The Nigerian Bar Association has demanded an “unreserved apology” from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over the latter’s description of some lawyers as “rogues and vultures”.
In a statement issued by Isiaka Olagunju, General Secretary, on behalf of the NBA, the lawyers’ body distanced its newly elected president, Abubakar Mahmoud, from cases involving two former state governors.
“The NBA condemns in the strongest terms the use of abusive and uncivil language of ‘rogues and vultures’ and such strictures by a public authority,” the NBA said in its statement dated August 29th.
“Name calling and use of abusive language is not expected of any public institution. It is unacceptable. The NBA demands unequivocal withdrawal of this statement and an unreserved apology from the EFCC.”
The EFCC had reacted angrily to a proposition by Mr. Mahmoud, while delivering his inaugural speech last Friday, that the Commission be stripped of its prosecutorial powers so it could focus solely on investigations.
Wilson Uwujaren, the EFCC Spokesperson, said the new NBA president’s suggestions were in sync with “a cleverly disguised campaign by powerful forces” to whittle down the agency’s powers.
“It is too much of a strange coincidence that the suggestion to strip the EFCC of its prosecutorial powers is being floated few months after the Commission, in unprecedented fashion, arraigned some senior lawyers for corruption,” Mr. Uwujaren had said.
But in its statement on Monday, the NBA insisted that combining investigative powers with prosecutorial powers in a single agency is the exception, rather than the norm.
“In the UK only the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) enjoys such combined powers,” the NBA stated.
“But given the institutional safeguards, both within the SFO and the maturity that characterizes the UK Criminal Justice Institutions, the abuse of such powers will be highly unlikely.”
The NBA also distanced Mr. Mahmoud from the botched criminal prosecution of James Ibori, a former Delta State governor currently serving a jail term in the UK, insisting their new president had never represented either the EFCC or the Attorney General in a court.
“On the case involving the former Governor of Rivers State, Mr. Peter Odili, the EFCC is aware that Mr. Mahmoud was lead counsel in its defense in a civil appeal at the Court of Appeal involving the constitutional challenge of the powers of the EFCC by the Rivers State Government.
“In spite of his best efforts, the case has remained stuck in the Court of Appeal, even after all briefs of arguments had been settled.
“The records of the EFCC will also show that neither Mr. Mahmoud nor his firm has been paid any fee, notwithstanding the nearly 20 court appearances in the matter in the course of the last several years involving air travels (Abuja to Port Harcourt) and hotel expenses.
“It is therefore unkind and misleading for the EFCC to suggest that Mr. Mahmoud was ever involved in any way in the conduct of its criminal cases against and Peter Odili, former governors of Delta and Rivers States.”