A maxim says, “Lawyers are not liars but Ministers in the Temple of Justice”. In normal parlance, that is supposedly the case but practitioners of the profession seem to have thrown away that maxim to the dogs just as my noble profession of journalism is threatened by quacks and fraudsters. Former EFCC acting chairman, Ibrahim Mustapha Magu said: “Some lawyers are not ministers but vandals in the temple of justice”. But how far is that correct? Several instances abound.
Head of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Committee and a legal giant, Prof. Itse Sagay expressed his, feeling thus:
The legal luminary called for disciplinary action against Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) and other senior lawyers found encouraging and supporting indicted corrupt politicians and treasury looters. In his words: “There are some senior lawyers who have totally departed from anything that the calling of the law profession requires. They have thrown in their lot with looters and have become, I won’t call them fellow looters, but definitely, they have started enjoying and sharing in the proceeds of crimes of the looters and because of that, they are absolutely now against the anti-corruption law”.
Itse called for an end to the impunity these lawyers enjoy and advocated for their exclusion from the profession. Most Nigerians agree with the learned luminary.
This issue of senior lawyers and corruption is back on the national agenda following comments by Ibrahim Magu to the Nigerian Bar Association penultimate Wednesday to join hands with the Commission to stamp out corruption in the country.
He told the lawyers that: “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.”
He added that: “there are lawyers within the fold of NBA who ought not to be among your noble ranks.” He concluded on the colorful note that I did not know what could be said of silks: “they are vandals of the temple of justice”.
After the interaction with NBA, same week EFCC reopened investigation into the infamous Halliburton bribery scandal which saw a foreign consortium of companies bribing Nigerian officials with over $180million to win contracts for the building of the country’s Liquefied Natural Gas plant. A senior Advocate of Nigeria, Damian Dodo was interrogated for eight (8) hours by EFCC on the bribery scandal. Of course, the Halliburton scam was not prosecuted by the previous administration of Jonathan because of abundant evidence from prosecutions done in other countries that three former Heads of Nigerian Government received their share of the $180million.
Foreign lawyers that facilitated the bribes were jailed in their countries but no one in Nigeria cared until the effort of EFCC under Magu beamed its searchlight.
According to reports, Dodo was questioned for his role in an alleged receipt of $26million from Halliburton along with a former minister and five Senior Advocates of Nigeria. It could be recalled that in the US, Halliburton and its former subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), entered a guilty plea and agreed to pay $579million fine for their crime of bribing Nigeria’s officials. That is where the rule of law flourishes and credibility respected.
Courageously enough, a Federal High Court in Lagos refused to grant an application stopping the arraignment of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Rickey Tarfa by EFCC. He was charged with unlawful obstruction of investigation and perversion of the course of justice before Justice A’ishatu Opesanwo.
Tarfa had benefitted from peer group support as 34 SAN colleagues turned up to argue that the learned silk could not be charged in a court of law. Were the senior lawyers telling the people that the silk is above the law? The senior lawyers even demanded that evidence collected from Tarfa including his mobile phone and vehicle used to commit the offence be returned immediately to him. The learned Judge resisted the empty threat and refused to be frightened with the bluff. Tarfa filed a, N2.3billion suit against the EFCC for daring to arrest him. What a smart and unrepentant guy.
Of course we do not know whether those lawyers are guilty as charged but the law must always be allowed to take its full course no matter who is involved. There are also several senior lawyers who do not accept briefs that are tainted with corruption so it should not be assumed that all lawyers are bad. What is exciting however is that for the first time, prosecutorial authorities are standing up to senior lawyers and treating them as citizens not tin- gods. As we all know, when citizens are suspected of criminal behavior, they are investigated and if there is an evidence of their involvement, they are charged to court. As I once stated in my other published writings, if we fail to develop the resolve to charge corrupt senior lawyers to court, those who engage in mega corruption would continue to use their “technical know-how”, as Magu stated to escape justice.
Nigerians look forward to a future in which public resources would be used for public good. It was precisely for this reason that Nigerians rallied round to support Muhammadu Buhari to power in 2015 largely on account of his anti-corruption credentials. In 1984 – 1985, the Buhari led military regime locked up most of the political class in jail for their corrupt past. They suffered for some time but eventually, his regime was overthrown and the jailbirds bounced back to power and expanded their corrupt acts with renewed vigor. The problem with Buhari’s first regime approach to fighting corruption was ad-hoc, using military tribunals rather than the normal instruments of the administration of justice. This time around, the institutions of justice are sitting up to advance the key principle of the rule of law which even those who wear silk cannot be above the law.
One of the scientific proves about corruption is that once, the system is able to punish those involved, the quantum decreases steadily. When there is immunity for engaging in corrupt practices however the quantum and scale of corrupt acts grows astronomically. Following the successes of Nuhu Ribadu in the EFCC and the way he was later disgraced out of the institution for doing a thorough job, was a subject of worry and confidence returned fully to practitioners of grand corruption in Nigeria. Nigeria became the only country in the world where corrupt persons could get court iial njunctions stopping the prosecutorial agencies and the courts from investigating their corrupt acts.
Look at what was tenable at the various Election Petition Tribunals, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Suspiciously, some of the judges that presided over election cases were paid their right prices for compromised judgments which, has murdered the democracy, denied the electorates their mandates and made a carricuture of the ongoing anti-corruption war. When bribery is to be justified, judges hide under the cover of technicalities to deliver purchased judgments shamelessly. There is an urgent need to put judges on 24hours security surveillance including members of the National Judicial Council. Some judges if properly investigated, are richer than the Dangotes, Otedolas, Alakijas, Adenugas, Dantatas, Elumelus, Shagayas, Tinubus etc. The gubernatorial cases of Sokoto, Imo, Plateau and Kano states, two senatorial cases from Bauchi state (Bauchi North and Bauchi Central) between Hon. Farouk Mustapha (NNPP) versus Muhammed Adamu Bulkachuwa (APC) and that of Bappa Aliyu Misau (PRP) versus Halliru Dauda (APC), are typical examples where justice was not only twisted in spite of glaring facts but gruesomely murdered on the floor of the temple of justice for suspected bribery and nepotism. Through a concerted effort by anti-corruption agencies and civil society groups, the tide seems to be gradually changing and the wheels of justice have started to turn though slowly. The lone prayer of the cheated is that all those found guilty of corrupt practices should not be allowed to enjoy the loot and must be dragged to face prosecution and if found guilty, deserve to end up in jail for the rest of their lives for Nigeria to be a better country of pride. But if corruption is encouraged and allowed to continue to flourish unchecked, then Nigeria is getting ripe for a violent revolution that knows no barrier. And to prove our patriotism, yours sincerely shall all be an active participant in the inevitable cleansing exercise of salvaging our country from the hands of our silent killers to benefit generations yet unborn and unite the country.
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues