•Sanction Abuja lawyer, anti-graft agency tells NBA
Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Mike Ozekhome, has condemned what he described as the continued illegal detention of an Abuja-based lawyer and former Chairman of Ikeja Branch of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Monday Ubani, and one Hon. Christopher Enai, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) without recourse to the rule of law, after a valid court had ordered their release from detention.
This is coming as the anti-graft agency has called on the NBA to sanction Ubani for standing surety to the former Chairperson of the National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), Ngozi Olojeme.
The senior lawyer said in a statement yesterday that “injustice to one is injustice to all”.
He charged the anti-graft agency to note that no country thrives on illegality and lawlessness, and survive.
According to him, a situation whereby the EFCC would disregard a valid and extant court order and resort to self-help is dangerous to Nigeria’s nascent democracy.
He argued that Ubani and Enai as citizens of Nigeria are protected by the 1999 Constitution.
“They are presumed innocent until the contrary is proved. Standing surety for a client who has absconded without the surety’s knowledge is not a crime, but a civil matter. To underscore that this is a civil case, the EFCC has itself filed a motion before the same Justice Oriji, to compel Ubani and Hon Christopher Enai to forfeit the bail bond of N1 billion, they had signed on behalf of their client. The present situation is therefore akin to persecution and not prosecution,” he explained.
Meanwhile, the EFCC yesterday called on the NBA to sanction Ubani for standing surety to the former Chairperson of NSITF, Ngozi Olojeme.
The position of the commission followed a statement issued by NBA, asking the commission to release Ubani or charge him to court.
The NBA had, in a statement, said the commission showed “daring disobedience to the order of court by refusing to release him on bail or charge him to court”.
But in a statement issued last night, the anti-graft agency said it was regrettable that the NBA chose to vilify the commission over a “purported order” that was based on an ex parte motion by Mike Ozekhome (SAN) to Ubani without any objective attempt at reviewing the facts of the case between EFCC and Ubani.
It said the NBA must be careful not to succumb to the wiles of members whose conduct detract from the lofty ethical standards of the bar.
“Unknown to the bar leadership, there are, at least, three different motions before the court on this matter. The applicants have a pending motion on notice for bail. They also filed a motion ex parte for bail. All the commission is waiting for are dates for the motions to be argued.
“Instead of rebuke, the commission expects the NBA to remonstrate with Monday Ubani for flouting one of the time honoured rules of professional conduct by legal practitioners, which forbids lawyers from standing surety for their clients,” it said.
To substantiate its point, the agency said: “Rule 37(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, states: “where a lawyer undertakes the defence of a person accused of a crime, he shall exert himself, by all fair and honourable means, to put before the court all matters that are necessary in the interest of justice, but shall not stand or offer to stand bail for a person for whom he or a person in his law firm is appearing.”
EFCC maintained that “by standing surety for Ngozi Olojeme, former Chairperson of the National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), his client and suspect in a fraud case before the commission, Ubani is liable for misconduct, for which the EFCC expects the NBA disciplinary committee to take appropriate action.
“Contrary to the attempt to portray the commission as one that thrives on impunity, Ubani has already been brought before the court by the EFCC. This fact is reflected in the statement he made to the commission on September 13, 2018 wherein he stated: “Today, we were in court and my role in the whole saga was explained to the court and the court adjourned the matter to December 6, 2018.”