MAKURDI ASSAULT: EFCC CHAIR SHUNS PARLEY, NBA MAY SUE

  • GBAGIR BRIEFS AKPATA

  • NBA MAY SUE EFCC

The Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa has boycotted a meeting initiated by the commission to resolve the furore over alleged assault on Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Makurdi Branch Chairman, Mr. Justin Gbagir.

In an “update” on the assault made available to CITY LAWYER by Gbagir, he stated that though Benue State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Benue State, Mr. Michael Gusa had contacted him to intimate him of a plan by the EFCC helmsman to meet him and the Attorney-General in Makurdi, Bawa never showed up for the meeting as scheduled. His words: “As at the time of going to press around 10pm of 8th July, 2021, I am not aware that the EFCC Chairman has come to Makurdi as hitherto promised.”

Indicating that he has briefed NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata on the development, Gbagir called on “all those who were willing to offer one form of support for this course in one way or the other that the time is now. We cannot move with EFCC at their own space (sic) and convenience.”

CITY LAWYER gathered that barring last-minute rapprochement, Gbagir may in collaboration with the NBA soon press charges against the EFCC operatives.

The full text of the update is below.

UPDATE ON THE ASSAULTS ON THE NBA CHAIRMAN, MAKURDI BRANCH JUSTIN GBAGIR, ESQ. BY THE OPERATIVES OF THE ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL CRIMES COMMISSION (EFCC) ON THE 8TH JUNE, 2021
On the 8th June, 2021, I was brutally assaulted by the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at their Zonal Office in Makurdi, Benue State. In the early hours of 9th June, 2021, I made a report to the President of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Olumide Akpata from my hospital bed at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi and made the said report available on some social media platforms.

The NBA President immediately reach out to the Chairman of EFCC who promised to send a special investigator from Abuja to Makurdi for an investigation with a further commitment to ensure that the perpetrators of the dastardly act are brought to book and adequately punished. While the President was awaiting the outcome of the investigation, EFCC through Wilson Uwujaren, Head, Media and Publicity issued a statement denying the assault on me and further alleged that I was the aggressor who “led a gang of thugs to breach the security of the Makurdi office of the EFCC in an attempt to forcibly set free a suspect under interrogation by the EFCC”. The statement further accused me of “resorting to social media blackmail, posing in hospital bed and concocting a fantastic story of an imaginary assault by the EFCC.” The statement also alleged that my action was “indecorous and unbecoming of the leader of the bar” and that I “demonstrated embarrassing insensitivity to the delicate security situation of the state, and should be remorseful for my misguided action and not spew untruths in pliable sections of the media.”

Sequel to the said press release by the spoke person of the EFCC, Dr. Rapulu Nduka, Publicity Secretary of NBA issued a statement on behalf of the NBA President and the entire Bar wherein he stated the resolve of the Nigerian Bar Association to get to the root of the matter and ensure that the officers behind such brazen acts of inhumanity are brought to justice and that abhorrent acts do not reoccur.

The President of NBA, Mr Olumide Akpata in a letter to the Chairman of the EFCC dated 10th June, 2021 and made available to the media on the 15th June, 2021 raised sundry issues regarding harassment of lawyers and the general high level of unprofessionalism, crass abuse of power and inhumane treatment which EFCC have exhibited, and continue to exhibit at different times when dealing with lawyers at various offices of the EFCC across the country. The said letter which was titled “Assault of Official(s) of the Nigerian Bar Association by the Operatives of the EFCC and Related Incidents of Unprofessionalism against Lawyers: Demand for Investigation, Immediate Action and Cessation” concluded that “while I look forward to an expeditious investigation of the unjust treatment of Mr. Gbagir and a general refocusing of the approach of the EFCC in its dealings with lawyers, please accept, Mr. Chairman, the assurances of my highest consideration”. At the time of going to press, the EFCC Chairman to the best of my knowledge has not responded to this letter.

Suffice to state that on the 11th June, 2021 the NBA Makurdi Branch also issued a press statement wherein they stated that “we take very serious exception to the denigration of the legal profession by the EFCC and further contend that, this is one attack too many by the commission on legal practitioners and we shall vehemently and strongly stem and resist their excesses using all civil and legal means at our disposal.” The statement concluded that “…this matter without doubt shall be followed to its rightful, proper and judicious conclusion. The maxim is Úbi jus, ubi remedium’, which means that ‘where law has established a right, there should be a corresponding remedy.”

Meanwhile, the Director of Internal Affairs at the headquarters of EFCC was in Makurdi on the 10th and 11th June, 2021 where he took my oral and written statement at the office of the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice at the Ministry of Justice Headquarters, Makurdi. The Director of Internal Affairs who earlier in the interaction denied knowledge of the press release by the Head of Media and Publicity however, assured that after his report to the Chairman of EFCC, appropriate measures would be taken to bring the perpetrators to justice.

At the end of the quarterly National Executive Committee meeting of the NBA which held in Abuja on the 24th June, 2021, NEC resolved amongst others that “NEC reviles the circumstances leading to the brutalization of the Chairman of the Makurdi Branch of the NBA by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on 8th June, 2021.” NEC commended the efforts taken by the NBA President thus far, and further directed that the NBA President should take the opportunity of the unfortunate Makurdi incident to finally put an end to the epidemic of brutalization and harassment of legal practitioners by law enforcement agencies in the discharge of the lawyer’s professional duties.

