How Lawyers Frustrate Anti-Crime War, Act as Technical Advisers to Criminals, Laments EFCC Boss
Gentlemen of the noble and learned profession, I welcome you all to this meeting. I am indeed, highly honoured that the National Executive of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) perhaps the most important, organised stakeholder with direct influence on the work that we do here at the EFCC, has chosen to call on me today. It has become necessary to have this meeting given the widespread corruption pervading the land. As you all know, corruption is probably the greatest problem facing our dear country Nigeria and it has to be nipped in the bud timely.
The war against economic and financial crimes, is fought on a number of flanks, some of which include fraud, corruption and money laundering. However, there is no flank from which the war is waged, that the input and effects of professionals such as lawyers, bankers and journalists are not felt, either as part of the problem or as critical ingredients in the solution mix.
Law enforcement, just as the judiciary, encompassing the bar and bench, is a critical link in the justice delivery system of any society. The two, whilst they operate independent of one another, cannot afford, in the interest of the society, to pull in divergent directions.
I dare say that even when opinions and tactics differ, the interests of the two blocs cannot but converge on the overriding interest of the people.
It was along that line, that I pledged on my appointment (and have maintained ever since) , that I would discharge my duties as the head of the EFCC, guided solely by the fear of Almighty God, the overriding interest of our fatherland, Nigeria and the Rule of Law.
I have tried to keep faith with those principles, in appreciation of the enormous burden placed on my shoulders by Mr. President and the huge expectations of ordinary Nigerians.
In the history of our country, there has never been a more destructive force than corruption and the war that we have been recruited to fight, is not one for the faint at heart nor is it a war of half-measures.
I can tell you without fear of contradiction, that we at the EFCC are totally committed to the war against economic and financial crimes, including corruption and money laundering. Our people have suffered too long to continue to be abandoned to the cruel fate imposed by crooks and thieves. We are willing hostages to the urgency of now and cannot afford to fail our compatriots.
There are positions being pushed by some members of your association that the fight against corruption is one sided and biased and therefore not fair, but you and I know this is not a balanced argument. We all know that crimes have no political affiliation. And the victims of crimes such as money laundering, embezzlement, diversion of funds and fraud are the ordinary Nigerians and even you and me. Furthermore, is it a defence in law to say that one individual indicted of any of these crimes should not be prosecuted because another individual who is perceived to be corrupt has not yet been prosecuted? As officers in the temple of justice I enjoin you all to join in the campaign against corruption.
The duties and responsibilities imposed on us by our current realities are directly linked to the shared vision of Nigerians to live, work and aspire in a just and equitable society.
However, the arduous task of reaching that goal is not an enterprise that can be undertaken by only an individual, group of persons or a section of the society. All hands must be on deck. That is why I find very significant, the chance offered me today to meet minds with you, who, individually and as a bloc, are some of the most important stakeholders in the fight against corruption.
From the very beginning, the EFCC realised the place of lawyers in the work it has been assigned to do. That is why, in addition to investigators, one of the group of professionals we carefully assembled on the creation of the Commission, were prosecutors -both internal and external.
We knew then as we do today, that most of our work must necessarily end up in court. The fact that no agency of government in Nigeria has beaten the prosecution and conviction record of the EFCC is a testimony to the professional premiums we place on diligent investigation and prosecution.
Notwithstanding our hard-won successes, 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 are equally deserving of robust presentation and defence, we believe that no matter the positions we take on any issue, Nigeria should come first.
It is you who say that 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.
This is where we have -and will continue to have issues with the concerned individuals. And this is where so much is expected from the NBA.
As a Commission, EFCC has the greatest respect for members of the Bar and Bench and regard the NBA highly for all the sacrifices of its members, both living and dead, who through professional practice of the highest standards and dogged, focused advocacy, have helped in the achievements we celebrate today not just in the EFCC, but in Nigeria as a whole.
But, we must tell ourselves the truth: there are lawyers within the fold of the NBA who ought not to be among your noble ranks. Those people are not fit to be called ministers, rather, they are vandals of the temple of justice.
The burden of expectation is not only on the shoulders of those of us at the EFCC; Nigerians expect so much from you as well.
The NBA is at a critical junction in the justice delivery chain and being as it is, a self-regulating professional association, so much is expected from the body in ensuring that all members attain the highest possible professional heights, not judged by how many briefs they have or how fat those briefs are, but by how much professional integrity and patriotism they infuse into their practice.
We have no other country than this one to call our own; let us join hands to build the Nigeria of our dream.
In closing, permit me to place on record the invaluable support that the EFCC has received over the years, from very many committed members of the NBA and the body as a whole.
I believe we are on the same page with President Muhammadu Buhari and the majority of Nigerians on the war against corruption. Therefore, let us join forces to “Kill Corruption before it Kills Nigeria.”
I thank you for your kind attention.
This remarks was delivered by Ibrahim Mustafa Magu Ag. Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission during a Courtesy Call by the National Executive of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Abuja