NBA CHIEF LIED AGAINST OUR CHAIRMAN, SAYS EFCC

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has debunked an allegation by the embattled Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Makurdi Branch, Mr. Justin Gbagir that EFCC Chairman, Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa boasted that he would use his purported leverage with the judiciary to torpedo any lawsuit by the NBA chieftain.

According to a statement by the commission, “At no time during the encounter was there reference to judges and their soft spot or the lack of it, for the EFCC boss and the Commission.”

It is recalled that CITY LAWYER had reported that Bawa met recently with Gbagir to explore an amicable resolution of the furore that arose after the NBA chieftain was allegedly battered by EFCC operatives at their Makurdi Office.

Giving an update on the meeting, Gbagir, in a statement he made available to CITY LAWYER, stated that Bawa said “That the operatives have also written their statement denying my allegations that I was assaulted and even if we decide to go to court, it will be our words against theirs. In any case, he has good working relationship with judges.” The allegation was highlighted by a news blog (not CITY LAWYER).

The full statement by the EFCC is below.

Judges: Makurdi NBA Chairman’s Statement Against EFCC, Not True
The attention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has been drawn to a report captioned: Even If you Go to Court… I have a Good Working relationship with Judges, attributed to the Benue Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Justin Gbagir and which was published in the online media on Monday August 9, 2021.

The Commission wishes to state that the comment ascribed to the Executive Chairman, Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa, is patently false and should be discountenanced.

It is regrettable that a compassionate gesture by the Executive Chairman in meeting with Gbagir over an alleged incident involving him and some officers of the Makurdi Zonal Command of the Commission has degenerated into a weapon of blackmail.

As a responsible leader, one with a disdain for injustice of any kind, Mr. Bawa met Gbagir to give him fair hearing and explore avenues to address his complaints, where they were meritorious. At no time during the encounter was there reference to judges and their soft spot or the lack of it, for the EFCC boss and the Commission.

As a law enforcement officer with over 16 years cognate experience before assuming the office of the Executive Chairman, Mr. Bawa is conversant with the impartiality and independence of the judiciary and could not have made the flippant statement ascribed to him.

To have invented such a remark and ascribed it to the EFCC chair is not only disingenuous but grossly irresponsible.

Media & Publicity
13 August, 2021

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NBA MAKURDI ASSAULT: AT LAST, EFCC CHAIR MEETS VICTIM, APOLOGIZES

• DEFLECTS DEMAND TO SACK CULPRITS
• AKPATA TO STORM MAKURDI TO PLOT NEXT STEPS
• GBAGIR SET FOR SURGERY TO SAVE SIGHT

The Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa has finally met with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Makurdi Branch Chairman, Mr. Justin Gbagir who was allegedly assaulted by EFCC operatives.

Gbagir was reportedly manhandled by EFCC operatives and bundled out of their Makurdi office when he went there to represent his client. NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata had in a strongly worded letter to the EFCC Chairman dated June 10, 2021 warned that “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.”

In his latest update on his travails made available exclusively to CITY LAWYER, Gbagir said that he held a meeting with the EFCC Chairman on July 15, 2021 alongside the Benue State Attorney General, Mr. Michael Gusa.

His words: “At the meeting, the Chairman asked the AG what happened on the 8/6/2021. The AG recounted what happened that day and confirmed that I was assaulted in his presence.

“The Chairman who initially indicated there was no need for me to speak later allowed me to speak and I also recounted the events that led to the assault.

“The Chairman who did not call the Zonal Head of the Makurdi Office or any officer of the Zonal Office to the meeting proceeded to ask me what I wanted to be done.”

The NBA Chairman stated that Abdulrasheed deflected all the demands presented to him, saying that from their investigation, the operatives in Makurdi denied assaulting Gbagir.

On the demand that those found culpable in the assault saga should be dismissed by the commission, Gbagir said this was turned down by the EFCC Chairman who stated “That the Head of the Makurdi Office, Mr Kazeem Oseni and himself were recruited into the Commission the same day. That while he served in the Port Harcourt and Lagos offices of the Commission respectively, the said Kazeem Oseni was directly reporting to him. That we cannot expect him to dismiss Kazeem Oseni who has put in 17 years of service.”

According to Gbagir, the EFCC Chairman said “That he decided to come to Makurdi personally to meet with us in order to ensure cordial human relationship going forward. That his personal visit and apology should suffice.”

Abdulrasheed is yet to speak on what transpired during the meeting.

CITY LAWYER had reported that Abdulrasheed had shunned an earlier scheduled meeting with the victim in Makurdi.

Below is the full text of Gbagir’s update.

UPDATE ON THE ASSAULT ON JUSTIN GBAGIR, ESQ., CHAIRMAN, NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION, MAKURDI BRANCH BY OPERATIVES OF THE EFCC ON THE 8TH JUNE, 2021.