Several other human rights organization also issued separate press statements in condemnation of the assault by the EFCC. One of such statement is from Legal Defence and Assistance Project, based in Lagos. They condemned the assault and urged “the EFCC to publish an apology to the victim, and demanded that the Attorney-General & Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN) should prosecute the errant officers and further urged the EFCC to henceforth treat all lawyers with respect in all legal dealings with them”.

On the 30th June, 2021, the learned Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Benue State, Mr Michael Gusa called to intimate me that the Director of Internal Affairs at the EFCC headquarters called him and indicated that the Chairman of the EFCC would like to meet with me and him this week, and Thursday, 8th June, 2021 was tentatively scheduled for the meeting. On Tuesday, 6th July, when I sought to know from the Attorney-General when specifically we were meeting with the EFCC Chairman, he promised to revert back to me after further consultation with the Director of Internal Affairs. The Attorney-General later in the evening of Tuesday, 6th July, 2021 called to intimate me that the Director of Internal Affairs told him that the Chairman of the EFCC preferred to visit Benue State to meet with us on the 8th July, 2021 instead of us going to Abuja. As at the time of going to press around 10pm of 8th July, 2021, I am not aware that the EFCC Chairman has come to Makurdi as hitherto promised.

Meanwhile, after my discharge from the Benue State University Teaching Hospital on the 9th June, 2021, I was booked to attend a check-up on the 5th July, 2021. As a result of the challenges I was having to see with my left eye and challenges to hear with my left ear, I decided to attend the Nigerian Air force Base Hospital, Makurdi also to seek further medical attention. On the 5th of July, 2021, I attended the BSUTH Makurdi as was requested to do and was examined but requested to come back for further check up on the 26th July, 2021. I am still having challenges with my left eye and left ear.

This evening, I sought leave from the NBA President to issue this press statement to provide an update and to mark one month Anniversary of the assault and brutalization by operatives of the EFCC, and Mr President graciously granted me leave.

I wish to use this opportunity to appreciate the NBA President and all members of the Bar and the general public for standing with me on this issue. The President has assured me and I am confident that this fight is not mine but that of the entire Bar. I am not the victim, it is the entire Bar that is the victim. Members of the Bar have demonstrated that an injury for one is actually an injury to all.

In the circumstances of the foregoing, I wish to request all those who were willing to offer one form of support for this course in one way or the other that the time is now. We cannot move with EFCC at their own space and convenience. In any case, they have serially exhibited conduct that they cannot be trusted. If after the assault, they have the audacity to deny and attempt to change the narrative to favour them, they are capable of doing anything.

In further consultation with the NBA President, we shall be coming up with our next line of action without further delay.

Thank you all and God bless.
Justin Gbagir, Esq.
Chairman, NBA Makurdi Branch

Copyright 2020 CITY LAWYER. Please send emails to citylawyermag@gmail.com. Join us on Facebook at https://web.facebook.com/City-Lawyer-Magazine-434937936684320 and on TWITTER at https://twitter.com/CityLawyerMag. To ADVERTISE in CITY LAWYER, please email citylawyermag@gmail.com or call 08138380083. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.

LEDAP KNOCKS EFCC OVER ATTACK ON NBA BRANCH CHAIR

The Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP) has berated the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged attack by its operatives on the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Makurdi Branch, Chairman, Mr. Justin Gbagir.

In a statement made available to CITY LAWYER and signed by LEDAP National Coordinator, Mr. Chino Obiagwu (SAN), the group stated that the action of the operatives violates the fundamental rights of the Bar Leader as entrenched in Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution.

The group noted that from a series of events which occurred on June 8, 2021, it was apparent that Gbagir went to the EFCC Makurdi Branch Office to facilitate bail for Miss Aver Shima, a lawyer with the Benue Sate Ministry of Justice.

Said LEDAP: “From our understanding, Ms. Shima was remanded following an allegation of a legal advice she gave the Chairman of the Universal Basic Education Board and as such is currently undergoing investigation.

“Following this incident, Mr. Gbagir, in the company of other members of the Ministry of Justice visited the EFCC office in Makurdi, but was refused entry into the premises and subjected to humiliation and degrading treatment by the security operatives at the gate; on the allegation that they are ‘agitators’ who have come to protest.

“It took the intervention of the Senior Special Adviser to the Governor, Attorney General of the state and Solicitor General of the state before the delegation was allowed entry into the building.

“Also, we understand that when Mr. Gbagir was introduced to the EFCC Chairman, as the Chairman of the NBA Makurdi branch, he was denied all courtesy. This infuriated Mr. Gbagir and as a result, sought to leave the premises. However, he was swarmed and assaulted by operatives of EFCC, the actions of which were approved by the silent conduct of the EFCC Chairman.”

LEDAP stated that the action of the EFCC operatives not only undermined the position of the NBA chairman, but also of all lawyers. It viewed the action as a mockery of lawyers’ constitutional role as members of the third arm of government.

LEDAP pointed out that the EFCC security operatives were ALSO in breach of Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution on the right to dignity and right to freedom from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment.

LEDAP urged the EFCC to publish an apology to the victim, and demanded that the Attorney General & Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) should prosecute the errant officers, adding: “Henceforth, the EFCC is demanded to treat all lawyers with respect in all legal dealings with them.”

Copyright 2020 CITY LAWYER. Please send emails to citylawyermag@gmail.com. Join us on Facebook at https://web.facebook.com/City-Lawyer-Magazine-434937936684320 and on TWITTER at https://twitter.com/CityLawyerMag. To ADVERTISE in CITY LAWYER, please email citylawyermag@gmail.com or call 08138380083. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.

