Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Godwin Obla, yesterday, dismissed allegations he bribed embattled Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court, Lagos with N5 million.
Ofili-Ajumogobia is under the radar of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged ownership of properties worth almost a billion naira in Lekki, Ikoyi, in Lagos State and London, the United Kingdom.
Earlier in the year, the National Judicial Council (NJC) barred her from getting any promotion for the remainder of her career. Reports indicated that no fewer than 10 SANs and five other lawyers are in the soup for allegedly bribing some judges.
Extricating himself from any bribery web, Obla, in a statement, yesterday night, explained how he bought building materials, worth N5 million in 2015. The money, he insisted, was paid into a company’s account, for materials for a site under construction in Abuja.
Obla reiterated he never knew the company was affiliated with Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia until the EFCC summons, yesterday. He denied it was a bribe.
“I read with great consternation, stories awash in the print, electronic and social media, of allegations against my person for bribery payment of N5, 000, 000.00 made out to Justice Ajumogobia. While I do not believe that such a false publication was put out by the EFCC, that has invited me for an interview, scheduled to hold on November 8, 2016, I was deeply offended by the gross distortion of the true facts of the matter as represented by the authors of the false publication to the public.
Ordinarily, by the ethics of my profession and in view of the fact that it is never the practice to make public information elicited in the course of an investigation during the pendency of same, I am reluctantly constrained, in view of the anxiety expressed by my family members, friends, colleagues, clients and other concerned citizens to dispense with tradition and to provide facts that will correct some of the falsehood already peddled even without any effort made to hear my side of the story.
“On November 2, 2016, I received an urgent invitation, by telephone, from the Lagos office of the EFCC, requesting that I come in for an interview. I sought to discover the purpose of the invitation from the telephone caller to no avail. I, however, notified the telephone caller of my convenience on November 7, 2016. I flew down to Lagos from Abuja, in the company of my colleague, to attend to the interview.”
Obla insisted he had no financial dealings with Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia and alleged he was detained on the orders of Acting EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu. Thereafter, Obla detailed how he helped the EFCC secure conviction and yet, could be treated with such disdain, even after he was yet to be compensated for work done.
“We reported to the EFCC on November 8, 2016 by 2.30pm and I was required to provide a statement on an allegation of bribery payment of N5, 000, 000.00 to Justice Ajumogobia. I have never made any payment of N5, 000, 000.00 or any other amount to Justice Ajumogobia. To the best of my recollection, the payment of N5, 000, 000.00 under reference was a payment I made on May 21, 2015 to a company named Nigel & Colive Nig. Ltd, for the purchase of building materials for my construction site in Abuja.
At that material time of this commercial transaction and till date, I had no privy knowledge that Justice Ajumogobia had any interest whatsoever in the company. I was kept at EFCC till about 7:00pm when Acting Head of the STF team read incoherent portions of Justice Ajumogobia’s statement which alleged that the N5, 000, 000.00 represents part of purchase price of N40, 000, 000.00 for a bungalow at Karshi, Abuja.
For the avoidance of doubt, I have never purchased or made any payment for any bungalow in Karshi, Abuja or landed property whatsoever from Justice Ajumogobia. On account of the foregoing, I was informed that the EFCC (acting) chairman had directed that I be detained. I was shocked to be confronted with the allegation of possible bribery payments to Justice Ajumogobia ostensibly in return for judicial favours. There is no foundation or basis whatsoever for making any such payments.
Justice Ajumogobia was my classmate 33 years ago and has always been my friend. I have had only minimal professional contact with Her Lordship. As the records will indicate, that, in all her years at the Bench, the only matter I have had before her was the case of FRN v. Raymond Omatseye, which commenced in 2010 and terminated in 2016, wherein I acted as a prosecutor for the EFCC.
“For the record, I re-state that the only matter in which I have ever appeared as a lawyer before Justice Ajumogobia was in Charge No: FHC/L/C/482C/10 between FRN v. Raymond Omatseye whose trial commenced by a criminal charge dated December 22, 2010 before another court and was later re-arraigned before Justice Ajumogobia on an amended 27-count charge dated January 16, 2013.
I acted as prosecutor for the EFCC and the trial culminated in the conviction of Omatseye, in the judgment delivered by the court on May 20, 2016. Importantly, Omatseye’s conviction was very significant in the fight against corruption and was widely celebrated as the first conviction ever secured by the EFCC under the Public Procurement Act 2007. A certified true copy of the said judgment is hereby enclosed.
“As earlier stated, the criminal trial spanned over a period of about six years commencing by a criminal charge dated December 22, 2010 and terminated by the judgment dated May 20, 2016. During the trial, I made 45 appearances before the Federal High Court, Lagos.
I sacrificed my time, finances and resources as I attended these proceedings in the company of junior colleagues, as required by my rank, as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, at my personal expense, commuting regularly between Abuja, where I am based and Lagos, where the trial held. Find enclosed a list of dates of my attendance of court in the trial.
“At date, notwithstanding the diligent and successful prosecution and conviction, the EFCC, for whom I acted and who has deemed it a matter of public interest to raise this issue, has neither settled expenses I incurred over a six-year period in prosecuting this matter nor paid any professional fee whatsoever, in respect of the said matter. Will it not be axiomatic therefore to suggest that I will be investing my personal funds to secure a conviction as it were on behalf of a client in respect of whom I get no remuneration – obviously, a case of using good money to chase bad money?
“This development is troubling as it possibly suggests prosecutorial misconduct, which the facts do not bear out and potentially puts at risk years of hard work and a positive outcome of it. The publication in a national newspaper and other media providing “salacious facts” in public domain, even before they have had benefit of my explanation, gives credence to the anxiety that I had earlier expressed.
“In the light of the foregoing, I am at a loss as to why on earth I would be obliged to pay out bribe to Justice Ajumogobia for judicial favours since the only case I have ever taken before her court was as prosecutor on behalf of the EFCC in a criminal charge which terminated in a landmark conviction for the EFCC. By no stretch of the imagination can verifiable payment I made to a corporate entity for the purchase of building materials for the construction of my building in Abuja be imputed as a bribery payment to an individual.
It is inconceivable that I paid a bribe on behalf of or for the benefit of the EFCC to Justice Ajumogobia or any other person. Notwithstanding my reservations and obviously my displeasure at the way the facts of this matter have been improperly presented to the public and my unjust detention as directed by the EFCC Chairman, my resolve to continue to assist the country in fighting the destructive scourge of corruption will always be as fervent as forever.
All the lawyers who were interviewed at the EFCC office, in respect of various payments to judicial officers, were all granted bail on self-cognisance, except me. It is a mystery that, after my meritorious service to the EFCC in various capacities, particularly as prosecutor in no less than 40 cases, involving economic and financial crimes and securing convictions, for which our bill of charges continue to lie unsettled at the EFCC, the present leadership has elected to treat me with disdain and needlessly detain me in its custody, without the benefit of doubt.
“My history of service to the country in this regard is public knowledge and no temporary setback or personal misunderstanding is enough to obviate it. My time and resources will always be available to the Nigerian state within the strict parameters of the Rule of Law.
“Finally, for many years and before the advent of the present administration, I have carried the mantra of anti-corruption practitioner and prosecutor for the EFCC. I have carried out my vocation with every sense of decency and responsibility, only employing the highest standard of professionalism required of me in the anti-corruption fight. I continue to remain steadfast to the nobility of my profession as a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria and will always refrain from any act which is capable of bringing the legal profession into disrepute.”