Why I gave N450,000 gift to judge, by SAN

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Why I gave N450,000 gift to judge, by SAN

Why I gave N450,000 gift to judge, by SAN
November 30
07:18 2017

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Mr Paul Usoro has explained the circumstances in which he gave N450,000 to a judge of the National Industrial Court, Justice James Agbadu-Fishim. He said it was a gift, not a bribe.

Usoro, who is aspiring for the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA presidency, was reacting to a statement credited to a human rights lawyer Prof Chidi Odinkalu.

Odinkalu said Usoro admitted “bribing” a judge and should not be allowed to run for the office.

“It is an insult to us all. We all have a duty to stop it (Usoro’s bid)… In a sane country, Paul Usoro should be facing disciplinary proceedings at best and should have been disbarred,” Odinkalu was quoted as saying.

But, Usoro, in a statement by a Partner in his firm, Munirudeen Liadi, said he and Justice Agbadu-Fishim had been friends and were known to each other long before His Lordship joined the Bench.

The SAN said he had only one case before the judge, and that before his firm was engaged handle the case, he gave a gift of N250,000 to the judge on August 5, 2014, about five months before his firm got the brief.

Usoro said all the three cash gifts he gave to the judge were at the judge’s request and that none was related to the case.

“These were requests based on longstanding friendship between Mr. Usoro and His Lordship and this fact is borne out by the text messages (which were analysed by EFCC) sent by His Lordship to Mr. Usoro requesting for assistance. None of these messages remotely mentioned PH/150,” the statement said.

The SAN said as at March 24, 2015 when the third and final gift of N200,000 was given to the judge, the client had agreed to pay his firm only N700,000 in full and final payment for handling the case, which he said was yet to be paid.

According to him, even if he was the type that offers bribes, it was laughable to suggest that he would “bribe” the judge with N450,000 – about 65 per cent of his legal fees – in a matter that was non-contentious.

“Mr. Usoro pointedly, categorically and consistently disclaimed any suggestion that he bribed or wished ‘to induce Honorable Justice Agbadu-Fishim or any other judicial officer’ and stated in his letters to EFCC that he ‘does not bribe or induce judges’ and ‘has never bribed or induced any Judge’,” the statement said.

Besides, Usoro cited Paragraph F, Rule 3 of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers which permits judges to accept “personal gifts or benefits from relatives or personal friends to such extent and on such occasions as are recognised by custom”.

He added: “All the gifts to Agbadu-Fishim ‘are recognised by custom’ in all parts of Nigeria …one of those illustrative occasions was the burial of Agbadu-Fishim J’s relative which Mr. Usoro could not attend but sent financial assistance in lieu.”

The SAN said the judge did not deliver judgment on the case before he was transferred, nor did he make any rulings on the matter other than “routine adjournments”.

The statement added: “Absolutely nothing was done in the conduct of this matter by Agbadu-Fishim J that suggested, even remotely, the favoring of one party over the other and nobody, not even the opposing Counsel, has made any such suggestion.

“The Records of Proceedings are of course available for any and all to inspect and study. Even as we write, the suit is yet to commence de novo (afresh).

“The contents of Mr. Usoro’s letters to the EFCC have not been factually disputed howsoever by anyone. Mr Usoro has not been charged to court for any infraction whatsoever and yet, Chidi Odinkalu claims that ‘Paul Usoro is charged with having bribed James Agbadu-Fishim” and that Mr. Usoro admitted ‘to having bribed a judge’.

“By our Nigerian cultures and based on religious principles, we are all obliged to show humanity to persons in need, not least, our friends and relatives, be they judicial officers or not.

“We indeed abhor and reject the presumption that a judicial officer who receives a gift from a practicing lawyer is ipso facto bent and corrupt.

“Such a negative notion is wholly erroneous and abysmally unfair to our upright and hard-working judicial officers who, despite their offices, remain friends and relatives of practicing lawyers even as they dispense justice fairly to one and all.”

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