HARASSMENT: AKPATA WRITES EFCC CHAIR, ISSUES ‘CEASE AND DESIST’ DEMAND

Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Olumide Akpata has again risen in defence of Nigerian lawyers through a ‘cease and desist’ letter to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

In the searing letter obtained by CITY LAWYER and titled “ASSAULT OF OFFICIAL(S) OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION BY OPERATIVES OF THE EFCC AND RELATED INCIDENTS OF UNPROFESSIONALISM AGAINST LAWYERS: A DEMAND FOR INVESTIGATION, IMMEDIATE ACTION AND CESSATION,” Akpata stated that he was “constrained” to write the anti-graft Chairman over the alleged assault on NBA Makurdi Branch Chairman, Mr. Justin Gbagir and “the recurring unwholesome and unprofessional conducts by officers and operatives of the EFCC against members of the legal profession in Nigeria who are lawfully discharging their professional responsibilities.” The letter was copied to Attorney General of the Federation & Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN.

In the 15-paragraph long letter dated June 10, 2021 but received by the EFCC on 15th June, 2021, the NBA President noted that he was “credibly informed that Mr. Gbagir visited the Makurdi office of the EFCC on 8th June 2021 to facilitate the release of one Ms. Aver Shima (“Ms. Shima”), who is a law officer in the employ of the Benue State Ministry of Justice. Ms. Shima had apparently been detained by the EFCC on an allegation that she gave legal advice to the Chairman of the Benue State Universal Basic Education Board that allegedly culminated in the latter signing a document which is reportedly the subject of investigation by the EFCC. Since the merits of the detention of Ms. Shima for providing legal advice is now, as I understand it, already the subject of independent investigation, I shall refrain from commenting on Ms. Shima’s treatment.”

Turning to the alleged manhandling of Gbagir by EFCC operatives, Akpata said: “Infuriated by this turn of events, the Honorable Attorney-General, the Solicitor General and the Special Adviser to the Governor who had all come to intervene in the detention of Ms. Shima left the premises. Suffice to state that Mr. Gbagir who suffered severe hurt and sustained various degrees of injury had to be hospitalized at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi.”

In a damning indictment of the EFCC operatives, the NBA President described their conduct as “uncultured,” saying: “I assume that you will agree, Mr. Chairman, that if this level of uncultured behaviour could be exhibited by EFCC operatives in the presence of the strong delegation accompanying Mr. Gbagir, who in his own right is a Bar Leader, then the potential fate of other lawyers and citizens who interface with the EFCC in that zone is better imagined than experienced.”

Also in a veiled displeasure over the conduct of the EFCC leadership and its controversial press statement over the assault, Akpata said: “When we both spoke about this incident on 9th June 2021, you understandably expressed shock at this development and promised to investigate same. I have no cause yet to believe that you would personally renege on that promise. However, I have seen certain reports in the media credited to the EFCC Media and Publicity team which denied and largely distorted the facts. In fidelity to honesty and good order, I trust that you and I can agree that the statement credited to the EFCC media head, to the extent that it represents the official position of the EFCC, is premature and antithetic to your pledge to investigate the issue.

“It is pertinent to add that both before and after reading the EFCC statement, I spoke to the Attorney-General of Benue State and other well-meaning senior lawyers who witnessed the incident, and their narrative is entirely consistent with the position of Mr. Gbagir. I have no reason to doubt or disbelieve their narrative and it now behooves on the EFCC to show that it can rise above board and properly investigate the excesses of its own staff.

Turning to the issue of harassment of lawyers by EFCC operatives, Akpata lampooned the operatives for “the high level of unprofessionalism, crass abuse of power and inhumane treatment” which they “have exhibited, and continue to exhibit, at different times when dealing with lawyers at various offices of the EFCC across the country.” According to him, “Verifiable instances abound of lawyers who have been, or are being, harassed, arrested, and detained for either providing legal advice to, or preparing transaction documents for, their clients. There are also other instances, where lawyers are simply denied access to their clients in custody or continuously maltreated, frustrated, intimidated and demeaned by EFCC operatives. The NBA is more than willing to make further representations to you and provide proof of such unsavory developments including recent instances where we have had to intervene on behalf of our members who were unjustly harassed or detained by the EFCC.”

Noting however that this state of affairs precedes the current EFCC leadership, Akpata warned that the situation “is totally unacceptable and, if not checked, will increasingly paint the Commission in a negative light, raise serious concerns about the modus operandi of the Commission and undermine her relationship with critical stakeholders.”

He noted that “the current state of the relationship between lawyers and the Commission, which ordinarily ought to be harmonious, collaborative and symbiotic, is unhealthy and continues to deteriorate. For inexplicable reasons, the relationship is characterised by the wanton harassment and assault of members of the legal profession who, by their calling, are mandated to provide legal advisory and support services to suspects in the custody of the Commission or those who are otherwise under investigation.” Akpata then warned that “This debasing treatment must cease forthwith.”

In a three-point demand, the NBA President wrote: “It is in view of the foregoing that I therefore formally request you to use your good offices to investigate this complaint expeditiously and thoroughly in the interest of justice and ensure that all operatives complicit in the very unfortunate incident are disciplined in line with extant service rules and applicable laws. The NBA will be constantly following up with you in this respect, as we will no longer endure or tolerate the incessant harassment of our members by EFCC operatives while such lawyers are lawfully discharging their duties.

“You may recall that one of the cardinal pillars of your mandate upon your assumption of office was to reposition the Commission and make it a reputable anti-corruption agency that boasts of the finest of personnel. I dare say that achieving this laudable objective would necessarily include weaning the Commission of officers and personnel whose conduct, taken individually or in the aggregate, are bound to undermine the image of the Commission.

