The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has told a Federal High Court in Lagos that it’s has discovered a network of Nigerian lawyers that specialize in bribing judges across the country.
This is coming just as the Commission further alleged that a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Rickey Tarfa, paid another judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Hyeladzira Ajiya Nganjiwa, N5.3million between June 27, 2012 and December 23, 2014.
The commission said it uncovered a “network of collaboration and illicit transfer of funds” between Tarfa, Justice Nganjiwa and Justice Mohammed Yunusa, who EFCC alleged Tarfa bribed with N225,000.
According to EFCC, Tarfa paid a total of N5,335,000.00 to Justice Nganjiwa’s personal account with Fidelity Bank Plc.
It said Justice Nganjiwa then transferred N1.6million to Justice Yunusa through personal UBA Plc account, numbered 1005055617.
EFCC said it discovered that Justice Nganjiwa sent bank details of his company, Awa Ajia Nigeria Limited, to Tarfa, adding that the company was incorporated in 2006, with Access Bank Plc account number 0000971931.
The commission said Tarfa was a referee to Awa Ajia’s account, through which money was transferred to Justice Yunusa’s UBA account.
These allegations are contained in a counter-affidavit in opposition to a further and better affidavit sworn to by a lawyer Mohammed Awwal Yunusa in support of Tarfa’s suit.
The lawyer swore that the account number which EFCC claimed Tarfa used in bribing Justice Yunusa belongs to him (the lawyer), not the judge.
During hearing on Wednesday, Tarfa’s lawyer, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN), said EFCC goofed by asserting that a lawyer’s bank account belongs to a judge.
He said the commission ought to admit its mistake when it discovered that it made a “fundamental error”.
“They should give in and apologise to the applicant,” Ayorinde said.
The senior advocate said EFCC was making “scandalous” allegations against judges instead of addressing the fundamental rights suit filed by Tarfa.
Besides, he said the gift Tarfa admitted giving to Justice Yunusa did not violate the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers. He referred to Rule 3 (f) (2) (i) of the Code, which says in part: “A judicial officer is, however, permitted to accept personal gifts or benefits from relatives or personal friends to such extent and on such occasion as are recognised by custom.”
But EFCC’s lawyer, Wahab Shittu, urged the court to dismiss Tarfa’s suit. He said EFCC did not set out to arrest Tarfa if not that he prevented a federal agency from performing its statutory functions.
“We arrested him because he invited us to arrest him. How can you say your arrest was unlawful when you are already facing trial?” Shittu asked, referring to the charge against Tarfa at the Lagos State High Court.
He said Tarfa was granted administrative bail the same day he was arrested and could have gone home had he fulfilled the conditions.
On the SAN’s vehicle being seized, Shittu said: “That was the vehicle he used in shielding the suspects. The car has become an exhibit which we will tender in court.”
Shittu said Tarfa, for about five hours, prevented EFCC operatives from arresting his clients when he could have applied for their release on bail or applied to the court to compel the commission to free them.
“If he (Tarfa) was not arrested, EFCC would be sending a message that he is above the law. The law exists for both the rich and the poor,” Shittu said.
The EFCC lawyer argued that if anyone should say sorry, it should be Tarfa who should apologise to the commission and to Nigerians for preventing suspects’ arrest.
Shittu urged the court to refuse Tarfa’s demand for N2.5billion damages.
“Because he is used to such donations, he wants the court to donate N2.5billion to him,” Shittu said.
In its counter-affidavit, EFCC said the payment received by Mohammed Awwal is “completely different” from the N225,000 which Tarfa admitted giving to Justice Yunusa.
Shittu said by dismissing Tarfa’s suit, the court would be “sending a clear message that no matter how high or big you are, the law is bigger.”
Tarfa sued EFCC, its chairman Ibrahim Magu, Moses Awolusi, who arrested Tarfa, and Deputy Director Operations, EFCC, Lagos office, Iliyasu Kwarbai for allegedly violating his rights after he was arrested for hiding two suspects, Nazaire Sorou Gnanhoue and Modeste Finagnon, both Beninoise, in his Mercedes Benz Sports Utility (SUV) vehicle, thereby shielding them from arrest.
Tarfa demanded N2.5billion, sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents and their agents from further violating his rights, asked for N20 million as cost of the suit, and sought an apology from the respondents, among others.
Justice Mohammed Idris adjourned until March 15 for judgment.