The National Executive Council of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has resolved to file a petition against the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), and Mr Emmanuel Iyanna, the Chief Magistrate in Abuja, who issued a search warrant for security officials to search the home of a Supreme Court Judge, Justice Mary Odili.
A top member of the NBA NEC stated that Malami would be reported to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee and the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, which would consider if the AGF should be stripped of his title of a senior advocate.
“What we discovered is that a lot of the attacks on the judiciary are being sanctioned by Malami. The NBA believes that enough is enough. So, the NEC will dispatch petitions against Malami. A communiqué will be issued soon,” a member of NEC said.
Confirming the development, human rights lawyer, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), said a petition would be filed against Malami, while another would be sent to the Judicial Service Commission against the magistrate.
Adegboruwa, who attended the NBA NEC emergency meeting on Tuesday, said he was not satisfied with the denials by the police, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the office of the AGF regarding the raid on Odili’s home.
He also argued that the magistrate’s claim that he was deceived by the Ministry of Justice into issuing the illegal search warrant was not tenable.
The senior advocate stated, “We do not accept the excuse by the magistrate that he was fooled, because no magistrate should put himself in a position that he would be fooled in any way whatsoever. And that is why we have taken a decision to file a formal charge against the magistrate before the Judicial Service Commission.
“The NBA has resolved to do that. At our national executive council meeting held yesterday (Tuesday), we resolved to file a formal complaint against the magistrate; we also resolved to file a formal complaint against the AGF and we resolved to engage the NJC to protect judicial officers.”
Adegboruwa noted that Malami’s office had constituted several panels drawn from security agencies, which act without the force of law.
He stated that the ugly trend would soon be brought to an end once investigations by the NBA were concluded.
He added, “This unfortunate incident has thrown up a challenge to the NBA and lawyers to X-ray the activities of the AGF and we have agreed to set up an independent body to really investigate each occurrence of these ad hoc panels that seem to be exercising judicial powers without any law setting them up and without any laid down procedures that you can use to checkmate the arbitrariness of these so-called panels and recovery bodies under the AGF.
“So, I am sure that by the time our panel comes up with its report, we will inform Nigerians of the outcome of our exercise, but I can assure you that the days of these panels are numbered. I can assure you that somebody is going to be held accountable for the mess created by these amorphous panels that have no statutory backing or law setting them up.”
Adegboruwa said search warrants, arrests warrants and ex parte orders had been abused by magistrates, who work hand in glove with EFCC operatives and policemen.
The senior advocate said on several occasions, magistrates sign blank warrants and hand them over to security agents, who go ahead to “fill in the blank spaces.”
He added, “We have had audience with the relevant authorities in charge of the judiciary in the Federal Capital Territory, mainly the chief judge, and we have expressed our displeasure over the practice of magistrates signing blank arrest warrants, blank search warrants and even blank ex parte orders to freeze the accounts of citizens of Nigeria.
“They sign those papers and the security agencies will just go and fill in the names of innocent Nigerians, freeze their accounts behind their back, arrest them and search their houses; so, we are taking a holistic step in this regard to reform the system to henceforth prohibit any magistrate or judicial officer from signing blank documents for the arrest of citizens, or for the search of houses of citizens, or for the freezing of the accounts of citizens.”
Security operatives had last Friday stormed the home of Justice Odili on Imo River Crescent, Maitama, with a search warrant.
The operation was sanctioned by the Joint Panel on Recovery in the Federal Ministry of Justice under the leadership of Malami.
The leader of the operation, CSP Lawrence Ajodo, also wore an identity card allegedly signed by Malami.
However, both Malami and the police have denied knowledge of the operation, while Ajodo has been suspended by the police authorities.
The magistrate later revoked the warrant, claiming that he was deceived into issuing it.
Reacting, however, the spokesman for the AGF, Dr Umar Gwandu, said Adegboruwa’s claim that the AGF’s office under Malami was fond of creating panels arbitrarily was false.
He said Malami stood by his statement that the panel, which orchestrated the raid on Odili’s home, acted illegally.
Gwandu stated, “The onus is now on he who asserts to prove. It is tantamount to conjectures and fabrications for someone, who is expected to be learned, to be uttering statements devoid of substance. It is a great disservice to the proposition positing if one could not substantiate claims with convincing proofs and clear examples. Was there any assets recovery panel set up by the AGF? Absolutely, there is none.
“In what ways are panels, if any, set up by the attorney general of the federation and chief law officer, whose mandates and responsibility to serve the public interest are constitutionally guaranteed, becomes unlawful to the extent of carrying out extrajudicial operations. It is abundantly clear that there is nothing called the Assets Recovery Panel in the office of the AGF.
“Those who went to concoct a name using deceitful letterhead and apparently mischievous email and location address can go to any length, including forging a signature of government officials.”
On reports that the NBA was going to file a petition against the AGF, Gwandu noted that its committee was made up of seasoned professionals
He, however, said it would be pre-emptive of the NBA to write a petition against the AGF when security agencies were still investigating the matter.
Gwandu added, “Members of the committee will not be dancing to the tune of mischief makers to satisfy the whimsical aspersions of certain individuals.
“By saying ‘to take action against the AGF’ makes it confusingly pre-emptive, antithetical to doctrines of fair hearing and presumption of innocence, prejudicial, conclusive and does not give any room for further investigation at a time when the matter is being investigated by relevant agencies.”