“As you continue to settle into office, I urge you to look into these issues carefully with a view to resolving them holistically and avoiding a recurrence. We are indeed expectant that there will be no repeat of incidences such as those complained about in this letter. Lawyers dealing with the Commission must and should be accorded the respect and dignity that they deserve when acting on behalf of their clients. Under your leadership, you must intervene and take steps to ensure that this is the case at all offices of the Commission across the country.”

Below is the full text of the letter:

10th June 2021

The Executive Chairman
Economic and Financial Crimes Commission
EFCC Headquarters
Plot 301/302, Institution and Research Cadastral District
Jabi, Abuja

Attention: Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa

Dear Sir,

ASSAULT OF OFFICIAL(S) OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION BY OPERATIVES OF THE EFCC AND RELATED INCIDENTS OF UNPROFESSIONALISM AGAINST LAWYERS: A DEMAND FOR INVESTIGATION, IMMEDIATE ACTION AND CESSATION

  1. I am constrained to write to you over (a) an unfortunate incident which occurred on 8th June 2021 involving some operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (the “EFCC” or the “Commission”) at its Makurdi Zonal office, and Mr. Justin Gbagir (“Mr. Gbagir”), a senior member of the Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) who is also the Chairman of the Makurdi Branch of NBA; and (b) the recuring unwholesome and unprofessional conducts by officers and operatives of the EFCC against members of the legal profession in Nigeria who are lawfully discharging their professional responsibilities.

The Unfortunate Makurdi Incident

  1. I have been credibly informed that Mr. Gbagir visited the Makurdi office of the EFCC on 8th June 2021 to facilitate the release of one Ms. Aver Shima (“ Shima”), who is a law officer in the employ of the Benue State Ministry of Justice. Ms. Shima had apparently been detained by the EFCC on an allegation that she gave legal advice to the Chairman of the Benue State Universal Basic Education Board that allegedly culminated in the latter signing a document which is reportedly the subject of investigation by the EFCC.   Since the merits of the detention of Ms. Shima for providing legal advice is now, as I understand it, already the subject of independent investigation, I shall refrain from commenting on Ms. Shima’s treatment.
  1. As we understand from the sequence of events, when Mr. Gbagir arrived at the EFCC zonal office in the company of other senior members of the Benue State Ministry of Justice, including the State Director of Public Prosecution, the delegation was refused entry into the offices of the EFCC and was subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment by the security operatives manning the gate of the EFCC on the rather specious ground that they were “agitators” who had come to protest. It took the intervention of the Senior Special Assistant to the State Governor and the arrival of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General of the State before the delegation was allowed access into the facility.
  1. It is our further understanding that when Mr. Gbagir was introduced to the EFCC zonal head (Mr. Kazeem Oseni) by the Solicitor-General of the State as the Chairman of the Makurdi Branch of the NBA, Mr. Gbagir was denied all courtesies on the ground that he was an “agitator”. Perplexed and embarrassed, Mr. Gbagir sought to excuse himself from the office of the zonal head only to be swarmed by an army of operatives of the EFCC, who brutally manhandled Mr. Gbagir and pushed him out of the premises. Of particular note and concern is the fact that eyewitness accounts confirm that the actions of the EFCC operatives were carried out with the tacit consent of the zonal head, at best, or based on his express instructions, at worst.
  1. Infuriated by this turn of events, the Honorable Attorney-General, the Solicitor General and the Special Adviser to the Governor who had all come to intervene in the detention of Ms. Shima left the premises. Suffice to state that Mr. Gbagir who suffered severe hurt and sustained various degrees of injury had to be hospitalized at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi.
  1. I assume that you will agree, Mr. Chairman, that if this level of uncultured behaviour could be exhibited by EFCC operatives in the presence of the strong delegation accompanying Mr. Gbagir, who in his own right is a Bar Leader, then the potential fate of other lawyers and citizens who interface with the EFCC in that zone is better imagined than experienced. 
  1. When we both spoke about this incident on 9th June 2021, you understandably expressed shock at this development and promised to investigate same. I have no cause yet to believe that you would personally renege on that promise. However, I have seen certain reports in the media credited to the EFCC Media and Publicity team which denied and largely distorted the facts.  In fidelity to honesty and good order, I trust that you and I can agree that the statement credited to the EFCC media head, to the extent that it represents the official position of the EFCC, is premature and antithetic to your pledge to investigate the issue.
  1. It is pertinent to add that both before and after reading the EFCC statement, I spoke to the Attorney-General of Benue State and other well-meaning senior lawyers who witnessed the incident, and their narrative is entirely consistent with the position of Mr. Gbagir. I have no reason to doubt or disbelieve their narrative and it now behooves on the EFCC to show that it can rise above board and properly investigate the excesses of its own staff.

