EFCC Backtracks On Criticism Of NBA

Ibrahim MaguThe Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has clarified its position that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is populated by ‘rogues and vultures’, saying the statement was not a blanket condemnation of members of the bar.

The anti-graft agency was reacting to the demand for an unreserved apology and withdrawal of the statement, which the NBA said was unacceptable.

The NBA, in a statement by its General Secretary, Isiaka Abiola Olagunju, on Monday, condemned in the strongest terms the use of abusive and uncivil language by the EFCC.

The scribe added that: “It is unacceptable. The NBA demands an unequivocal withdrawal of this statement and an unreserved apology from the EFCC”.

Olagunju explained that the NBA President, Abubakar Mahmoud, during his inaugural address in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State on Friday 26th August 2016, commended the achievements of the EFCC but called for the reform of the anti-graft agency to enhance its capabilities to deliver on its mandate on a ‘consistent and sustainable’ basis devoid of political interference.

He said the call for reform was made on the basis of well-established institutional safeguards that demand the proper regulation of the wide discretionary powers involved in the investigation and prosecution of criminal matters.

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He pointed out that combining investigative powers with prosecutorial powers in one single agency, (called the Roskill Model in England), is the exception, rather than the norm.

Olagunju noted that: “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”.

He added that the NBA Constitution demands that it promotes law reform and legal development.

Olagunju said the association, therefore, commits itself to promoting healthy public debate about the nation’s institutions and interrogating their capabilities and performance, including all criminal justice agencies such as the EFCC.

He said the NBA President Mr. Mahmoud (SAN) 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 organization.

In a statement by its spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren last night, the EFCC explained, for the avoidance of doubt, that it did not say the whole of the NBA is populated by ‘rogues and vultures’.

Uwujaren maintained that: “The Nigerian Bar and Bench are peopled by very many seasoned, upright members, who have made and are still making invaluable contributions to the fight against corruption”.

While expressing appreciation to the new leadership of the NBA to fight corruption, the EFCC noted that Mr. Mahmoud’s weighty recommendation was advanced against facts on the ground and without advancing a single shred of justification.

It said the call of the NBA president (including its timing and the platform at which was canvassed) to strip the EFCC of its prosecutorial powers, was laid bare to speculations about the motivation behind it.

Uwujaren said the EFCC notes the unprecedented step it has taken to help rid the Nigerian judiciary of severely corrupt elements, including the investigation and prosecution of senior members of the Bar for corruption and money laundering, with several more such interventions in the pipeline.

“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”, the statement said.

Uwujaren said there are people with vested interests who wish to dismember the EFCC and those who are hovering like birds of prey to devour the carcass of the Commission.

He added that by way of background, then NBA president, Lanke Odogiyan (again at the Bar conference in Port Harcourt) in 2005, called for outright scrapping of the EFCC and it took the intervention of a number of progressive legal practitioners led by Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, of blessed memory, to shoot down the obnoxious move.

“That failed attempt was closely followed by the move by one-time Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Michael Aondoakaa, to bring about the same end that is today being championed by Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN”, the EFCC stated.

Mr. Uwujaren said these were what compelled the anti-graft agency to put the nation on notice, adding it was never meant to impugn the integrity of upright and honorable members of the NBA.