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

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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

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