EXCLUSIVE: Judge replies NJC query, accuses SAN of plotting to ruin him

NJC: Supreme Court of Nigeria (judge)
Supreme Court of Nigeria

Justice Oyejide Falola of the Osun State judiciary has reacted to a petition filed against him at the National Judicial Commission (NJC), a body saddled with protecting the image and integrity of the judiciary in Nigeria.

Mr Falola’s reaction is contained in his formal response to a query issued him by the NJC over allegations of judicial misconduct, conspiracy and involvement in a fraudulent scheme levelled against him by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Olanrewaju Ogunlesi. PREMIUM TIMES exclusively obtained the document in Abuja on Monday.

In the response, the judge claimed the senior lawyer and those who petitioned the NJC were working to destroy his career for no just cause.

A financial institution — Polaris Bank — which is a defendant in a matter decided by the judge, had petitioned the NJC, accusing Mr Falola of acting against the rules governing judicial practice in the country. The bank also alleged that the judge shared from the proceeds of his order.

The financial institution urged the NJC to investigate the allegations of misconduct against the judge, saying taking appropriate sanction against him would serve as deterrence to others.

How it all started

In an earlier report by this newspaper, a counter-affidavit deposed to by the bank’s counsel, Mr Ogunlesi, alleged that the judge, Mr Falola, “gave judgement over the Polaris Bank case based on precedent that did not exist, conspired with some lawyers and other court officials to execute a garnishee order without appropriate recourse to the law, and allegedly shared over N16 million carted away from Polaris bank’s branches in Osun state with others.”

The counsel said as soon as he established the fact that the judgement was fraudulent, he contacted Mr Falola through another lawyer, Lukman Ogunsetan.

The controversy that led to the allegations against Justice Falola began when the trio of Quadri Lateef, Hamzat Oladimeji and Rafiu Oladimeji, allegedly obtained an injunction at the Kwara State High Court, Ilorin, mandating a certain Gabriel Omeka to pay them the sum of N283, 174, 000 over an alleged business deal involving a company, AMD Global Concept Investment.

The Kwara State judgement was purportedly delivered by Justice Afolayan of the Kwara State High Court on December 4, 2015.

But the bank said the balance of $1,199,968.50 claimed to be in Mr Omeka’s account was a product of wire fraud. Polaris said the customer fraudulently inflated his balance when the bank reportedly experienced system breach between December 2 and 3, 2018. The bank claimed that the authentic balance in the account was $23.50.

A report by the Deputy Commissioner of Police at the Police Special Fraud Unit (SFU), Ikoyi, Ibrahim Zango supported the bank’s claim. The Police further confirmed the arrest of some accounts holders of the bank, authenticating the system failure and the corrupt practices that arose.

However, Mr. Falola ruled based on Mr Omeka’s submission that the balance in his account was genuine, arguing that the customer provided evidence of the transfer of the funds.

On July 19 last year, Justice Falola’s order was executed at two Polaris Bank branches in Osogbo.

In executing the order, the bank claimed that in addition to movable items taken away, its property was vandalized while cash (later estimated as N16,445,720) was also carted away.

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In a sworn counter-affidavit, Mr Ogunlesi said he conducted a search and affirmed that “there was no judgement of the Kwara State High Court which the Hon. Justice Falola acted upon.”

The SAN said he confronted Mr Falola with his findings.

Mr Ogunlesi said after their discussion in his office, Mr Falola undertook to “personally return the money.”

Justice Falola denies allegations

But in his reaction to the petition, Mr Falola denied the allegations levelled against him, saying; “Throughout the proceedings, the issue of bias, fraud or such other forms of malfeasance were never raised before me. All of us mentioned in that paragraph, together with Lukman Ogunsetan and the Registrar of the High Court of Justice, Ikirun and all the bailiffs that took part in the execution of my ruling have been invited by the Osogbo office of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).”

He said Mr. Ogunsetan told ICPC that he (Falola) did not prostrate for Mr Ogunlesi, “and that I did not admit sharing any money. That I only told Lanre Ogunlesi SAN in his presence that counsel to the first garnishee signed for the money.”

The judge said Mr Ogunsetan’s position was further confirmed by the counsel to the applicant in the matter, Omoyeni Odusola, who he noted also told ICPC that he collected the total amount from the bailiff and signed for it.

“That he had also written a reply to a letter from Osun State Judiciary that the money is with his client intact; that they are on appeal, and that, indeed, his client, apart from the appeal, has instituted fresh action against Polaris Bank,” the judge added.

Mr Falola also said another lawyer, J.P. Jones also informed the ICPC that he did not share any money with me and that he stood by the content of his rejoinder to Mr Ogunlesi’s media publications.

He added; “Odusola said he has written Petitions to Legal Practitioners and Privileges Committee (LPPC) and Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) against Lanre Ogunlesi SAN, for lying on oath, misleading the vacation Judge and for deposing to counter affidavit personally, in a case he is a counsel, and uploading to the press a life issue (Motion pending before the court).

“And that Mr. Ogunsetan whom Mr Ogunlesi used to reach him, has sent several WhatsApp messages to him, “to confess and apologise, saying he was used to set me up. That the content of the counter-affidavit deposed to by Mr Ogunlesi, which invariably is the bedrock of this petition is full of lies and extraneous factors that have nothing to do with the Garnishee proceedings.

“I am a judge with honour. I am hardworking and I guide my integrity jealously. Lanre Ogunlesi SAN, on behalf of Polaris Bank, boasted that he had ended the career of many judicial officers. I urge my lordship (chief justice of Nigeria) to stop him this time around.”

The NJC is yet to determine the matter.

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