Buhari Misfired, Magu Incompetent – NBA, SANs

The Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, has come under attack from lawyers for accusing some members of the inner Bar of frustrating the anti-corruption war by helping corrupt politicians take advantages of the loopholes in the laws.

The EFCC’s boss had in a piece titled, ‘Need for Ethical Reforms as NBA Conference Begins’, berated the Senior Advocates of Nigeria who are taking advantage of their expertise to abuse the country’s laws.

He lamented that the silks were putting their know-how at the disposal of corrupt politicians to frustrate the federal government’s anti-graft war. He also urged lawyers to always demand the sources of their clients’ income before receiving any money.

“It is personally disheartening to see lawyers who invest their talents and expertise in advancing the cause of corrupt politicians and public officials. It is amazing that a senior lawyer can accept professional fees of N1.7 billion from a politician without scruples.

“The same lawyer with a turnover of N3, 765,414,995.24 only paid valued added tax of N7, 051,928.24. The N300 million cash payment which the senior lawyer received from a South-South state government in an election petition matter in 2016 was never captured in his tax submissions to the Federal Inland Revenue Service.

“Yet when he got wind of EFCC investigation, he was quick to take advantage of the VAIDS window as cover to shield himself from the commission’s dragnet.

“Another senior lawyer who is quick to advertise himself as the nemesis of the EFCC has a turnover of over N5.1 billion with an assessed total tax liability of over a billion naira between 2010 and 2017. Sadly, he merely declared a meagre N8 million as gross earnings for 2014 and 2015, and N10 million for 2016.

“While we are mindful of the fact that there may be more than one side to a situation, which equally deserves robust presentation and defence, we believe that no matter the positions we take on any issue, Nigeria should come first”, Magu wrote in the piece.

However, in their responses to Magu’s allegations, the lawyers said the comments of the EFCC’s boss smacks of incompetence having opted to dwell in the realm of conjectures when he should have taken appropriate legal action against the silks he claimed were truncating anti-graft war.

The lawyers in separate telephone interviews with Saturday Telegraph said it was improper for Magu to come up with such a generalised statement against a set of professionals. In his own reaction, the new national President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Paul Usoro SAN, noted that there a number of misconceptions and misperceptions.

He said: “First, judges and the courts are not enemies of society simply because they discharge and or acquit persons who are charged before them for criminal conduct. Courts, world over, make decisions based on the facts presented before them and based on applicable principles of law.

Courts do not manufacture evidence and do not descend into the arena to prosecute or defend persons charged with criminal conducts. Judges remain impartial arbiters, even in criminal matters and our Nigerian courts have in the main carried out these functions in a most exemplary manner.

“It therefore pains us, as lawyers, when the Judiciary is erroneously perceived and characterised as the problem in Nigeria. It pains us when they are vilified and demonised in a manner that would tend to cow and intimidate them.

Yes, like any grouping of people, there may be bad eggs amongst our judges, but that does not call for class demonisation of our judges and courts. What needs to be done is to fish out those bad eggs amongst them and remove them from the pack – and there are sleuth methods and laid down procedures in this regard.

“We truly damage our justice administration system when we, public officials and lawyers alike, openly vilify and condemn our entire judiciary and judges – more often than not, without any proven case of infraction. We degrade the rule of law thereby and blackmail our judges and the judiciary.

“A corollary and second misconception and misperception are that which characterises lawyers who defend persons charged with criminal conduct before our courts as criminals themselves or accomplices to the crimes for which their clients are charged, ipso facto.

That is entirely incorrect. Persons charged with criminal conducts are not only constitutionally deemed innocent until proven guilty based on court pronouncements; they are entitled to legal representation by counsel of their choice.

“This is a basic principle of the rule of law and a constitutionally guaranteed right. It is also a demand of the rule of law that counsel, once engaged in defence of a client, must prosecute the client’s case to the best of his professional ability and most assiduously. In some instances, such forensic and assiduous defence of clients earns the defendant a discharge and/or acquittal.

That is not and cannot be the fault of the counsel and it should not necessarily be attributed, without proof, to the compromise of the judge by counsel. “Such an attribution is just as unfair to the court and counsel as the attribution of all convictions to the unproved undermining pressures that may be perceived by some to have been placed on the courts by agencies of government. Indeed both misperceptions do grave injustice to our justice administration and unduly destroy the credibility of our courts and lawyers.

To this end, it is important that lawyers be not class-defamed and treated by our law enforcement agencies as criminals or accomplices to the crimes for which their clients may be charged,” he added.

“We would look at measures that need to be introduced in order to make our disciplinary procedures far more responsive and time sensitive. In truth, the image of the Nigerian lawyer is perhaps at its lowest ebb and this cannot all be attributed to misperception by government and the public. The conduct of some of our members brings bad repute to us.

