The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on 17th April 2019 released unconditionally the International Passport of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Mr. Paul Usoro SAN which was deposited as part of Mr. Usoro SAN’s fulfilment of the bail condition in his ongoing “professional fee” trial.
At the resumed hearing, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN counsel for the defendant urged the Honourable Court to grant the application which was not opposed by the prosecution. The prosecution counsel, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo who confirmed that he would not oppose the application, drew the Court’s attention to the fact that there ought to be a date for the return of the passport and urged the Honourable Court to take notice of same.
In response, Chief Olanipekun SAN reminded the Honourable Court of the responsibilities placed on Mr. Usoro SAN by his office as the President of the NBA. He noted that by virtue of the unpredictable nature of the NBA President’s itineraries, it would be impracticable for Mr. Usoro SAN to return to court at any time he is required to travel out of jurisdiction to ask for the release of his passport. He further assured that since the essence of withholding a defendant’s passport is to ensure that he is present for his trial, the defendant would ensure that trial dates would take priority over any trip that he may want to undertake.
On the strength of the argument of the defendant’s counsel and with the prosecution’s consent, the Court granted the unconditional release of Mr. Usoro’s International Passport.
Further, the applications filed by the Gov. of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel challenging the Court’s jurisdiction and the application seeking to discharge the bench warrant issued against the AG of Akwa Ibom State and three other where both adjourned to enable counsel to the applicants file reply to the EFCC’s Counter Affidavit.
The case was further adjourned to May 10, 2019 for hearing of all pending applications.
Speaking to journalists after the proceedings, Chief Olanipekun SAN who led 18 other counsel including 5 Senior Advocates of Nigeria for the Defendant expressed satisfaction over the proceedings. In his words: “So far so good, nothing negative has happened so far. I am very comfortable with the way the proceedings are going and there has been no cause for concern.”
Mr. Usoro SAN is on trial over the professional fees he received from his clients, Udom Emmanuel and Akwa Ibom State Government which the EFCC alleges “forms part of the proceeds of unlawful act”. Mr. Usoro SAN has maintained that he has provided enough evidence to the EFCC to show that the fees were his professional fees, legitimately earned over a period of time.
We continue to hope that the outcome of this case would give lawyers clearer views on their duties and obligations regarding billing and receiving of professional fees from clients.