The recent revelation by a lead investigator with the Department of State Service (DSS), Mr.Babatunde Adepoju, last Tuesday, that one of the lawyers that represented President Muhammadu Buhari during his certificate saga, offered N500, 000 to Justice Adeniyi Ademola who is facing corruption charges before an Abuja High Court sitting at Maitama, is still causing uproar among legal practitioners and where it was reported in our online platform coming with many feed back of divergent opinion, metamorphosing our decision of searching for professional views, and furthering our quest to get opinion of lawyers, urbanexpresslive.com culled these from Tribune online to further nourish our viewer understanding coming from learned counsels, to which the excerpts sourced from, Enjoy.
Following the criticisms trailing the incident, Awodein had confirmed that he gave the judge the said sum but described as ridiculous the allegation that the N500,000 he gave to the trial judge for his daughter’s wedding was a bribe from the president.
“I am constrained to make in absolute good faith, in good conscience and in the interest of justice and fair play the following very short statement on account of the distorted news story currently being peddled as affecting the person of Mr President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and my good and very noble self,” he said.
Awodein’s colleagues in the wig and gown profession were however unanimous that, though there were no constitutional provisions against being friendly with a judge, it was ethically improper for a lawyer to offer gifts to a judge, especially when there were cases before such a judge.
Adepoju, when asked whether presenting a wedding gift to the judge in charge of the case amounted to a bribe had said, “No my lord. In my opinion, it would be speculative to say the gift by President Buhari’s lawyer was a bribe to Justice Ademola. It is not a bribe.”
In his reaction, former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja, Lagos, Dave Ajetomobi, told Saturday Tribune that it was not appropriate, especially if one was a litigant or counsel in any ongoing matter before such a judge.
“No. It is not morally right, especially when your case is pending before such a judge. If, in any case, a huge sum is paid into a judge’s account, it raises questions and arouses peoples’ suspicions. It is just normal”, he stated.
But Taoheed Asudemade differed as he said there were no clear-cut provisions against such gifts, adding, “There is no straight answer to this question. Remember judges were once lawyers and while practicing, they had made friends and enemies amongst lawyers.
“So it is not out of place for lawyers that are friends with judges to offer them gifts, especially on special occasions. But morally however it is not right, given their position and the fact that the lawyers may have to appear before them in cases and they must be fair and unbiased.”
Ugochukwu Osuagwu, an Abuja-based legal practitioner, also supported Asudemade’s stance as he stated that, as friends, a lawyer can give a judge who is a friend gifts.
“Yes, if they are friends before one became a judge. And if it is given on social occasions or programmes like birthdays, burial, weddings etc,” he added.
Some, however, believed there is nothing wrong in giving such gifts if there is no condition attached.
“You can give gifts, but it must not be given in expectation of a judicial favour in return and you cannot give a judge a gift if you have a matter pending before him,” Kayode Ajayi told Saturday Tribune.
Gbenga Makinde of the Akeredolu Chambers in Ibadan also said gifts can be given for special occasions, but expressed reservations about cash gifts, which he said were over the board.
“No. Capital no. But a judge can be appreciated during his birthday or while holding a wedding ceremony for his child. The gift must not have any undertone. And such gifts must be given through the court registry so that officials would be aware. So nothing secret is done in the process,” he said.
A Lagos-based human rights activist and lawyer, Ikechukwu Ikeji, said such gifts were unethical, adding, “Gifts are not allowed if such a lawyer has a matter before the court. Any gift likely to influence the mind of a judge in any case before him or her is against professional ethics of legal practitioners in Nigeria.
“For me as a lawyer, I suggest that any kind of gift to a judge from lawyers and even from potential litigants should be outlawed. This is where we have to call into question our social practices and ethics,” Ikeji asserted.
For Kole Ojo, chairman of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Society, Oyo State, gifts can be offered to judges to commemorate special occasions, but such gifts should not be cash and must not be what he called an extreme, exorbitant or expensive gift.
“They can be given gifts but it must be a token, insignificant and certainly not cash. It is what a reasonable person will consider appropriate. The point I made is that of innocent gift to a judge by an innocent lawyer for birthdays and such occasions. For example, a cufflink to a judge for his birthday by a lawyer that heard about it.”
However, Emeka Ozoani took a strong stance against such gifts, saying it would be difficult to differentiate between a gift and a bribe.
“How will you convince anybody that the appropriate time to give a gift, irrespective of the reason, is while your case is pending before the same judge? Every reasonable jury will infer it as a disguised bribe in the name of a purported gift. The law which criminalises a private individual from offering a bribe to a judicial/public official is also applicable to legal practitioners.
“Conversely, the judge who accepts bribe is equally guilty under both the Criminal Code Act and the criminal law of the various states,” he said, adding that any gift, no matter how small, can soften any individual’s heart and it is therefore a bribe.
Shuaib Alaran also supported Ozoani’s position as he said it was quite unethical for a lawyer to offer gifts to judges and also for a judge to accept any gift from lawyers, especially one that has a case before him.
“Some lawyers do it arbitrarily; they give judges gifts. But it is both unlawful and unethical. It has the strong effect of perverting the course of justice,” he stated.
Another legal practitioner, Sayofunmi Adeleye, however said the thin line of demarcation between a gift and a bribe raised ethical issues, though there was no law against such.
“The truth is that nothing precludes a lawyer from giving a judge a personal gift, as long as he does not have a matter before him or the gift is not intended to pervert the course of justice. But the problem lies in where to draw the line between a personal gift and a bribe. On that basis, care should be taken by both lawyers and judges,” she said.