There were fireworks at the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday as Justice Mojisola Olatoregun accused a prosecuting counsel Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) of being “incompetent” and “extremely rude”.
The judge accused Jacobs of engaging in jankara practice, but the Senior Advocate said he took “exception” to being described in such terms.
He said it was the first time he would be so described by any judge in all his years of legal practice.
The exchange occurred in the trial of former Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) accused Fayose of receiving and keeping N1.2billion and $5million allegedly stolen from the Office of National Security Adviser (ONSA) contrary to the Money Laundering Act. Fayose pleaded not guilty.
The exchange occurred after the cross-examination of the 10th prosecution witness, Maroun Mechleb, who is the Chief Executive Officer of an Akure, Ondo State-based construction firm, Samchase Nigeria Limited.
The witness testified that he handled several contracts for Ekiti State, which he said were facilitated by Fayose’s aide, Abiodun Agbele.
He said there was a gentleman’s agreement that he would appreciate Agbele for every contract he facilitated.
He said he gave Agbele N132.5million on one occasion as “appreciation” for an unspecified contract he facilitated.
In one of the counts of the charge, EFCC alleged that Fayose acquired chalets 3 and 4, 6 and 9 on Plot 100 Tiamiyu Savage Street, Victoria Island, Lagos in the name of JJ Technical Services Ltd with N1,151,711,573.
Mechleb told the court that he and his brothers, who testified earlier, also ran J.J Technical Services, but that the firm was unable to get a job from the state.
The witness said he once lied to the EFCC about owning a property based on Agbele’s instructions in a bid to help “a friend”.
His words: “Mr Agbele asked for a company we can use to get a job. I gave the name (J.J. Technical Services) to Abiodun Agbele to help get a job for the company.
“Mr Agbele bought a property and put it in the company’s name. He gave me the documents of the property to sign. I cannot read English properly, but I just signed the documents,” Mechleb said.
Jacobs asked him: “Did you know what the documents were about?”
The witness said: “It was later that I got to know that the documents were about a property and I had to contact Mr Agbele.”
On how he came to pay Agbele N132.5million, Mechleb said: “I had an agreement with Agbele that I would appreciate him. He gave me an account to send the money, which I have done.
“He told me that I have one house, because I paid N132.5million to him. The truth is that the house does not belong to me but to Mr Agbele.
“After I made the first statement at EFCC, my lawyer asked me to go back and say the truth.”
Asked what he knew about Agbele, the witness said: “I know he was the one helping to facilitate the jobs. We agreed that when he gets the job for me, I will appreciate him.
“We did not specify the amount, but it’s around 10 per cent.”
Under cross examination by defence counsel Mr Ola Olanipekun (SAN) (for Fayose) and Olalekan Ojo (SAN) (for Fayose’s co-accused Spotless Ltd), Mechleb said: “In making the first statement, I did not say the truth. I was trying to help my friend. I can lie to help a friend.
“I later obeyed my conscience and went back to EFCC to say the truth.”
The witness said the contracts Agbele got for him were undocumented.
“We were given about six or seven contracts by Ekiti State. The contracts Agbele got for me were not in writing. The description of what I was to do was given to me verbally.”
He also said he never interacted directly with Fayose. “My interactions were with Mr Agbele, no more, no less,” he said.
During cross-examination, Olanipekun tendered parts of Mechleb’s statements at EFCC.
When Jacobs sought to tender the remaining part during his re-examination of the witness, Olanipekun and Ojo objected on the basis that Jacobs could not tender a statement at the re-examination stage.
Justice Olatoregun upheld the objections, but added that Jacobs could “have another bite at the cherry” by tendering it later. She did not mark the document as rejected.
But the judge took offence when Jacobs made reference to a submission by Ojo during his objection.
Justice Olatoregun said: “Mr Jacobs, you dare not! You are not competent to look into my ruling, to evaluate my ruling. You are totally incompetent, whether you are a Senior Advocate or not.”
Jacobs said: “I was not referring to Your Lordship’s ruling.”
Justice Olatoregun said: “You are going beyond your bounds. Do not let me trash your practice. Listen to me, if you re-evaluate my rulings in this court, you’ll get into trouble.
“You can only go on appeal, Mr Jacobs. Your mode of advocacy, I do not understand it. It looks like what do they call it?… Jankara market practice.”
Jacobs: “Thank you my Lord”.
Judge: “You stand here to reevaluate my ruling; you are incompetent to do that. If you have any re-examination, you do that. If you do not have, call your next witness, or you take a date.”
Jacobs: “I’m grateful to your Lordship. Thank you my Lord.”
Judge: “You do not stand there with impetus and reevaluate my ruling. I have ruled, relying on two sections of the Evidence Act.
“If you have an objection to that, you go on appeal. You have no competence, carrying your wig with arrogance, and we have a lot of young lawyers here. What are you teaching them?
“You stand up to a judge and re-evaluate the ruling of a judge. It cannot happen in my court!
“Re-examine your witness; if you are not re-examining him, then close your case.”
Jacobs: “My Lord, I did not refer to Your Lordship’s ruling. I never said a word about Your Lordship’s ruling.”
Judge: “I do not take tangential comments here. You are fond of doing that. You are an extremely rude senior advocate.
“If you are a senior advocate, you are not older than me at the Bar and you are not older than me in age. In Yoruba land, we respect age. And in this job, we have what they call professional ethics and respect for each other.”
Jacobs: “I have offered respect to My Lord.”
Judge: “You have never offered it.”
Jacobs: “For My Lord to say that I am jankara practice lawyer…”
Judge: “Yes, I am saying it. When you finish here, you can write a petition to the NJC (National Judicial Council). I’m saying it, and I’m not going to withdraw it. I have said it. Go and do whatever you like
“I have called you into chambers and I told you what you’re doing which is not right. You do not just ridicule yourself here, and you have not stopped.”
Jacobs: “I’ve been in this job for a while. I have appeared before several judges, from the lower court to the Supreme Court. No judge has ever called me a jankara practitioner.”
Judge: “I do not want to know. I do not want to know how many years…”
Jacobs: “I never engaged in jankara practice, and I take exception to that word, jankara practice.”
Judge: “Now, are you re-examining your witness?”
Jacobs: “Yes, I am. But I take exception to that word, jankara practice. I take full exception to it.
“I do my job according to my conscience; I will never pervert the course of justice; I will never call any witness to come here and lie against another person. I fear God. But for one to suppress truth, I will fight against it.”
Two other Lebanese, Goshen Joseph and Joseph Mechleb, earlier testified that J.J. Technical Services had no jobs and never got any from Ekiti State.
A lawyer, Mr Kennedy Osunwa, earlier testified that he was engaged to prepare a deed of assignment for a property on 100, Tiamiyu Savage, Victoria Island, Lagos.
He said: “Sometime in 2014/2015, a company that I had retainership with as a tenant solicitor (Still Earth Ltd) called me and said they had acquired some properties lying at 100, Tiamiyu Savage, Victoria Island, and that they had concluded arrangement to sell some because they had a buyer.
“The particulars of the buyer were given to me to prepare a deed of assignment. I was told that one Abiodun Agbele with a company, J. J Technical, were buying the property.”
Justice Olatoregun adjourned until April 15 for continuation of trial.