Assault on Lawyer: EFCC Chair Shuns Scheduled Meeting with NBA Makurdi

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UPDATE ON THE ASSAULTS ON THE NBA CHAIRMAN, MAKURDI BRANCH JUSTIN GBAGIR, ESQ. BY THE OPERATIVES OF THE ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL CRIMES COMMISSION (EFCC) ON THE 8TH JUNE, 2021

On the 8th June, 2021, I was brutally assaulted by the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at their Zonal Office in Makurdi, Benue State. In the early hours of 9th June, 2021, I made a report to the President of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Olumide Akpata from my hospital bed at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi and made the said report available on some social media platforms.

The NBA President immediately reach out to the Chairman of EFCC who promised to send a special investigator from Abuja to Makurdi for an investigation with a further commitment to ensure that the perpetrators of the dastardly act are brought to book and adequately punished. While the President was awaiting the outcome of the investigation, EFCC through Wilson Uwujaren, Head, Media and Publicity issued a statement denying the assault on me and further alleged that I was the aggressor who “led a gang of thugs to breach the security of the Makurdi office of the EFCC in an attempt to forcibly set free a suspect under interrogation by the EFCC”. The statement further accused me of “resorting to social media blackmail, posing in hospital bed and concocting a fantastic story of an imaginary assault by the EFCC.” The statement also alleged that my action was “indecorous and unbecoming of the leader of the bar” and that I “demonstrated embarrassing insensitivity to the delicate security situation of the state, and should be remorseful for my misguided action and not spew untruths in pliable sections of the media.”

Sequel to the said press release by the spoke person of the EFCC, Dr. Rapulu Nduka, Publicity Secretary of NBA issued a statement on behalf of the NBA President and the entire Bar wherein he stated the resolve of the Nigerian Bar Association to get to the root of the matter and ensure that the officers behind such brazen acts of inhumanity are brought to justice and that abhorrent acts do not reoccur.

The President of NBA, Mr Olumide Akpata in a letter to the Chairman of the EFCC dated 10th June, 2021 and made available to the media on the 15th June, 2021 raised sundry issues regarding harassment of lawyers and the general high level of unprofessionalism, crass abuse of power and inhumane treatment which EFCC have exhibited, and continue to exhibit at different times when dealing with lawyers at various offices of the EFCC across the country. The said letter which was titled “Assault of Official(s) of the Nigerian Bar Association by the Operatives of the EFCC and Related Incidents of Unprofessionalism against Lawyers: Demand for Investigation, Immediate Action and Cessation” concluded that “while I look forward to an expeditious investigation of the unjust treatment of Mr. Gbagir and a general refocusing of the approach of the EFCC in its dealings with lawyers, please accept, Mr. Chairman, the assurances of my highest consideration”. At the time of going to press, the EFCC Chairman to the best of my knowledge has not responded to this letter.

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Suffice to state that on the 11th June, 2021 the NBA Makurdi Branch also issued a press statement wherein they stated that “we take very serious exception to the denigration of the legal profession by the EFCC and further contend that, this is one attack too many by the commission on legal practitioners and we shall vehemently and strongly stem and resist their excesses using all civil and legal means at our disposal.” The statement concluded that “…this matter without doubt shall be followed to its rightful, proper and judicious conclusion. The maxim is Úbi jus, ubi remedium’, which means that ‘where law has established a right, there should be a corresponding remedy.”

Meanwhile, the Director of Internal Affairs at the headquarters of EFCC was in Makurdi on the 10th and 11th June, 2021 where he took my oral and written statement at the office of the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice at the Ministry of Justice Headquarters, Makurdi. The Director of Internal Affairs who earlier in the interaction denied knowledge of the press release by the Head of Media and Publicity however, assured that after his report to the Chairman of EFCC, appropriate measures would be taken to bring the perpetrators to justice.

At the end of the quarterly National Executive Committee meeting of the NBA which held in Abuja on the 24th June, 2021, NEC resolved amongst others that “NEC reviles the circumstances leading to the brutalization of the Chairman of the Makurdi Branch of the NBA by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on 8th June, 2021.” NEC commended the efforts taken by the NBA President thus far, and further directed that the NBA President should take the opportunity of the unfortunate Makurdi incident to finally put an end to the epidemic of brutalization and harassment of legal practitioners by law enforcement agencies in the discharge of the lawyer’s professional duties.

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Several other human rights organization also issued separate press statements in condemnation of the assault by the EFCC. One of such statement is from Legal Defence and Assistance Project, based in Lagos. They condemned the assault and urged “the EFCC to publish an apology to the victim, and demanded that the Attorney-General & Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN) should prosecute the errant officers and further urged the EFCC to henceforth treat all lawyers with respect in all legal dealings with them”.

On the 30th June, 2021, the learned Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Benue State, Mr Michael Gusa called to intimate me that the Director of Internal Affairs at the EFCC headquarters called him and indicated that the Chairman of the EFCC would like to meet with me and him this week, and Thursday, 8th June, 2021 was tentatively scheduled for the meeting. On Tuesday, 6th July, when I sought to know from the Attorney-General when specifically we were meeting with the EFCC Chairman, he promised to revert back to me after further consultation with the Director of Internal Affairs. The Attorney-General later in the evening of Tuesday, 6th July, 2021 called to intimate me that the Director of Internal Affairs told him that the Chairman of the EFCC preferred to visit Benue State to meet with us on the 8th July, 2021 instead of us going to Abuja. As at the time of going to press around 10pm of 8th July, 2021, I am not aware that the EFCC Chairman has come to Makurdi as hitherto promised.

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Meanwhile, after my discharge from the Benue State University Teaching Hospital on the 9th June, 2021, I was booked to attend a check-up on the 5th July, 2021. As a result of the challenges I was having to see with my left eye and challenges to hear with my left ear, I decided to attend the Nigerian Air force Base Hospital, Makurdi also to seek further medical attention. On the 5th of July, 2021, I attended the BSUTH Makurdi as was requested to do and was examined but requested to come back for further check up on the 26th July, 2021. I am still having challenges with my left eye and left ear.

This evening, I sought leave from the NBA President to issue this press statement to provide an update and to mark one month Anniversary of the assault and brutalization by operatives of the EFCC, and Mr President graciously granted me leave.

I wish to use this opportunity to appreciate the NBA President and all members of the Bar and the general public for standing with me on this issue. The President has assured me and I am confident that this fight is not mine but that of the entire Bar. I am not the victim, it is the entire Bar that is the victim. Members of the Bar have demonstrated that an injury for one is actually an injury to all.

In the circumstances of the foregoing, I wish to request all those who were willing to offer one form of support for this course in one way or the other that the time is now. We cannot move with EFCC at their own space and convenience. In any case, they have serially exhibited conduct that they cannot be trusted. If after the assault, they have the audacity to deny and attempt to change the narrative to favour them, they are capable of doing anything.

In further consultation with the NBA President, we shall be coming up with our next line of action without further delay.

Thank you all and God bless.
Justin Gbagir, Esq.
Chairman, NBA Makurdi Branch

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