Justice Ayo Salami Panel And Matters Arising

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In this report, KUNLE OLASANMI looks at the activities of the Presidential Panel led by Justice Isa Ayo Salami, former President of the Court of Appeal and the testimonies so far given before it.

Since the travail of the suspended Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu began, opinions have been divided over the allegation leveled against him.

Despite the huge allegation of corruption brought against him before the Justice Isa Ayo Salami panel, many still believed Mr. Magu should be given the opportunity to defend himself before the panel.

Some of his loyalists, according to media reports have expressed doubt about his getting fair hearing before the panel.

They believed the exit of former Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) will affect the anti-corruption profile of Nigeria in the international community.

Notable transparency groups, the Corner House and Global Witness based in Italy and the United Kingdom, said in a letter to the Chairman, Presidential Panel of Inquiry on allegations against Mr Magu, that Nigerian partners abroad are deeply concerned that Mr. Magu’s exit may have been orchestrated by those against the fight against corruption.

But prominent lawyers have continued to tackle the suspended Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Ibrahim Magu over abuse of office, while he held sway as the head of the anti-graft agency.

Magu was summoned before the Presidential Panel led by retired Justice Ayo Salami to answer questions based on an 18 ground petition filed against him by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami SAN.

Two Senior Advocates, Chief Mike Ozekhome and Godwin Obla had separately appeared before the panel to give their sides of the story. H

However, a fresh petition had equally emanated from an Abuja based lawyer and rights activist, Johnmary Jideobi against Magu last week.

In the fresh petition, Magu was alleged to have unlawfully frozen accounts of a company, Damjay Integrated Services Limited with a new generation bank in 2018 without any court order.

The petition dated July 28, 2020 was received in the AGF’s office on July 29, 2020 and copied the Justice Ayo Salami led Presidential panel investigating the recovery of assets by EFCC under Magu and Ibrahim Magu and attached with the High Court judgment.

The petitioner among others, claimed that following the refusal of the bank to unfreeze the account, Magu and EFCC were dragged before a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where Justice O. C. Agbaza on November 21, 2018 declared Magu’s action as unlawful, illegal and ordered him to immediately unfreeze the said bank account.

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Magu was alleged to have bluntly refused to comply with the order of the court despite not appealing against the judgment.

Insisting that the EFCC has no power under any Nigerian law to freeze any bank account without an order of court, Jideobi claimed that Magu while as EFCC acting chairman, acted with impunity and trampled on the rule of law.

At the peak of the alleged unlawful act, the lawyer claimed that a group of officers operating in the name, “Magu boys” instead of obeying the court order acted as intermediaries to the company and allegedly demanded N75 million from the account as a condition for lifting the illegal restriction.

However, following the refusal of the sponsor of the company to dance to the tune, an alleged fanthom criminal charge was on June 19, 2020 filed against the company’s sponsor and pending in court.

“It is the aggregation of these ordeals consisting of abuse of investigative powers, extortion, unlawful seizure of a citizens property and flagrant disobedience to order of court that impelled our client to instruct that the instant petition be tabled before you now that Mr President is desirous of sweeping the EFCC clean and restoring sanity”.

Earlier, Ozekhome had  appeared before the Justice Ayo Salami-led panel to testify against  Magu, and submitted six exhibits, including two video clips and some documents.

During the session, which lasted about two hours, Ozekhome spoke about the alleged leadership failures of Magu and the investigative deficiencies of the anti-graft agency.

The senior advocate also made recommendations to the panel on the need for the EFCC to be more professional and engage less in “media trial.”

Speaking on his testimonies before the panel, Ozekhome said his primary aim was not to settle scores with Magu, but to address the deficiencies in the EFCC with a view to helping it to actualise its core mandate.

The senior advocate said he submitted six exhibits to the panel, including two videos as well as a letter he wrote to the then acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, on the urgent need for reforms and accountability as regards recovered loot.

Ozekhome stated, “I have not even said anything about the seizure of my funds by the EFCC and I am surprised that Ojaomo, a lawyer, can talk about something he didn’t witness. My N75m was seized by Magu and his goons despite the fact that it was my legal fees. I went to court and defeated them; so, I have nothing to prove.

