The chairman of the Makurdi branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Justin Gbagir, says he is on admission at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital in Makurdi after he was assaulted by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Tuesday.
Mr Gbagir, in a statement on Wednesday, said he was at the anti-graft agency office in Makurdi to secure the release of the association’s treasurer when the incident occurred.
He said the state’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Michael Gusa, called to intimate him of the detention of the treasurer.
“On further inquiry, I found that our colleague was detained on allegation that she gave legal advice to the Chairman of Benue State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) upon which the latter signed a document which is subject of investigation by EFCC.”
“Our said colleague is a law officer with Benue State Ministry of Justice and assigned to offer official legal services to SUBEB. She also Chairs one of the Rent Tribunal Panels.
“I rushed to EFCC office. On my way, I made a post on our Branch WhatsApp Page and enjoined other colleagues who could make it to join me at the EFCC office in Makurdi.
“Immediately I alighted from the NBA official bus, the security at the gate of EFCC shouted at me ‘who are you?’ and I replied that I was a Nigerian.
As I approached them almost all of them started shouting at me to go back, pointing their guns at me that if I step forward further, they will shoot me.”
According to the NBA chairman’s account, the State Director of Public Prosecution, who was standing across the road in front of a hotel directly opposite the EFCC office, also called him to turn back, which he obeyed.
Mr Gbagir said as a result of threat to shoot, he put a call across to the NBA national President, Olumide Akpata, to brief him of the development.
He, however, said a few moments later, an officer of EFCC confronted him, accusing him of the intent to protest.
“I told him to call the person who said so to come and say that in our presence. I stated that I am surprised that the same people who did not even listen to me when I came would turn around and be accusing us of coming to protest.
“He (EFCC operative) now ordered us to leave the place or he will call for our forceful eviction. I therefore, told him that we were not even in their premises since they did not allow us on their premises and they have no legal right to force us out of where we were standing. As the said personnel returned back to their premises, some lawyers joined me and we all stood across their office, waiting.
“Hitherto, I was informed by the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Benue State on legal matters that he was in touch with the Head of EFCC office and was discussing the possibility of releasing our colleague. This of course had informed the basis of our waiting.”
‘Assault’ at the EFCC Head of Office
Mr Gbagir further explained that as he entered the office of the EFCC head in Makurdi, the Solicitor-General introduced him as the Chairman, NBA Makurdi Branch and offered him a seat.
“As I made to sit down, the EFCC Head of office said I cannot sit down because I am “an agitator.”
“I then asked whether I was brought in as an accused? When he did not answer me, I told the Attorney-General that with due respect, I cannot be made to be standing talking to the EFCC Head of office, and sought the leave of the AG to leave.”
He said as he was ordered to leave, about seven personnel of EFCC pounced on him and started beating him.
“They broke my recommended reading eye glasses in the process and pushed me out of the premises. Outside the premises, they threw out my foot wears which I was dispossessed of in the course of the beating.
“Infuriated, the AG, SG and SSA to the Governor also walked out of the premises and the AG met with I and other lawyers, including the DPP, who were outside that we should leave.”
He added that he has been in excruciating pains as a result of the beating.
“I went to Federal Medical Centre at Atiku Abubakar Road, Wadata, Makurdi, but they told me to go to their main Centre at Apir. As a result of the severe pains, I could not start going to the FMC Apir which is at the outskirts of Makurdi. I then decided to come to BSUTH where I was admitted and is receiving treatment.”
Meanwhile, the anti-graft agency said Mr Gbagir’s claims are “false, and orchestrated to portray the Commission as draconian and uncivil.”
EFCC spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, said Mr Gbagir was the aggressor, claiming 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,” Mr Uwujaren said.
Although all attempts to get the Attorney-General and the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on legal matters to comment were unsuccessful as both claimed to be busy on Wednesday and early Thursday when our reporter reached out.
However, the publicity Secretary of the NBA, Raphulu Nduka, said the organisation would take up the case, describing it as an affront to the body of lawyers.
“Even if it is a lawyer and not the Chairman, the NBA will take it up. It’s a really serious affront,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
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