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President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN, has attacked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for meddling into Contractual Relationships between lawyers and clients.
The NBA President disclosed his dissatisfaction with the act of the Commission while delivering an address in a meeting with members of the National Executive Council (NEC), held at the NBA Secretariat, Abuja, on the 6th day of December, 2018.
Mr. Usoro said that the investigations by the EFCC on his dealings with the Akwa Ibom State Government (AKSG) leaves behind some very serious and far-reaching implications for legal practitioners and the practice of the legal profession, which lawyers should not ignore. He listed among the implications observed, the Client-Lawyer Privilege, EFCC’s lack of Locus Standi in Client-Lawyer Contractual Relationship, Independence of Legal Profession and Practice, and EFCC as Auditor and/or Regulator of Legal Fees. According to him, no law in Nigeria authorizes the anti-graft agency to act as auditors of legal fees.
“There is no provision in Nigeria’s statute books that constitutes the EFCC into the auditor of legal fees. When the EFCC arrogates to itself the right to determine the basis for a lawyer’s fees, it not only intrudes into a client-lawyer contract which by its nature is privileged, but also constitutes itself into an auditor of lawyers’ fees. No such position has been created in our statute books for the EFCC or any other agency for that matter. The EFCC is also not set up as the regulator of lawyers and their fees and it ought not assume such a position.”
Speaking on the issue of the Criminalization of Lawyers’ Fees, which happens to be another implication of the act of the Commission, Mr. Usoro said that the EFCC appears to be straining quite hard to criminalize the fees that are earned by lawyers for their legitimate work. He stressed that his is not the first of these intrusions, as he recalls the case of Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, when the EFCC attempted to forfeit his fees on the pretext that the funds came from illegal sources.
However, the NBA President gave his own account of the EFCC Investigation of AKSG Fees. He noted that he had kept a contemporaneous and detailed record of his visits to the EFCC offices in Abuja. He, therefore, quoted excerpts therefrom on the facts of the EFCC investigation. Speaking firstly, on the Zenith Bank N300m Inflow, he explained that the inflow was payment by Governor Udom Emmanuel in respect of an Election Petition Appeal that was determined by the Supreme Court, wherein he served as the coordinating Counsel in respect of the matter and had engaged various Senior Counsel, therefore, on his behalf. He also added that the subsequent outflows which were made through bank transfers were the professional fees which he made on his behalf to those Counsel based on the N300m inflow.
“They wanted to know how the cash lodgment was made into the PUC account and I informed them that the lodgment was made at the instance of Governor Emmanuel (albeit, not necessarily by him) and definitely not by me or any PUC personnel and that I had no further information, clue or knowledge beyond that,” he said.
Mr. Usoro also spoke on the N1.110bn Inflows into PUC’s Access Bank Account from AKSG, in which he claimed he had provided an explanation in writing to them showing that these were payments-on-account by the State in respect of several dispute resolution matters that we were and, in some cases, are still handling for the State Government.
TNL recalls that copies of the PUC Notes of Charges in respect of 3 of the 4 payment tranches and a non-exhaustive List of 19 matters were made available. He further added that though he was invited by the EFCC for questioning at various occasions, he has never been served by any charge by the Commission as reported by some social media outlets.
“I have not been served with any such charge neither have I been arraigned before any court on any such charge or at all. It is however correct that I have been questioned by the EFCC in the last several months in respect of fees that my Firm had been paid by Akwa Ibom State Government (“AKSG”) between 2015 and 2016 and also fees that Governor Udom Emmanuel, the Governorof Akwa Ibom State had paid to me for the benefit of Counsel that worked on his Election Petition Appeal that was decided by the Supreme Court early in 2016,” he emphasized.
The learned Silk also made a Review of the 2018/2019 Q1, wherein some Challenges where addressed; one of which is that the bar lost 4 of its members to violent crimes between 31 August 2018 and the 6th day of December, 2018. He, therefore, assured the NEC members that this state of affairs would constitute a significant discussion topic under their State of the Nation agenda item at the NEC meeting. He also Addressed the challenge of paucity of funds, and finally highlighted some of the Gains and Successes of the administration which include Financial transparency and accountability, NBA administrations through constitutional reforms, Regaining the Confidence of Members, Osun State Election Monitoring Report, Proactive and pervasive communication and responsiveness to members’ complaints and Greatly Improved Turnaround Time in Delivery of Stamps. He also touched on the Significant 2019 Assignments at hand. In this regard, he highlighted Alternative Sources of Funding, Constitutional and Electoral Reforms, Clean Data Capture and Institutional Memory at the NBA Secretariat, National Elections, Rule of Law and Website Revamp and Young Lawyers Activities.
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