By Tunde Oyesina
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) yesterday kicked back at the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, over the statement credited to him that lawyers in the country as rogues.
The Bar condemned the statement in strong terms, stating that lawyers are not rogues and vultures. This was just as the National President of the bar, A.B Mahmoud (SAN) denied ever being a lawyer to a former Governor of Delta State, James Ibori.
The position of the bar was contained in a statement issued in Abuja by its General Secretary, Isiaka Abiola Olagunju. The bar called on the commission to withdraw the statement. It, however, criticized the chairman of the anti-graft agency for using uncivil language of ‘rogues’ and vultures on lawyers who are doing their constitutional duties.
“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 unequivocal withdrawal of these statements and unreserved apology from the EFCC,” NBA stated. The association justified his position on EFCC.
The statement reads in part: “The inaugural address of the NBA President was a statement of nearly 30 pages, which set out its 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.
“Combining investigative powers with prosecutorial powers in one single agency, (called the Roskill Model in England), is the exception rather than the norm. In the UK only the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) enjoys such combined powers.
But given the institutional safeguards, both within the SFO and the maturity that characterizes the UK Criminal Justice Institutions, the abuse of such powers will be highly unlikely. “The NBA Constitution demands that it promotes law reform and legal development. It therefore commits itself to promoting healthy public debate about our institutions and interrogating their capa- bilities and performance, including all criminal justice agencies such as the EFCC.
The NBA will not be intimidated or cowed in the discharge of this responsibility.” The bar however charged EFCC to endeavour to get its facts correctly before making statements or insinuations.
New Telegraph recalls that the EFCC had last weekend described the Nigerian Bench as one populated by rogues and vultures. It added that such group of people cannot sit in judgement over others or command their respect.
EFCC’s statement was prompted by the call by Mahmoud calling for the restructuring of the EFCC. Among other proposals, Mahmoud made in his inaugural speech was that the anti-graft agency be stripped of its prosecutorial powers.
The NBA, however, noted that its President, Mahmoud, has over the years supported the work of the EFCC in many ways and acted as counsel in a number of matters on behalf of the organisation.
“However, neither he nor his firm has ever represented the EFCC or the Attorney General of the Federation or been involved in any prosecution or defense of Mr. James Ibori in any criminal matter before any court in Nigeria or outside.
“On the case involving the former Governor of Rivers State, Mr. Peter Odili, the EFCC is aware that Mr. Mahmoud was lead counsel in its defense in a civil appeal at the Court of Appeal involving the constitutional challenge of the powers of the EFCC by the Rivers State Government.
“In spite of his best efforts, the case has remained stuck in the Court of Appeal, even after all briefs of arguments had been settled. The records of the EFCC will also show that neither Mr. Mahmoud nor his firm has been paid any fee, notwithstanding the nearly 20 court appearances in the matter in the course of the last several years involving air travels (Abuja to Port Harcourt) and hotel expenses. “It is therefore unkind and misleading for the EFCC to suggest that Mr. Mahmoud was ever involved in any way in the conduct of its criminal cases against any of the two former governors”.
The commission through its spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, had in a statement on Monday maintained that there were some rogue elements in the NBA. His words: “EFCC is of the opinion that as in several professions (including law enforcement), there are some rogue elements in the Nigerian Bar Association giving the Bar a bad name.”