Agbakoba, HURILAWS back association
Tobi Soniyi and Senator Iroegbu in Abuja
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has condemned the statement credited to the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, calling lawyers rogues.
The NBA, in a statement signed by its General Secretary, Isiaka Abiola Olagunju, called on the commission to withdraw the statement and to tender and unreserved apology.
The association criticised the chairman of the anti-graft agency for using uncivil language of ‘rogues’ and vultures on lawyers who are doing their constitutional duties.
NBA said: “The inaugural address of the NBA President was a statement of nearly 30 pages, which set his vision and direction of his programmes for the Nigerian legal profession. He committed himself to leading a brave new Bar fully aligned with the aspirations of Nigerians in their quest for national development which can only be anchored on the rule of law built on strong institutions.
“In the paragraph of the statement dealing with corruption, the NBA president restated the commitment of the NBA in the fight against corruption. He commended the modest achievement of the EFCC but called for the reform of the agency to enhance its capability to deliver on its mandate on a consistent and sustainable basis devoid of political interference and on the basis of well established institution safeguard that demands proper regulation of the wide discretionary power involved in the investigation and prosecution of criminal matters.
“The NBA condemns in the strongest term the use of abusive and uncivil language of ‘rogues and vultures’ and such structures by the public authority. Name calling and abusive language is not expected of any public institution. It is unacceptable. The NBA demands an unequivocal withdrawal of these statements and unreserved apology from the EFCC.”
The association called on the EFCC to endeavour to get its facts correctly before making statements or insinuations.
Last weekend the EFCC in a statement described the Nigerian Bench as one populated by rogues and vultures.
It said such group of people could not sit in judgment over others or command their respect.
The EFCC’s statement was a response to the call by the new NBA President, Abubakar Mahmoud, for the restructuring of the anti-graft agency.
Mahmoud had after his inauguration as the president of the NBA called for the restructuring of the EFCC.
Among other proposals, he said the anti-graft agency should be stripped of its prosecutorial powers.
But EFCC described the call by Mahmoud as a self-serving one.
The EFCC said the aim of the call was to create “a cabal of untouchables” since some of the country’s senior lawyers are undergoing trial now for cases of corruption.
It vowed that there would be no sacred cows in the bid to stamp out corruption in the country.
The statement said: “It is too much of a strange coincidence that the suggestion to strip the EFCC of its prosecutorial powers is being floated few months after the commission, in unprecedented fashion arraigned some senior lawyers for corruption.”
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS) has thrown its weight behind the call by Mahmoud for the whittling down of the prosecuting powers of the EFCC.
HURILAWS in a statement signed yesterday by the Senior Counsel, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) and Legal/Programme Officer, Mr. Collins Okeke, applauded “the call by Mahmoud for a debate on the efficacy of the war against corruption in Nigeria”.
Agbakoba and HURILAWS said that “where corruption is endemic like in Nigeria strong institutions are critical to achieve success.”
The body noted that “It is in this context that the debate on the propriety of the EFCC investigating and prosecuting financial crimes at the same time is appropriate.”
Part of the statement read: “We support the position of the President of the NBA. HURILAWS position is supported by international best practice and the need to build the capacity of the EFCC to deliver on its core mandate which is investigation of financial crimes.
“The international best practice is that one agency investigates, another prosecutes and the court adjudicates. The EFCC as currently composed is overworked and will not efficiently deliver on investigation and prosecution.
“While we have no objection with the EFCC investigating or the courts adjudicating, we believe the powers to prosecute should be vested in an independent highly resourced prosecuting agency. We appreciate the enormous work done by the EFCC since its establishment in 2003.”
According to HURILAWS, “13 years on the Federal Government needs to rejig the EFCC and other crime fighting institutions to perform optimally.”
The body also expressed support for the plan by the Attorney General of the Federation to establish a National Prosecuting Agency.
In a related development, a Lagos-based human rights and constitutional lawyer, Ms Carol Ajie, has condemned the immediate past President of the NBA, Mr.Austine Alegeh, for being silent in the face of scathing attacks against the professional body of lawyers in the country by the EFCC.
Ajie said Alegeh had the golden opportunity to address the issues raised by the EFCC in its release that coincided with his “thanksgiving to God to mark the end of my tenure as NBA President” on Sunday, August 28, 2016.
She said: “On Sunday, August 28, 2016 while EFCC Chair Magu’s release made news, Alegeh wrote to his friends: “Please join me in thanksgiving to God to mark the end of my tenure as NBA President
“You know what it means moving from Ikeja to Ikoyi, tortuous. With all the money he made he couldn’t host his people in Ikeja for convenience of movement.
“But that is not the angst, that Alegeh could not call 5 or 6 (more or less) of his colleagues aside to discuss Magu’s press release at the heat of the moment and possibly explain why he, Alegeh didn’t think he (Alegeh), handed over a rogue association as Magu lampooned.”
“In the years I contested the office of General Secretary of NBA I would organize my birthday colloquium in Federal Palace Victoria Island Lagos over sumptuous dinner to feed our intellectuality, resource persons (Lawyers) talked to Lawyers over prepared speeches and remarks on the latest Law and Court Rules.
“Alegeh wasn’t nearly 50,000 kilometres to NBA Leadership. He couldn’t even say to his learned friends on Sunday ‘lets discuss this Magu’s statement lets form a public view’ by now the public would have read or had him televised or even on radio: ‘immediate past president of the NBA, Alegeh, at his closing reception in Lagos called on EFCC to make a generous assessment of Mahmoud’s inaugural statement in PH to see that he meant no harm; NBA never intended to whittle down or ‘dwarfize’ EFCC or the anti-graft war.
“But aimed at strengthening its investigatory powers as laid out in the EFCC Act but to reserve prosecutorial powers to a distinct office …….’ With a view to boosting public morality, you pushback and preserve your profession,” she added.