CJN, AGF, Sagay ask lawyers, judges to stop frustrating fight against corruption
Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
The acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, on Tuesday in Abuja refused to answer questions relating to the property allegedly acquired by the Chief of Army Staff COAS, Gen. Tukur Buratai, in Dubai.
The question about the propriety of Buratai, as a career public servant, acquiring property in foreign country has continued to dominate public discourse in recent time, with the COAS claiming to have procured the asset through savings.
Magu had attended a workshop on corruption in Abuja yesterday, but was accosted while exiting the venue by journalists, who sought to know what his agency was doing on the Buratai case.
The EFCC boss, who had waited to listen to the journalists, smiled and suddenly jumped into his car when a journalist asked what his agency was doing about the Buratai case. His driver promptly sped off.
While speaking at the workshop, Magu expressed discomfort about the attitude of lawyers even as he accused them of constituting major “impediment to what we are doing.”
He advocated the de-emphasis of human rights and other technicalities in dealing with corruption case.
The EFCC boss warned lawyers against constituting themselves as stumbling block to the success of the on-going effort to tame corruption in the society.
Magu, who urged lawyers to support his agency’s efforts against corrupt individuals, argued that what should motivate every Nigerian today should be national interest and the survival of the country.
The event was a workshop on ‘anti-corruption, ethics of the legal profession and justice sector’, organised by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC).
Magu said: “When I learnt about this event, I said let me rush to see these people who have been causing a lot of impediment in the work that we are doing.
“And I said let me also come and beg you to please join us so that we can tackle corruption together in a better way. And it is for the betterment of our country. I want to appeal to you that we should play by the rule.
“We should de-emphasise the issue of human rights. Frankly speaking, what is important now is the interest of the nation. We should put the interest of the nation ahead any other interest.”
He also expressed dismay at the volume of public funds taken out of the country and cited an instance where somebody took $2.1billion and transferred it out of the country.
He however did not give details of the case and the person involved.
Magu urged legal practitioners to always play by the rule and avoid being used by corrupt elements to pervert justice adding that. “What is important is the interest of the nation which should be placed above any other interest.”
He decried the attitudes of some lawyers, whom he said compromised their responsibility to the society and aid criminals to escape justice.
The agency chairman noted that lawyers have a greater stake in the anti- corruption war more than any other class of professional.
Magu, who reiterated his agency’s commitment towards curbing money laundering, said: “We will not stop going after people who are involved in laundering money. It doesn’t matter who you are, the law is a respecter of nobody especially those who commit crime.
“Whether you are EFCC, SAN or whatever, sooner or later we will start going after people who buy properties with stolen funds as well as people who help others to escape justice.”
He said the EFCC would not be able to stamp out corruption in the country without the support of all stakeholders.
“We consider everybody a stakeholder, as the EFCC does not have monopoly of knowledge to defeat all shades of graft,” Magu said.
Meanwhile, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed; Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), and Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), yesterday in Abuja asked lawyers and judges not to frustrate government’s ongoing efforts to curb corruption.
They all spoke in Abuja at a workshop on ‘Anti-corruption, ethics of the legal profession and justice sector’ organised by the NBA and the PACAC.
They called on judges and lawyers not to compromise their professional ethics.
According to them, judges and lawyers should avoid aiding criminality for personal gains, but ensure the protection of societal interest at all time.
The CJN, who was represented by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun of the Supreme Court, called for mutual collaboration among operators in the criminal justice system to allow for prompt and efficient dispensation of justice.
He urged lawyers and judges to look inward and review their ethical standards, with a view to ensuring greater self awareness and accountability.
The CJN said: “Indeed, recent events within the profession have no doubt thrown up questions bordering on the ethical content of our profession and justice system, as well as its readiness to properly fight against corrupt practice.
”If charity, as they say begins at home, self appraisal must by necessity, start there too.
“This event calls for honest discourse and impartial considerations on a wide range of issues- legislative, fiscal, institutional and more importantly ethical, as affect the conduct of our justice system.
“We must ask ourselves pressing questions as to the root causes of delay in the dispensation of justice as well as the effect that this has on human rights.
“We must bequeath a more just, fairer and greater nation to future generations, as well as the inevitability of that great judge of a man’s deed- posterity.
“The actions we take or omit to take will someday be measured against us and we must ensure that we are on the right side of that judgment.
“In the final analysis however, there is a self evident need for us to review the factors responsible for the nadir in our ethical standards, so that we can better promote fair play, honesty and diligence service of our nation.
“I am of the firm belief that collectively we can develop workable solutions in areas where we fall short, while improving upon our success stories and establishing those successes as the norm in other areas within the justice system, as we better equip ourselves to reduce corrupt practice to the barest minimum.”
Malami reminded lawyers of their responsibility to foster the course of justice and advised them not to see justice from the perspective of their client only.
The AGF, who was represented by the Special Assistant to the President on Research and Special Project, Sylvester Imhanobe, urged lawyers to always hold their responsibility to the state above their individual responsibility to their clients.
He called for enhanced adherence to ethical standards by members of the legal profession.
Sagay, who stressed the importance of members of the legal profession to the continued survival of the country, noted that “if we don’t perform our roles as social engineers, the society will suffer, society will descend to chaos. Poverty, anarchy will be the effect of that.”
He observed that lawyers were now trying to intimidate judges by asking them to disqualify themselves.
This, he said was a ploy to delay trial. He warned judges against betraying their calling and trading with their privilege position.
He said: “Our judges should make up their mind on whether they have acted in good conscience. If I am not bias; if have not betrayed my calling; if I have nothing to fear from my conscience, why should I refuse to read the judgment that I have written.
“What an upright judge will do will be to read that judgment and ask the applicant to go up and use whatever bias as a basis for appeal.
“I want to tell our judges to be courageous in their court, and act conscientiously and deliver their judgment courageously. Let their only judge be their conscience.
“They have nothing to fear as long as they have acted in accordance with their conscience. Anyone returning a case file to the Chief Judge on the grounds that he has been accused of bias is indicating that he himself is not sure he is unbias.”
He urged lawyers to desist from professional misconduct, noting that a situation where lawyers deliberately work to aid his client escape punishment was unethical.
Sagay said: “The obligation of a lawyer to accept briefs does not extend to the protection of their clients from the consequences of crimes against the society.
“A lawyer who looks at his client and believes that client is guilty of a crime, should advise that client to plead guilty otherwise he should drop the case. He does not have a choice.
“He should not knowingly, or being aware that a client is guilty of an offence, set out to provide the defence of not guilty with the intention of seeing him set free from the consequences of his crime.
“It is therefore unethical and a breach of the rules of the profession to set out to frustrate legal proceedings by exploiting the rules of procedure and regulation. It is unethical to make frivolous application with the hope of delaying the proceedings in a case.
“It is also unethical to accuse a judge of bias in order to make him withdraw from a case so that the case will start all afresh before a new judge.
“Defence counsel, my dear colleagues, should avoid ending up as a partner in the crime by sharing sharing guilt and proceeds of that crime.
“A lawyer’s role should not degenerate from that of a legitimate defence counsel to becoming an accomplice after the fact.
“A lawyer who is over-enthusiastic in the defence of his client and crossing the line from being a lawyer to being to becoming a co-defendant will be prosecuted as such.
“We should avoid any urge of committing fraud, money laundering, perjury and so on in the process of trying to defend our client. We should never forget our status as ministers in the temple of justice.
“That status prevails over any other duty, even over the duty we owe to our client. I therefore appeal once again that our colleagues should never ever cross over from the bar because if they do that they may end up in the dock.”