“Sometimes, however, it is better to take risks and play the most capricious, unpredictable moves”
–Jean de la Bruyere, 1645-1696.
By CHIDI OBINECHE
In a dreary wild and woolly drama last week, Justice Rita Offili- Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court Lagos, who is battling corruption allegations, took operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC on a pulsating wild goose chase to Benin, Asaba and back to Lagos.
By scrambling her patterns on a day the anti- graft agency felt she was entrapped, the embattled judge caused a stir around her and ingeniously lowered their guards. They had embarked on the trip in search of properties believed to be from proceeds of a swathe of corrupt practices, which she, however, claimed to have been bequeathed to her by her late mum.
She further claimed that the $900,000 she wired abroad from bank accounts in Nigeria was income from the properties, which was being managed by her brother Donald Offili and a lawyer based in Asaba. The epic journey turned into a drama of sorts as the operatives drew blank and did not find a single property. Once in the bus, the embattled judge who sat at the back was said to have continually muttered into a hand- held device to the discomfiture of the operatives who were constrained to ask for a talk with Donald, the object of the trip.
On arrival in Benin, Donald, in a telephone conversation with the operatives, reportedly agreed that their mum owned houses in the ancient city but confessed that he was under duress by the sister to accede to the fact that the $120million he transferred to her account came from rental fees. On discovery that the brother had blown the lid, she changed the narrative saying another lawyer of no fixed address in Asaba unknown to the brother managed the said properties, urging a quick dash to Asaba to afford her the time to contact the mysterious Benin Lawyer.
Upset with the judge’s evasive antics, the security agents opted to speak with the man in advance and she obliged them. The mystery man in Asaba promised the detectives of a rousing welcome on arrival from a visit to a neighbouring community. She wrought another tale in Asaba that the lawyer was away in Owerri. The furious detectives hit a brick wall when they attempted speaking to the lawyer as his line was switched off and she insisted she did not know the address of the properties.
Irate and confused, they spent the night in Asaba, seizing her phone as a precautionary measure. Another phone hidden in her wrapper was later discovered and taken away. The return trip to Lagos was even more dramatic as she continued to mutter under her wrapper. On arrival, a female detective was detailed to frisk her properly and she stumbled on five phones and an i-pad concealed underneath her clothing. The judge is full of judicial theatrics.
On March 3, 2016, the National Judicial Council, NJC sanctioned her for misconduct and acts of injustice by failing to deliver judgment in a pre- election case until the expiration of the tenure of the person whose qualification for election was being challenged. Earlier, she had repeatedly failed to honour invitations by the EFCC by taking refuge in a hospital feigning illness before they finally invaded her home. She seeks out the sly, edgy and cunning way out even as an officer of the law. In 2013, she reportedly assaulted a clerical officer, Mr Israel Okodugha. Last May, she detained an American, Megan Chapman in a prison run within the court for using her mobile phone during court session.
Offili- Ajumogobia is ranked 15th in the hierarchy of Federal High Court judges of 83. In the Lagos division where she sits, she is the 3rd most senior judge. Born in 1959, she turned 57 on May 21 this year. She studied at the Greycoates Preparatory School in London before returning to Nigeria to attend the Federal Government Girls College and Baptist Girls High School, Benin City. She read law at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile- Ife. She also has Masters degree in Law, LLM from the University of Jos. After several stints in the legal departments of a bank and insurance company and private legal practice, she was appointed a judge on November 7, 2004. She has two children from her marriage to Semiapuye Ajumogobia. Her father, Macdonald Ofili was also a judge, while her mother, Cordelia was a justice of the peace, JP.