himself or herself or another person or entity, in order that he acts or refrains from acting in the exercise of his or her official duties; or
(b) Public official requesting for gratification
Any person being a public official who intentionally solicits, accepts, agrees, or attempts to receive or obtain directly or indirectly any property or benefit of any kind for himself or another person or entity, in order that he acts or refrains from acting in the exercise of his official duties, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.
Any public official who:
(a) enriches himself so as to have a significant increase in his assets that he cannot reasonably explain the increase, in relation to his lawful income;
(b) retires, resigns or is dismissed from service and cannot reasonably explain the increase in relation to his lawful income; or
(c) after leaving office begins to derive economic benefits from favours he had conferred on third party or parties while in the office,is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.
Section 69 (1)
Any public officer who takes advantage of his demanding employment in any of the following manner: property, etc.
(a) demands or takes property from any person;
(b) compels any person to sell any property at a price other than its fair market value;
(c) obtains lodging from and against the will of any person without payment or for inadequate payment; or
(d) compels, whether partially or wholly for his own profit, any person to work without payment or for inadequate payment,is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for five years.
Any public official who: public official. (a) asks for, receives or obtains any property or benefit of any kind for himself or any other person; or (b) agrees or attempts to receive or obtain any property or benefit of any kind for himself or any other person, on account of: (i) anything already done or omitted, or any favour or disfavour already shown to any person, by himself in the discharge of his official duties or in relation to any matter connected with the functions, affairs or business of a Government department, public body or other organisation or institution in which he is serving as a public official; or (ii) anything to be afterwards done or omitted, or any favour or disfavour to be afterwards shown to any person, by himself in the discharge of his official duties or in relation to any such matter, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.