- Writes Odigie-Oyegun, APC national chair
In a move unprecedented in the nation’s political history, the National Legal Adviser of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr. Muiz Adeyemi Banire, has offered to step aside from his office pending the conclusion of the investigation into the allegation of his involvement in a bribery scandal of some judges.
This decision was contained in a letter to the National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, personally signed by Banire and dated today, Tuesday, November 8, a copy of which was obtained by THISDAY.
Consequently, Banire has further communicated this development to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), offering to also step aside as a member, Electoral Reform Committee of the government. This, he said, was in the same spirit of the moral ground that justifies his stepping aside as APC national legal adviser.
Titled: ‘Offer to Step Aside as National Legal Adviser Pending Conclusion of Investigation of My Person by the EFCC,’ copies of the five-page letter was also sent to the President, Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy, Professor Yemi Osinbajo.
Explaining why he chose to toe this moral high ground, Banire said: “On Saturday, October 29, 2016, I read online, a publication titled ‘APC National Legal Adviser, Muiz Banire, Allegedly paid Federal Judge N500,000.’ I was not only shocked by the purport of the publication against my person, but extremely disturbed by its negative propagandist effect on our party, the government it leads at the federal level, and, above all, our signature programme of anti-corruption in public life.
“I, therefore, immediately on the same day, wrote a letter which was delivered to, and acknowledged by the EFCC on October 31, 2016, submitting myself to investigation on the allegation, and offering to visit the EFCC offices in Lagos on November 1, 2016 to be interrogated as part of that investigation. A copy of the said letter of request is enclosed herewith. Ostensibly, due to the constraints of its heavy work schedule, my request to attend the EFCC to be interrogated on the allegation did not receive attention until November 3, 2016.
“The allegation, as I have come to understand it, is that a statement of account of one judge of the National Industrial Court, the Justice J. T. Agbadu-Fishim, who is the subject of an ongoing EFCC’s investigation, contained a June 2013 entry of a ‘N500,000’ payment ascribed as being from one ‘Dr. Muiz B.’
“I did not hesitate in confirming that this probably referred to me because I remember that about three years ago, I received a text message from someone I recollected at the time to be an old colleague in my days as a lecturer at the University of Lagos, an ‘Agbadu-Fishim’ who was then a Research Fellow at the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, informing me of the death and funeral programme of his mother.
“The last contact (of any sort) I had with this person before that text would have been about 14 years earlier, that is, before I was appointed Special Adviser to the Governor of Lagos State at the inception of civil rule in 1999 (now 17 years ago).
“As far as assumption goes, he was to me, at the time of his contact, still employed by the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies; he never informed me that he had moved on to become a Judge of any court in Nigeria, and I had never throughout my own career as a legal practitioner or public functionary ever appeared in any case before any judge whatsoever at the National Industrial Court, or attended any function of the National Industrial Court, that would have put me on notice that the Agbadu-Fishim I used to know had become a judge of the National Industrial Court.
“Indeed, it was with considerable difficulty that I was able to eventually recognise his face when I eventually saw him again (after 17 years of my leaving the University of Lagos) on my attendance at the EFCC on November 3, 2016.”
Continuing, Banire said: “When I received the said message and his information to me of the death and funeral programme of his mother in which he solicited for financial assistance in a tone suggesting great distress, I considered it necessary to assist an old friend in dire need. Without any further prompting, he sent his account details to me and I made a cash gift of N500,000 to him.
“As I have now come to realise after my interactions with the EFCC, that payment is being investigated from the angle of whether or not it was to influence the receiver in the performance of his judicial duties on the Bench of the National Industrial Court. This is perfectly understandable to me within the general context of the investigation in which the allegation had arisen, and considering that I have lately come to also realise that two of my colleagues in chambers had been involved as defence counsel in two cases before the subject judge among 12 cases in all they have ever done at the industrial court since inception.
“My review of the two case files which I came to be conscious of after my interactions with the EFCC shows that one of them was amicably settled between the parties for a sum less than N1.2million, thereby technically losing the case, whilst they won the other and that the combined professional fees (net of taxes) for the two cases was less than N2million,” he explained.
Banire, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), however said “While protesting my innocence, and will therefore do everything within legal limits to defend myself, I have, from the first instance, become aware of the allegation, offered my full cooperation to the EFCC and will continue to cooperate with, and give it all the assistance it may require of me in the course of its ongoing investigation into the matter.
“I have gone to the above length so that other members of the National Working Committee of our Party may become fully apprised of the allegation and the facts surrounding it, at least, as I have come to know/understand them. It is equally important to state that the said judge under one guise or the other solicited and collected from several other lawyers with not less than nine senior advocates involved as at the last count. The said judge does not deny the fact of solicitation equally.
“My concern for the name and image of the party has become heightened following the frenzy of press reports (allegedly based on undisclosed EFCC sources) that have followed my interrogative visits to the EFCC all of which have not failed to play up the fact of my being the National Legal Adviser of our party, the ruling party. I have, throughout my life, believed in the primacy of the whole over its constituent parts, and, therefore, in the importance of building and doing everything possible to preserve the institution over and above the personal interest of any individual within that institution.
“For me, this party, our party, and the government which it now leads at the federal level stands for something beyond any individual interest; I see it as the last beckon of hope for our long-suffering people. Whatever is necessary to be done to preserve it and ensure its effectiveness in order for it to attain and achieve its full potential must be done; and where that calls for our individual sacrifice, we must willingly offer it. That is the challenge before all of us, who genuinely seek a change in the pitiable situation of our country, Nigeria.
“Therefore, as surreal as I find the allegation to be, I will not stand by and watch it negatively affect the name of the party. I will rather stand by, even in the unfair circumstance I have narrated, than allow the party that I (with you and our other leaders and members across the length and breadth of Nigeria) have sacrificed brain and brawn to build-up into the formidable party it has become as a potential tool for the political re-engineering of Nigeria, and the emancipation of our peoples from want in the midst of plenty, spreading illiteracy in the age of knowledge, the ravages of commonplace diseases that have become history in other climes, and such other manifestations of poor governance that have been and remained our lot, even after 56 years of independence from colonialism.
“Mr. Chairman, Sir, it is in view of the above circumstances that I wish to temporarily step aside from my position on our National Working Committee as the National Legal Adviser of our party until completion and final outcome of the EFCC investigation involving my person,” he said.