ECC Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde
By Tobi Soniyi
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA appears set for a show down with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over a directory that all law firms must register with the Special Control Unit Against Money Laundering (SCUML).
Law firms are categorised as Designated Non-Financial Institutions (DNFI) and must therefore register with SCUML and also comply with anti-money laundering regulations.
NBA said that lawyers would not comply with the regulations because they breached lawyers-clients relationship and had therefore filed a suit to stop the EFCC from harassing lawyers over compliance.
However, EFCC through SCUML is bent on enforcing the regulation.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had also issued a directive to all banks not to allow law firms who have not registered with SCUML to operate their bank accounts.
The apex bank gave all the DNFBPs a six-month deadline to update their records with the relevant institutions. The deadline had since expired.
Many lawyers said that they have being receiving messages from their banks inviting them to show compliance with SCUML. The CBN issued the first in a circular: FPR/GEN/Vol 1/028 dated August 2nd 2012 and renewed it through circular reference FPR/DIR/003/001 dated August 23rd February 2013.
Although, the leadership of the NBA was talking with the authorities to arrive at an amicable settlement, the lawyers said that it did not appear that talks would deter EFCC from implementing the regulations.
Not wanting to take chances, the association assembled a team of lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, a former president of the association to launch a legal assault on SCUML.
The suit filed at the Federal High Court Abuja in the name of the Registered Trustees of Nigerian Bar Association listed CBN and the Attorney General of the Federation as first and second defendants respectively.
The lawyers asked the court to restrain the 1st and 2nd defendants (CBN and AGF) from seeking to enforce their directives to all banks in Nigeria against any member of the legal profession in Nigeria by preventing legal practitioners yet to register with SCUML from operating their respective bank accounts, pending the hearing and determination of the suit.