Other egregious conducts of EFCC operatives against legal practitioners  

  1. Chairman, whilst the above represents the isolated experience of Mr. Gbagir, it is an opportune time to bring to your attention the high level of unprofessionalism, crass abuse of power and inhumane treatment that operatives of the EFCC have exhibited, and continue to exhibit, at different times when dealing with lawyers at various offices of the EFCC across the country. Verifiable instances abound of lawyers who have been, or are being, harassed, arrested, and detained for either providing legal advice to, or preparing transaction documents for, their clients. There are also other instances, where lawyers are simply denied access to their clients in custody or continuously maltreated, frustrated, intimidated and demeaned by EFCC operatives. The NBA is more than willing to make further representations to you and provide proof of such unsavory developments including recent instances where we have had to intervene on behalf of our members who were unjustly harassed or detained by the EFCC.
  1. This state of affairs, which admittedly precedes your appointment to superintend the EFCC, is totally unacceptable and, if not checked, will increasingly paint the Commission in a negative light, raise serious concerns about the modus operandi of the Commission and undermine her relationship with critical stakeholders. As you know, the role of lawyers is critical to the actualisation of the Commission’s foundational objectives. As a law enforcement agency that is established to be responsible and accountable to the citizenry, one would expect that lawyers will continue to be your partners in progress who should feel welcome and accommodated by the Commission and its operatives.
  1. Regrettably, the current state of the relationship between lawyers and the Commission, which ordinarily ought to be harmonious, collaborative and symbiotic, is unhealthy and continues to deteriorate. For inexplicable reasons, the relationship is characterised by the wanton harassment and assault of members of the legal profession who, by their calling, are mandated to provide legal advisory and support services to suspects in the custody of the Commission or those who are otherwise under investigation. This debasing treatment must cease forthwith.

Conclusion

  1. It is in view of the foregoing that I therefore formally request you to use your good offices to investigate this complaint expeditiously and thoroughly in the interest of justice and ensure that all operatives complicit in the very unfortunate incident are disciplined in line with extant service rules and applicable laws. The NBA will be constantly following up with you in this respect, as we will no longer endure or tolerate the incessant harassment of our members by EFCC operatives while such lawyers are lawfully discharging their duties. 
  1. You may recall that one of the cardinal pillars of your mandate upon your assumption of office was to reposition the Commission and make it a reputable anti-corruption agency that boasts of the finest of personnel. I dare say that achieving this laudable objective would necessarily include weaning the Commission of officers and personnel whose conduct, taken individually or in the aggregate, are bound to undermine the image of the Commission.
  2. As you continue to settle into office, I urge you to look into these issues carefully with a view to resolving them holistically and avoiding a recurrence. We are indeed expectant that there will be no repeat of incidences such as those complained about in this letter.  Lawyers dealing with the Commission must and should be accorded the respect and dignity that they deserve when acting on behalf of their clients.  Under your leadership, you must intervene and take steps to ensure that this is the case at all offices of the Commission across the country.
  1. While I look forward to an expeditious investigation of the unjust treatment of Mr. Gbagir and a general refocusing of the approach of the EFCC in its dealings with lawyers, please accept, Mr. Chairman, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Yours faithfully,

OLUMIDE AKPATA

President

Nigerian Bar Association

Cc:       The Honourable Attorney General of the Federation

Federal Ministry of Justice

Abuja

Copyright 2020 CITY LAWYER. Please send emails to citylawyermag@gmail.com. Join us on Facebook at https://web.facebook.com/City-Lawyer-Magazine-434937936684320 and on TWITTER at https://twitter.com/CityLawyerMag. To ADVERTISE in CITY LAWYER, please email citylawyermag@gmail.com or call 08138380083. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.

BENUE ASSAULT: EFCC CHIEF INVESTIGATOR GRILLS NBA CHAIR, A-G WADES IN

  • BENUE A-G DEMANDS CCTV FOOTAGE FROM EFCC

  • I’M SHOCKED, SCANDALIZED BY EFCC’S DENIAL

  • I CAN’T SEE, HEAR WELL AGAIN

  • I WILL PRESS CHARGES IF ….

Embattled Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Makurdi Branch, Mr. Justin Gbagir has been grilled by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) chief investigator on his allegation of assault by operatives of the anti-graft agency.

In an exclusive interview with CITY LAWYER, Gbagir said that the interview by the Director of Intelligence Unit at the EFCC which started yesterday at the office of the Benue State Attorney-General was concluded today when he wrote a formal statement on what transpired at the Makurdi Office of the EFCC last Tuesday.

Gbagir said that aside from the impairment to his left eye, he has started experiencing hearing challenges due to the alleged beating by the EFCC operatives. He warned that “I told them that I have other options to seek redress” if the perpetrators are not brought to justice.

Below is the full text of the interview.

“I am Justin Gbagir, Chairman of NBA Makurdi Branch who was assaulted and beaten by the operatives of the EFCC on Tuesday, the 8th of June, 2021.

“It is unfortunate that EFCC which claims to operate within civic norms will come out to blatantly deny that they did not assault and beat me up.

“The beating was so severe that I was admitted at Benue State University Teaching Hospital and administered some drugs and injections. As a result of the beating, I also sustained injury in my left eye. As I speak with you, I cannot see very well with my left eye.

“Yesterday again, I started experiencing problem with my hearing. So I am also currently having hearing challenges. I am yet to go for medical check-up to sustain (sic) the level of damage that might have been done to my ears.

“But yesterday someone came from Directorate of Intelligence – which he said is like Military Police in the Army – to listen to us from the headquarters. We met at the office of the Honourable the Attorney General of Benue State and we took turns to narrate what happened. So when we finished, he specifically requested me to put my statement in writing and because it was already dark we agreed to reconvene at 8.30 this morning, which we did. And I put my statement in writing.

“I am actually shocked, scandalized and embarrassed with the allegations that EFCC have made in their Press Release that I went there with thugs to forcefully release a detainee. I want to say it in very clear terms that all the lawyers that were there with me – including the Honourable the Attorney General, the Solicitor General and Director of Public Prosecution and Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Legal Matters – we were just nine, including myself, 10. And all the people that were there – except the Director of Finance and Administration in the State Ministry of Justice who was also there, who is not a lawyer – the rest of us were lawyers. I don’t see how colleagues who went to EFCC Office to facilitate the release of their colleague will be called thugs.

