Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia
An official of the National Judicial Council, Mrs. Ramatu Ahmed, on Friday told an Ikeja High Court that the salaries and allowances of judges were not paid in foreign currencies but in Naira.
Ahmed said this while being led in evidence by EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, at the ongoing corruption trial of Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, a Federal High Court judge; and Godwin Obla, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
The NJC official, who was subpoenaed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to testify as its 13th prosecution witness, responded to questions about the allegedly questionable foreign currency transactions in the bank accounts of the judge.
Ahmed identified Ofili-Ajumogobia as customer to the Diamond Bank accounts, including a corporate account under the name Nigel and Colive, where total deposits of $894,400 and N56.2m were made.
“The allocation budget is routed through the NJC, which is disbursed to the various courts.
“Though judges receive allowances such as estacodes other than their salaries, such allowances are disbursed through the individual courts.
“The judges receive their salaries and allowances in Naira,” she told the court.
Ahmed, in her testimony, also noted that judges were not permitted to maintain and operate corporate bank accounts while still in service.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the NJC official read aloud in court the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers.
Reading paragraph 2.5 of the handbook, she said: “A judge shall not accept a gift from a lawyer, particularly one who appears before him and accept gifts provided the gift is given in period of festivities and is not of pecuniary nature.”
She also noted that paragraph 8.5 of the handbook states that it is improper for a judge to use his position for personal advantage and use his/her position to contact any colleague with a view to influencing the outcome of a case.
Attempts by Oyedepo to make Ahmed interpret the provisions of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers were, however, resisted by Mr Olawale Akoni (SAN), counsel to Ofili-Ajumogobia and Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), counsel to Obla.
According to Adedipe, the witness who is a lawyer, cannot interpret the content of the document before the court.
“She has tendered the document, it is for the court to interpret the document,” he said.
While being cross-examined by Akoni, Ahmed told the court that she had never worked in Diamond Bank and that he had never came across Ofili-Ajumogobia’s statements of account before her appearance in court.
She also noted that judicial officers did not receive their salaries and other allowances from other sources.
Following Ahmed’s testimony, Oyedepo informed the court that his next witness was not present in court.
In his reaction, Justice Hakeem Oshodi expressed his displeasure about the development:“Let the court be the one that will say trial cannot go on; you did not come fully prepared.
“It is good that the NJC is here. Let the NJC be informed that this is what is happening, we got stuck because there are no more witnesses; this is not the court’s fault.
“I had set aside the whole of Friday to hear this case, yet, the EFCC is seeking adjournment.”
Responding, Oyedepo said: “My lord, I brought a witness that was examined-in-chief and cross-examined today.
“I brought a witness, but I did not know how long the cross-examination will take.
“The last time a witness was cross-examined for two days. The witness that was supposed to testify has been coming; the last date the witness was in court.
“I do not need anybody to commend me. But I know the little contributions I have made; I know I am not indolent, I am not lazy.”
Adedipe, reacting to the unavailable EFCC witness said: “Today’s adjournment at Oyedepo’s instance is painful.
“Oyedipo asked us to be here; he granted a press interview blaming senior lawyers for delay.
“I ought to be in Akure, but I am here; I would have asked for a cost.”
Adedipe noted that there was need to amend the law so that the anti-graft agency could pay for cost when it errs in court.
Consequently, Justice Oshodi adjourned the case until June 8 for continuation of trial.
NAN reports that Ofili-Ajumogobia and Obla are standing trial on a 31-count charge bordering on corruption.
They are jointly charged with two counts bordering on perverting the course of justice.
Obla is facing two counts of offering gratification in the sum of N5 million to Ofili-Ajumogobia, while serving as a judge.
Ofili-Ajumogobia faces 27 counts of unlawful enrichment, taking property by a public officer, corruption, forgery and giving false information to an official of the EFCC.
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