As lawyers converge on Abuja today August 27, 2018 for the Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, I wish to seize the opportunity of this momentous occasion to felicitate with all our learned friends who are undoubtedly among the most important stakeholders in our country’s fight against corruption.
The legal profession is greatly admired for the noble role which Lawyers play in the administration of justice, promotion of the rule of law and ensuring the good governance of society. Nigerian lawyers have historically carried out these responsibilities to public acclaim. Unfortunately in recent times, the conduct of a few members of the Bar hasbecome a source of worry.
We are very worried that on a number of occasions, some members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), have elected to side with those who do not want the good of Nigeria. I believe it is part of the professional ethical code of lawyers to ask questions as to the source of their clients’ wealth.
While we are mindful of the fact that there may be more than one side to a situation which equally deserve of robust presentation and defence, we believe that no matter the positions we take on any issue, Nigeria should come first.
As many of you frequently say, justice should be a three-way street: justice to the victim; justice to the perpetrator of the crime and justice to the society. But, society is not served when prominent members of the Bar not only take clearly tainted briefs but even facilitate the commission of crimes by knowingly supplying the technical know-how and later, helping in the dispersal of the proceeds of crime.
It is personally disheartening to see lawyers who invest their talents and expertise to advancing the cause of corrupt politicians and public officials. It is amazing that a senior lawyer can accept professional fees of N1.7 Billion Naira from a politician without scruples! The same lawyer with a turnover ofN3, 765,414,995.24 only paid valued added tax of N7, 051,928.24. The N300million cash payment which the senior lawyer received from a South South state government in an election petition matter in 2016 was never captured in his tax submissions to the Federal Inland Revenue Service. Yet when he got wind of EFCC investigation he was quick to take advantage of the VAIDS window as cover to shield himself from the Commission’s dragnet.
Another senior lawyer who is quick to advertise himself as the nemesis of the EFCC, has turnover of over N5.1billion with an assessed total tax liability of over a billion Naira between 2010 and 2017. Sadly, he merely declared a meager N8million as gross earnings for 2014 and 2015, and N10million for 2016.
I can go on and on. The catalogue of brazen infractions by senior lawyers that borders on criminality is legion. The tragedy is that these so called smart senior lawyers are supposed to be role models for the young lawyers. Young lawyers who worry about their future and the future of the noble profession in Nigeria must rise today and demand the cleansing of the mercantilist tendencies of some of the learned silks.
Today, I called on members of the Bar to spare some moments to reflect deeply on the ethical stock of the profession. Clearly, the time has come for members of the Bar to set new benchmarks for ethical conduct by members while drawing new inspiration to whip erring members in line.
The NBA must strengthen its disciplinary mechanism and ensure that disciplinary measures are applied to every errant member no matter how highly placed. This will help to rid the profession of bad eggs and secure its credibility. It is bad enough that our people are at the mercy of public officers who abuse our common patrimony for personal gain, it is worse to see lawyers who should rise above the rot become complicit in the mindless thievery.
I expect members of the bar to frown at many of the shenanigans that still go on in court, especially the tendency by some very senior members of the profession to abuse the processes of court through frivolous applications intended to frustrate trial and outright intimidation of judges.
Despite these shortcomings, the EFCC which I represent is still indebted to lawyers for the role they have played in our modest achievements over the past few years. Without the commitment and dedication of some members of the Bar, the Commission would not have secured a total of 158 convictions so far this year and 189 last years.
Finally, I wish to leave members of the NBA with the wise words of our dear President His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari, that “if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us”.
I once again invite you all to partner with the EFCC and the generality of Nigerians in the fight against corruption.
– Magu is Acting Chairman, EFCC