INTRODUCTION

On the 8/6/2021, operatives of the EFCC brutally assaulted me at the Makurdi Zonal Office of the Commission.

Today mark two months since the unfortunate incidence. On the 8/7/2021, I gave an update to mark one month anniversary of the assault. Today’s update is to mark two months anniversary of the assault.

The update shall be segmented into 3 sections, namely:

1. Meeting with the EFCC Chairman
2. The Position of the Bar
3. My Health Condition

MEETING WITH THE EFCC CHAIRMAN

On the 15/7/2021, the Benue State Attorney General, Michael Gusa, Esq and myself met with the EFCC Chairman at the Zonal Office of the Commission in Makurdi.

At the meeting, the Chairman asked the AG what happened on the 8/6/2021. The AG recounted what happened that day and confirmed that I was assaulted in his presence.

The Chairman who initially indicated there was no need for me to speak later allowed me to speak and I also recounted the events that led to the assault.

The Chairman who did not call the Zonal Head of the Makurdi Office or any officer of the Zonal Office to the meeting proceeded to ask me what I wanted to be done.

I told the Chairman that before coming to the meeting, I consulted with the Makurdi Branch legal team and other stakeholders and our demand were that:

1. The Zonal Head of the Commission’s Office in Makurdi be dismissed or voluntarily retired since he did not represent a good image of the Commission, and that all the operatives that took part in the assault should be identified and appropriate punitive measures served.

2. That the Commission shall take full responsibility of my medical bills and pay adequate compensation for the injury caused me especially my eye.

3. That the Commission shall retract their defamatory publication of 9/6/2021 wherein they alleged I was the one that went to their office with hired thugs to forcefully release someone in their custody, among other unsubstantiated allegations, and adequate compensation paid to me and the other lawyers who were referred to as thugs.

In his response, the EFCC Chairman stated as follows:

a) That from their investigation, the operative in Makurdi denied assaulting me.

b) That they have never had a case of EFCC operatives beating anybody in any of their offices.

c) That the Head of the Makurdi Office, Mr Kazeem Oseni and himself were recruited into the Commission the same day. That while he served in the Port Harcourt and Lagos offices of the Commission respectively, the said Kazeem Oseni was directly reporting to him. That we cannot expect him to dismiss Kazeem Oseni who has put in 17 years of service.

d) That my been in the hospital could have been for any other reason and the problem with my eye could also have been caused by any other thing.

e) That the operatives have also written their statement denying my allegations that I was assaulted and even if we decide to go to court, it will be our words against theirs. In any case, he has good working relationship with judges.

f) That there is no evedence (sic) for him to take any punitive measures against Kazeem Oseni and the other operatives.

g) That he could have sat in Abuja and ordered us to go to Abuja, or better still acted on their investigative Report and closed the case that there was no assault on me.

h) That he decided to come to Makurdi personally to meet with us in order to ensure cordial human relationship going forward. That his personal visit and apology should suffice.

i) That he cannot raise any memo to raise funds for any compensation or damages.

j) That he can pay for my further medical attention in an eye clinic in Abuja and on a personal level he can find a token for me.

k) That he could choose to report me to NJC (sic) as the one causing trouble for disciplinary action.

From every indication, the Chairman adopted the position in their press release of 9/6/2021.

After the meeting, I did a brief to the President of NBA, Mr Olumide Akpata.

2. POSITION OF THE BAR

On Monday, 26/7/2021 and Friday, 30/7/2021, I held meetings with the NBA President in Abuja to further briefed him and the President indicated to visit Makurdi Branch with some National Officials of the Bar and together with the elders and members of the Makurdi Branch, they will agree on the next line of action.

The NBA President is currently making travel plans to Makurdi in this regard.

3. MY HEALTH CONDITION

From the last update to today, the condition of my left eye has continued to worsen.

On medical advice, I attended a specialized eye hospital in Abuja on the 27 and 28 July, 2021 and after a thorough and intensive examination for two days, a surgery was recommended as the best curative measure.

It was recommended that the lens of my left eye which is damaged will be replaced with an artificial lens.

The cumulative cost for the surgery, at least 35 days accommodation in Abuja, feeding, transportation and other sundry expenses is approximately put at about N2 Million Naira.

Considering that the condition of the eye is worsening each day that passes by and the need to get the surgery done so as to enable me use my sight for my daily activities, I am hoping that with resources available, I will perform the surgery within the month of August, 2021 so that I will use the period of the court vacation to recuperate.

CONCLUSION

I appreciate all those who have reached out to me to sympathize with me over this incidence. I count on your continued support to surmount all the challenges facing me during this trying moment.

Thank you all and God Bless.

Justin Gbagir, Esq.
Chairman
NBA Makurdi Branch
8/8/2021

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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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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.”

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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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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.

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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

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