Agents of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have discovered more damning evidence that a well-known lawyer, Rickey Tarfa, currently undergoing trial for alleged bribery to a judge, transferred huge sums of money to several other judges, including a female member of the Court of Appeal, Justice Uwani Abba-Aji, who reportedly received N8 million from Mr. Tarfa. Justice Abba-Aji played a key role in election petition cases in the hotly contested states of Delta and Akwa Ibom after the 2015 general elections.
Justice Abba-Aji was one of the appellate justices who gave the controversial verdict that election card readers were not legitimate ways of determining votes. Some judicial watchers believe the ruling gave a leeway to election riggers in both states.
In 2009 and 2010, SaharaReporters reported that Justice Abba-Aji was one of the justices who accepted millions of naira in inducement to uphold the validity of the election of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. Mr. Yar’Adua himself conceded that the election had significant irregularities.
EFCC investigators also found that Mr. Tarfa transferred funds to a bank account belonging to the Chief Judge of Nigeria, Ibrahim Auta. A source at the anti-corruption agency disclosed that Mr. Tarfa made a one-time deposit of N500, 000 into the Chief Judge’s account. “He is yet to explain why he paid the money to the Chief Judge,” the source told our correspondent.
Mr. Tarfa is currently facing trial for allegedly paying a bribe of N225, 000 into the bank account of Justice Mohammed Yunusa in January 2014. The EFCC also accuses Mr. Tarfa of receiving the sum of $500,000 from one of his clients in 2006 ostensibly to bribe “court and EFCC officials.”
Investigators have also alleged that Mr. Tarfa and four other Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) “donated” N7 million to launch a book written in honor of Justice Auta, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court. According to our source, the EFCC has found an additional transfer of funds made by Mr. Tarfa to Justice Auta.
In his statement of defense, Mr. Tarfa had claimed that some of the transfers were for the hiring of two retired judges, Mustapha Abdullahi, and Oponu-Wusu. However, a lawyer told SaharaReporters that Nigeria’s legal practice rules prohibit retired judges working in law chambers.
Justice Yunusa, the first to be named in Mr. Tarfa’s bribery saga, has been transferred from the Federal High Court in Lagos to Enugu after he rejected his transfer to Yobe State. Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa, who is also allegedly ensnared in the bribery scandal, serves in the Federal High Court in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.
The embattled Mr. Tarfa claimed that he paid money to Justice Nganjiwa because the judge was part of Mr. Tarfa’s law firm before he was appointed the bench in 2012. However, the lawyer’s defense crumbled when EFCC investigators discovered that part of the N5 million the lawyer had paid into Justice Nganjiwa’s account was later routed to Justice Yunusa.
Some legal practitioners are enraged that the judges named in Mr. Tarfa’s widening bribery scandal continue to preside over cases despite the commencement of the trial of Mr. Tarfa and another lawyer at the center of the bribery. “They should at least be suspended until the investigations and trials are concluded,” said an Abuja-based lawyer.
The lawyer added that it was odd that Mr. Tarfa continues to sit as a member of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee. The body is responsible for awarding the title of Senior Advocates of Nigeria to legal practitioners. The lawyer recalled that a lawyer, Kunle Kalejaiye, who was caught illicitly communicating with a judge in Osun State, was disrobed, adding that Justice Thomas Naron, who was involved, was removed.
“It is truly sad that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed, has not acted expeditiously to suspend the judges accused of involvement in the bribery perpetrated by Rickey Tarfa and Joseph Nwobike, both of them Senior Advocates of Nigeria,” said the lawyer.