“Today, the AG also requested the person that came from Abuja to request for CCTV footage from their (EFCC) office. This happened directly within their compound and their CCTV footage must have captured what happened. So if they fail to produce their CCTV footage, I think it will also be another way of trying to deny or hide the facts.

“By and large, I think the EFCC are not being truthful; their denial of all the allegations is baseless. I think we are not going to leave the matter like that. In my statement which I wrote today, I told them that I have other options to seek redress. But I am giving them an opportunity for them to sort out this issue, punish the perpetrators, and then we discuss further on whatever demands that I might have.

“At the moment, I don’t want to make demand yet; I am yet to fully ascertain the level of damage they have done to my eye, to my ears and other general health conditions. So when that is ascertained by medical experts, I will also know what demands I will be making for compensation. At the moment, I don’t want to say that because I am yet to get the proper medical report in that regard.

“Today again, the NBA Makurdi Branch insisted on making a Press Statement particularly in view of the statement by EFCC. After they (EFCC) had reached out to our (NBA) President with a view that they would investigate the matter, they went ahead to issue a statement denying the facts. So the Press Conference just finished a while ago and I think in a very short it will also be in the public domain on the position of NBA Makurdi Branch.”

CITY LAWYER recalls that Gbagir had alleged that he was manhandled at the instance of the EFCC Makurdi Zonal Head. Narrating his ordeal, Gbagir said: “As I made to leave, the personnel of EFCC numbering between 7 and above pounced on me and started beating me. They broke my recommended reading eyeglasses in the process and pushed me out of the premises. “Outside the premises, they threw out my footwears which I was dispossessed of in the course of the beating,” he said.

Copyright 2020 CITY LAWYER. Please send emails to citylawyermag@gmail.com. Join us on Facebook at https://web.facebook.com/City-Lawyer-Magazine-434937936684320 and on TWITTER at https://twitter.com/CityLawyerMag. To ADVERTISE in CITY LAWYER, please email citylawyermag@gmail.com or call 08138380083. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.

BENUE ASSAULT: AKPATA TACKLES BAWA, EFCC DENIES CHARGE

  • AG, SOLICITOR-GENERAL CONFIRMED ASSAULT – SPIDEL CHAIR

Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Olumide Akpata has petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman, Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa over the battered NBA Makurdi Branch Chairman, Mr. Justin Gbagir, even as the anti-graft agency has denied that its operatives manhandled the Bar Leader.

Impeccable sources told CITY LAWYER that Akpata had engaged with the EFCC Chairman over the matter. Bawa was said to have requested time to investigate the matter and take necessary action.

The EFCC has now issued a statement denying the alleged assault. The anti-graft agency said that it was the Makurdi Branch Chairman who “was the aggressor as he led a gang of thugs to breach the security of the Makurdi office in an attempt to forcibly set free a suspect under interrogation by the EFCC.”

The statement added that the Bar Leader allegedly failed to identify himself and that “the EFCC Zonal Head had no option than to show him out of his office and refuse him further entry into the Commission’s premises.”

But fiery NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL) Chairman, Mr. Monday Ubani said that several sources confirmed the assault to him, even as the under-fire Zonal Head denied the allegation. His words: “I have spoken to the Chairman of Makurdi who confirmed the beating. He is back to hospital. I have also spoken to the Special Adviser to the Governor on Legal Matters who confirmed the incident. I eventually got the President of the Bar who affirmed that the AG confirmed the beating. Our President has spoken to the Chairman of EFCC who requested for time to investigate and take action.”

He however said the Zonal Head denied “that he never touched nor directed any of his operatives to touch our member. He denied the beating.” 

Narrating his ordeal, Gbagir said: “As I made to leave, the personnel of EFCC numbering between 7 and above pounced on me and started beating me. They broke my recommended reading eyeglasses in the process and pushed me out of the premises.

“Outside the premises, the threw out my footwears which I was dispossessed of in the course of the beating.”

Below is the full text of the EFCC statement.

EFCC Press Release

EFCC Denies Assaulting NBA Chairman

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC wishes to inform the public that claims by one Justin Gbagir, Chairman Makurdi Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, that he was assaulted and brutalized by operatives of the Makurdi Zonal Office of the Commission on June 8, 2021, leading to his being hospitalized at BUSTH is false, and orchestrated to portray the Commission as draconian and uncivil.

Contrary to the false narrative being promoted in the social media by Gbagir, he was the aggressor as he led a gang of thugs to breach the security of the Makurdi office in an attempt to forcibly set free a suspect under interrogation by the EFCC.

The standard procedure for effecting the release of suspects in detention is known to even rookie lawyers. But rather than follow due process, Gbagir opted for force, recruited thugs and stormed the EFCC office.

In spite of the provocation, operatives of the Commission handled him with restraint, bent backward by allowing him to meet with the Zonal Head. But rather than reciprocate, he still refused to identify himself, against all norms of civility. In the circumstance, the EFCC Zonal Head had no option than to show him out of his office and refuse him further entry into the Commission’s premises.

Regrettably, the seasoned lawyer resorted to social media blackmail, posing in hospital bed and concocting a fantastic story of an imaginary assault by EFCC operatives.

His action is to say the least indecorous and unbecoming of the leader of the bar in a state like Benue. He demonstrated embarrassing insensitivity to the delicate security situation of the state.

Gbagir should be remorseful for his misguided action and not spew untruths in pliable sections of the media.