It is critical and important that we purge ourselves and, as a profession, regain the moral high ground that historically stood us out as members of the honourable profession”, he stated. Also reacting to this, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome said that if the anti-graft agency has found any lawyer who is corrupt, such should be arrested and prosecuted instead of generalising.

Ozekhome said: “If any lawyer is found to be corrupt , he should be brought to book, but I know that of the three arms if government, it is only the judiciary that has a self-deodorizing mechanism through the NJC and the NBA disciplinary committee that have always smoke out corrupt lawyers and judges and dealt with them accordingly.

“The irony of the situation is that in some of these cases that the government and the ruling party are crying about, when they won at the lower court, either at the tribunal or the court of appeal, the judiciary is glowingly praised with a lot of adulation and encomiums as being the last hope of the common man, as being the vanguard of the oppressed.

There was nothing wrong with the judiciary that time, that time the judiciary did not give anybody any headache, but as soon as the same court gave judgement which favour the opposition, such as Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Abia and Taraba, the judiciary is suddenly corrupt and must be probed”, he added. Another Abuja based lawyer, Kayode Ajulo in his own response said that Magu should keep quiet.

“Magu is an investigator, he is sitting in one the very important government law enforcement agency, he should not be seen to be speculative. “It is his duty to investigate. If any lawyer or judge is found to be corrupt, he should arrest them and take them to court, not that he will be shouting like a coward.

Even it is an indictment on his part by saying that. “It his duty to investigate them and not to be coming to the public and shouting. Allegation does not lie in the mouth of Magu, his own is to act. He has the knife, he has yam, then he should peel it.

If there is anybody that should speculate, he should not be the one. That is uncharitable on his part. “And I as a lawyer, I am worried of his competence if he is talking like that,” he added. Another senior lawyer, Olaolu Ajayi, while reacting said that this is not a time to shift blame but a rather a time for each and every actor to play his part to perfection.

“I think the EFCC boss is only trying to shift blame for his inefficiency. Talking like that as an insider shows the level of his ignorance. And if the war against corruption will be won, I think the President should with immediate effect terminate his appointment.

“Whoever that will talk, should do so with facts and figures and not speculations. Magu is ignorant of his assignment. He is appointed as a publicity secretary but as an investigator to arrest and prosecute corruption.

“This is not the first time he will talk like that. He said something similar last week that the judiciary should purge itself of corruption. This is becoming too much of him. And the irony is that, he will still depend on these lawyers prosecute his corruption cases.

Any house divided against itself shall surely fall”, he stated. In his submissions, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ahamba, asked the EFCC’s boss to be bold enough to name the silks concerned and charge them to court if he has his facts against them.

He said: “The ball is in Magu’s court. He is in charge of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and not the lawyers. For him to have facts to prosecute people and he has not done so, he needs to explain to the country what is stopping him from prosecuting those people.

“It is not proper for him to make a generalised statement against a set of professionals. Let him come forward and name those involved. If anyone has committed any offence, we the lawyers will not cover the person.

Let him come forward and charge the people to court instead of lamenting his incapacity and incompetence. He will arrest people who have done nothing, while he will not arrest those he has facts on. “Magu should stop making such general statement. I don’t like it. If he has his fact against any person, let him prosecute the person. If it is Mike Ahamba, I am ready to answer the prosecution.

He should desist from making such serious allegations against lawyers, particularly, senior advocates. “I didn’t earn this title on the roadside, I worked for it and I got it. So, nobody should just come and bullshit it on a general term. When you are talking about senior advocates, I am one of them”. Also speaking in the same vein, another silk, Hakeem Olatunde Afolabi, said it is most uncharitable for the EFCC’s boss to levy such allegations against senior lawyers without being specific about those concerned.

“Though I am yet to see the content of the piece, but if he had actually made such allegations, it is most uncharitable for him to do so. “Every Nigerian by virtue of the constitution, in any criminal offence for which he has been charged to court is presumed to be innocent and is entitled to a legal practitioner of his choice.

Whether such individual want to retain the service of a senior advocate or not is his decision just like the EFCC can also decide to hire the service of a silk. If the EFCC’s case is not properly packaged and it lost at the end of the day, senior lawyers should not be blamed for such loss.

“Secondly, if the EFCC’s Acting Chairman has his fact on any senior lawyer aiding politicians to launder proceeds of crime, he should proceed to court instead of making generalised statement, since no one is above the law. “It’s even a serious indictment on the part of Magu for him to be making such unsustainable claims.

It is a failure of responsibility if he is admitting that somebody is assisting another person to filter away proceeds of crime. What has he done about it? Is he saying that he is incompetent to arrest those people? So, as far as I am concern, I think Magu is unnecessarily playing to the gallery with his claims.

“What is the business of a lawyer as to source of the fund through which his legal fee was paid? It is for the state authority to decide. It has nothing to do with the legal practitioner,” the silk said. A former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Adekunle Ojo, was of the view that Magu’s allegations will remain in the realm of conjecture as long as he hides the identity of the silks concerned.

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