The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has alleged that a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Rickey Tarfa, paid a judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Hyeladzira Ajiya Nganjiwa, N5.3 million 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 also alleged Tarfa bribed with N225,000.
EFCC said Tarfa paid N5,335,000 to Justice Nganjiwa’s account with Fidelity Bank Plc.
It said Justice Nganjiwa transferred N1.6 million to Justice Yunusa through a UBA Plc account, 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 account, 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 belonged to him (the lawyer), not the judge.
At yesterday’s hearing, Tarfa’s lawyer, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN), said EFCC was wrong by asserting that a lawyer’s bank account belonged 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 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 seized vehicle, 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 the suspects’ arrest.
Shittu urged the court to refuse Tarfa’s demand for N2.5 billion damages. “Because he is used to such donations, he wants the court to donate N2.5 billion 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 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 of Operations in EFCC’s Lagos Office Iliyasu Kwarbai for allegedly violating his rights after being arrested for hiding two suspects; Nazaire Sorou Gnanhoue and Modeste Finagnon – both Beninoise – in his Mercedes Benz Sports Utility (SUV) vehicle.
Tarfa demanded N2.5 billion, and sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents and their agents from further violating his rights.
He asked for N20 million as cost and demaded an apology from the respondents, among others.
Justice Mohammed Idris adjourned till March 15 for judgment.