“All I did at the panel was to tender some documents and some CDs, which contained videos. One of them is a video where I was given a standing ovation at an event where I advised Magu on how to fight corruption. It was about telling them not to do a one-sided anti-graft war, where you arrest activists and leave those in government.

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“I also tendered a letter dated May 2017, which I wrote to the then acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. In the letter, I raised 12 questions as to where the recovered loot and property were and if the property had been sold, to who and for how much. Tell Ojaomo to relax and that I have not yet started.”

Obla, who was one of the private Prosecutors engaged by the EFCC had equally testified before the panel on alleged reckless attitude of Magu.

The senior advocate testified before the panel in the presence of Magu at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, where he presented 12 questions to the panel which he said the suspended EFCC chairman must answer and made five recommendations

Obla, who presented over 10 documents to the panel including his bill of charges, said he prosecuted 40 cases for the EFCC including those of former bank chiefs sacked by the Central Bank of Nigeria under the leadership of Lamido Sanusi and also helped the commission recover hundreds of billions of naira in cash and assets.

He said, “As of date, the EFCC owes me an outstanding balance of N685, 389, 928.10 and $202,460.47 (N78.5m) or its naira equivalent at the prevailing Central Bank of Nigeria exchange rate, together with interest at prime lending rate, being professional fees for the prosecution of over 40 high profile cases. See Statement of Claim in Suit No: FCT/CV/3220/17 BETWEEN Obla v. EFCC.”

The senior advocate said all subsequent letters sent to the EFCC were ignored but the fee was never contested. He said rather than pay him his legal fees, Magu decided to level several allegations against him in order to discredit and deny him his due.

“In effect, Ibrahim Magu deliberately and maliciously denied me the fruits of my services for EFCC whilst putting me to great expense to defend a worthless charge,” the lawyer said.

The senior advocate, who helped the EFCC to secure the conviction of a former Director-General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Temisan Omatseye, in 2016, said he in the course of the case which lasted for six years, he travelled from his base in Abuja to Lagos several times and made 46 court appearances but was not paid a penny.

He said despite securing the conviction for the EFCC, Magu accused him of bribing Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia to secure the conviction.

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Obla said, “I have never made any payment of N5m or any other amount to Justice Ajumogobia. To the best of my recollection, the payment of N5m under reference was a payment I made on May 21, 2015 to a company named Nigel & Colive Nig. Ltd, for the purchase of building materials for my construction site in Abuja (now my present office building).

“At that material time of this commercial transaction and till date, I had no prior knowledge that Justice Ajumogobia had any interest whatsoever in the company.”

The senior advocate said based on the allegations, he was informed by EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, that Magu, had personally directed that he be detained and he remained in custody for 21 days before he was subsequently arraigned alongside the judge.

The senior advocate called on the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to ensure that the frivolous criminal charges brought against him were withdrawn.

Obla said after he received a letter of disengagement from the EFCC, he turned in all files and gave his professional opinion on how to ensure that the cases continue seamlessly.

He said unfortunately, the lackadaisical manner in which most of the matters had been handled either indicate that the matters had been compromised or constructively withdrawn or abandoned like the N18bn pension fraud case involving the Head of Service.

The senior advocate said Magu went ahead to unceremoniously redeploy the Head of Legal Department, Chile Okoroma, who was assigned those cases.

Obla added, “Secondly, material evidence, which we returned to EFCC custody, were seemingly, withheld from him as he severally reached out to my office for help. Next, when it seemed that Mr. Chile was gaining some traction with the pension fraud cases, Ibrahim Magu conveniently despatched Mr. Chile off to National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, thus foisting a constructive abandonment of the pension fraud cases.

“In 2016, when Ibrahim Magu took over the files, those pension fraud cases were all part-heard in various courts of the Federal High Court, Abuja. Today, most of those cases are now in limbo and constructively abandoned.

“It has been suggested that one of the reasons why the Pension Fraud prosecutions have been stalled/frustrated has to do with the interest of one Alhaji Ali Abatcha who is a kinsman of Ibrahim Magu. The said Alhaji Ali Abatcha was the president of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners and was undergoing prosecution by myself before Mr. Magu took over. The status of this case and others should be reviewed.”

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