Wilson Uwujaren
Head, Media & Publicity
9 June, 2021

Copyright 2020 CITY LAWYER. Please send emails to citylawyermag@gmail.com. Join us on Facebook at https://web.facebook.com/City-Lawyer-Magazine-434937936684320 and on TWITTER at https://twitter.com/CityLawyerMag. To ADVERTISE in CITY LAWYER, please email citylawyermag@gmail.com or call 08138380083. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.

EDITORIAL: THE JURIST AS A PUGILIST: WHY DANLADI UMAR MUST GO

On March 29, 2021 the public was treated to a bizarre tragi-comedy through a viral video clip where a high-ranking jurist and Chairman of the influential Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Mr. Danladi Yakubu Umar unleashed a slap on a hapless security guard at the popular Banex Plaza in Wuse, Abuja.

The victim, one Clement Sargwak, a 22-year-old employee of Jul Reliable Guards Services Limited posted as a security guard to the plaza, recounts the vicious and inglorious assault thus: “After I informed him (Mr. Umar) about his wrong parking, he came out and slapped me, when he slapped me the driver also came down and slapped me and they tore my uniform and they stepped over me severally.

“…. When the man arrived with the security men, the Oga (Mr. Umar) slapped me again in front of the police and ordered a police officer to also slap me, which he did and thereafter ordered me to kneel down and I obeyed. As I went on my knees, the Oga (Mr. Umar) also kicked me in my face and hit my mouth.” Mr. Sargwak has a clearly bruised lip to show for the physical assault on him by Mr. Umar.

Mr. Samuel Ihensekhien, a solicitor for BANEX Plaza, alleges that “It was brought to my attention that on March 29, Mr. Sargwak was assaulted and harmed and was on the verge of almost being killed by Mr. Danladi Umar. And he was subsequently taken to the Maitama Police Station….

”They (the police) were very surprised, and the DPO saw the footage and immediately ordered he (Sargwak) be released on bail forthwith. He was then handed to the Banex manager and from there he was taken for medication.”

The unprecedented spectacle has expectedly caught the attention of a global audience and especially the legal community.

In a feeble and ill-advised attempt to exonerate himself from the macabre incident, Mr. Umar states that he “was accosted by the Plaza guard in a very rude manner on arriving there (plaza),” adding that he “was drawn into an unnecessary altercation and subsequently assaulted, with this degenerating into an attack and injury by a mob that was chanting secessionist and sectional slogans.”

Instructively, the much lampooned press statement by CCT’s Head, Press & Public Relations, Mr. Ibraheem Al-Hassan, also made reference to the alleged “mob” which he described as “consisting of BIAFRAN boys.” Mr. Al-Hassan would later admit that it was Mr. Umar who directed him to weave the “BIAFRAN boys” spin into the macabre tale. What is more, the statement went ahead to conclude that sympathy in such circumstances usually goes to the “low personalities.” Yet in a fleeting sombre moment, the CCT admits that the incident “ought not to have happened.”

Mr. Umar claims he has reflected on the incident, adding that “the entire incident was avoidable” and that “I regret being drawn into responding to the situation.” However, perhaps torn between ego and genuine remorse, Mr. Umar curiously feels “upset” and even “highly disappointed” that his action has been “misconstrued” in the narrative trending on social media!

The “Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers 2016” as issued by the National Judicial Council (NJC) states in Rule 1 (1.1) that “Propriety and the appearance of propriety, both professional and personal, are essential elements of a Judge’s life,” noting that “members of the public expect a high standard of conduct from a Judge.” When in doubt, a judge should ask the question: “How might this look in the eyes of the public?” The National Judicial Council directs in Rule Four 4(ii)(b) directs that “bad behaviour, whether in or out of Court” is a necessary disqualifying factor.

Notwithstanding the controversies that have trailed the recent recruitment of Court of Appeal judges, it is safe to conclude that the NJC would not have recommended a street-brawling jurist-turned-pugilist for appointment as a judge of the all-important Code of Conduct Tribunal. Perhaps the ultimate irony is that Mr. Umar superintends an entity that stands as a sentinel for good conduct among public officers. And to think that Mr. Umar has been the Acting Chairman or Chairman of CCT for more than 14 years!

It was in this exalted role that he sat in judgement on former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen. He was unsparing, at all times projecting himself as an epitome of good conduct and morality. Perhaps with hindsight, he was rather combative in dealing with the counsel that appeared before the tribunal.

What is more, in finding Justice Onnoghen guilty of non-declaration of assets, Mr. Umar based the tribunal’s judgement on the “admission by the defendant in his own handwriting ….,” adjudging same as “a partial confession.” He further held that “hard facts” had been adduced by the prosecution to establish its case. There is no gainsaying that aside from Mr. Umar’s admission of “being drawn into responding to the situation,” the “hard facts” in the public domain compel a guilty verdict against him.

It is recalled that Mr. Umar was on February 2, 2018 slammed with a two-count charge of corruption by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for alleged receipt of N10,000,000.00 (Ten Million Naira) bribe from one Rasheed Owolabi Taiwo, a former Deputy Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service sometime in 2012 for a favour to be afterwards shown to him in relation to a pending Charge (No. CCT/ABJ/03/12) and contrary to Section 12(1)(a) & (b) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2003. The charges were however dropped.

We strongly deprecate the ethnic slurs prevalent in the statement authorized by Mr. Umar which border on xenophobia, contrary to section 26 of the Cybercrimes Act 2015 and punishable with 5 years imprisonment and/or a minimum N10 million fine. Also, to classify some Nigerians as “low personalities” is just as appalling and unacceptable. It raises the poser whether these categories of persons can ever obtain justice in Mr. Umar’s court.

It is apparent that the only ‘offence’ committed by the security guard is that, in the words of Mr. Umar, “I was accosted by the Plaza guard in a very rude manner on arriving there.” For a jurist who was acclaimed in the CCT’s statement to have frequented the Plaza for about 18 years, he must be aware of the presence of police operatives on the premises. That he opted to literally take matters into his own hands instead of order the arrest of the security guard to answer to any misfeasance is highly inappropriate and condemnable. It does grave injustice to the NJC’s Code of Conduct which especially admonishes propriety in all circumstances. Clearly, Mr. Umar performs adjudicatory and quasi-judicial functions. It is therefore immaterial that Mr. Umar is answerable to Nigeria’s President, and may only be removed by him upon endorsement by the National Assembly.

Mr. Umar has brought palpable odium to his high office. We call on Mr. Umar to immediately resign from office. It is the only path of honour to redeem whatever is left of his honour. In the event that he fails or refuses to do so, President Muhammadu Buhari should promptly activate the process for his removal by transmitting a letter to that effect to the National Assembly.

We commend the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for its resolve to prosecute Mr. Umar at the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) if a prima facie case is established against him, and urge the lawyers’ association not to relent in this regard.

Finally, we urge the Nigeria Police to thoroughly investigate the incident – including the xenophobic slurs – with a view to bring any culprit to justice and ensure closure especially for Citizen Sargwak.

 

Copyright 2020 CITY LAWYER. Please send emails to citylawyermag@gmail.com. Join us on Facebook at https://web.facebook.com/City-Lawyer-Magazine-434937936684320 and on TWITTER at https://twitter.com/CityLawyerMag. To ADVERTISE in CITY LAWYER, please email citylawyermag@gmail.com or call 08138380083. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.

NBA MAY DRAG CCT CHAIR TO DISCIPLINARY C’TE OVER ALLEGED ASSAULT

  • VOWS TO INVESTIGATE THE MATTER

  • CCT CHAIR MAY BE DISBARRED

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) may drag the embattled Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Mr. Umar Yakubu Danladi to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) of the Body of Benchers for professional misconduct.

An indication to this is contained in a press statement by the NBA over the alleged assault by the CCT Chairman on a security guard which was caught on a video that has since gone viral.

Giving an indication that the lawyers’ body may have made up its mind on the controversy, the association said it “frowns at any display of naked power by a public officer especially one who, by virtue of his high office, is expected to exhibit a high standard of conduct,” adding that “The situation is all the more critical when it involves the head of an agency of government set up to ensure compliance, by public officers, with the code of conduct.”

Noting that Danladi “is expected, by the extant rules that regulate the conduct of legal practitioners in Nigeria, to maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and not to engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a member of the legal profession,” NBA stated that “Prima facie evidence available at the moment raise questions regarding whether such standards have been met.”

Signed by the NBA Publicity Secretary, Dr. Rapulu Nduka, the statement concluded that “In view of the foregoing, the NBA shall through its relevant Committee, investigate the circumstances leading to the altercation, and depending on its findings, will ensure that appropriate action is taken to address this occurrence.”

The 15-member NBA Disciplinary Committee is chaired by Mr. Yunus Ustaz Usman SAN and co-chaired by Funke Aboyade, SAN.

It is recalled that the CCT Chairman was caught on video camera together with his security detail allegedly assaulting a 22-year-old employee of Jul Reliable Guards Services Limited posted as a security guard to the Banex Plaza in Wuse, Abuja. The victim has reportedly been hospitalized and was quoted by an online newspaper as expressing worry over his safety.

A press statement by CCT’s Head of Press and Public Relations, Ibraheem Al-Hassan admitted that there were exchanges between the CCT Chairman and the security guard, adding that “An incident like this when it happened (sic), sympathy usually goes to the low personalities. Though is (sic) unfortunate as I said, it ought not to have happened.”

Also speaking on the matter, longstanding LPDC Prosecutor, Mr. Jibrin Okutepa SAN said: “From the press statement of the CCT which cannot be issued without the approval of the chairman and which press statement has not been denied by CCT HQ, it is my respectful view that the Chairman’s conduct in the circumstances in engaging in public altercations with security man was undignified of the office of Chairman of CCT. That conduct ought not to be celebrated by any right-thinking members of the society.

“As lawyer and chairman of CCT no reasonable person should celebrate the conduct of the chairman as corroborated by the press statement. The government must not allow this matter to be swept under the carpets. It is not one of those issues that should be treated with levity.

“The HAGF and FGN must not condone this conduct. It must take action.The Chairman cannot be allowed to be sitting over conduct of other public officers when his conduct is in public court.”

If NBA files a petition at the LPDC and Danladi is found guilty, he may have his name struck off the roll of legal practitioners. It is recalled that the CCT Chairman headed the tribunal’s panel which gave an unprecedented order removing former Chief Justice of Nigeria, retired Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen from office.

Copyright 2020 CITY LAWYER. Please send emails to citylawyermag@gmail.com. Join us on Facebook at https://web.facebook.com/City-Lawyer-Magazine-434937936684320 and on TWITTER at https://twitter.com/CityLawyerMag. To ADVERTISE in CITY LAWYER, please email citylawyermag@gmail.com or call 08138380083. All materials available on this Website are protected by copyright, trade mark and other proprietary and intellectual property laws. You may not use any of our intellectual property rights without our express written consent or attribution to www.citylawyermag.com. However, you are permitted to print or save to your individual PC, tablet or storage extracts from this Website for your own personal non-commercial use.