19 December 2018
My Dear Colleagues,
1. Yesterday, 18 December 2018, I locked horns with the forces that seek to eclipse us as lawyer sand destabilize and destroy the very foundations of our Association. There may still be a few of us who believe that the charges against me in Charge No. FHC/L/418C/18 are personal to me. They are not. What is at stake in this Charge is well beyond me as a person and includes, only in part, the right of a lawyer to earn his living and, in my instance, my fees, without being criminalized, hounded, persecuted and unlawfully regulated and audited by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (“EFCC”). What has been dressed up as money laundering charges is nothing more than trumped-up charges that not only serve personal vendetta motives but also seek to subvert, intimidate, humiliate and subjugate the Nigerian Bar Association.
2. What is at stake, in a larger sense, is the right of the NBA to exist and function as an independent and vibrant association of lawyers. It definitely cannot be a coincidence that the targeted investigation of my Firm’s account by the EFCC was commenced in or about May 2018 – in respect of fees that were paid between 2015 and 2016 – in the heat of the NBA Election campaigns and there were indeed publicized attempts by the agency to arraign me on the same trumped up charges prior to the elections as a means of ensuring that I do not participate thereat. These EFCC campaigns continued, with some help from a few of our colleagues, even after the elections and traditionally becomes very prominent and pronounced close to any significant NBA activity such as the last NEC meeting that was held on 06 December 2018. These are attempts by outside forces to institute NBA regime change through the backdoor and in the process stifle and destroy our independence and vibrancy as an association.
3. What is also at stake is the right of Nigerian citizens to have law enforcement institutions that are not used to fight personal and/or political fights. Unfortunately, that is what the EFCC has become: a tool for fighting personal and political fights. The agency and its top officials lend themselves to be so used in settling personal and political scores. My current travails have their roots, in parts, in vendetta missions that go right back to the 2015 Akwa Ibom State Elections and the 2016/2017 Code of Conduct Tribunal trials of the Senate President, Distinguished Senator Bukola Saraki. In the course of my current struggles, I have heard several stories of how institutions of State have been so subverted and used to settle personal and political scores. Indeed, it has been suggested that the NBA may have acquiesced to these subversions by its silence. That silence must cease, and we must rise up against these unlawful conducts.
4. What is also at stake in my on-going saga is the corruption and impunity of state agencies such as the EFCC. The corruption, impunity and arrogance of the EFCC comes in different forms and is evident, amongst others, in its abuse of investigatory and prosecutorial powers, sometimes acting outside its statutory powers and limits. It is also evident in its orchestrated media trials and campaigns that willfully seek to assassinate and destroy the names and characters of defendants ahead of any criminal trial. They are actively playing those cards in my on-going trial and in several other so-called high-profile matters that they investigate and/or prosecute. It is in our collective interest that we stand up to these corrupt practices and indeed stand up to all forms of corruption, impunity and arrogance in government institutions and agencies, including disobedience of court order sand in their modus operandi.
5. As President of the Bar, I have been privileged to hear testimonies from some of our colleagues and Nigerians generally on the impunity and corrupt practices of some of these agencies. Perhaps, the NBA could have done much better in standing up to some of these institutions and curbing their excesses. But then, it is never too late to do the right thing and I do intend to use my office as President of the Bar to achieve that aim. We must point the searchlight at some of these dark recesses of our state agencies and institutions. We mustx-ray their modus operandi in a manner that would ensure, amongst others, that (a) our courts are not made toothless through the disobedience of court orders by these institutions of State and their officials; (b) the will of Nigerian people are not subverted in the coming 2019 elections; and (c) Nigerian people are not generally subjugated and oppressed by institutions and agencies that are paid from our taxes to serve us.
5. As your President, I will not abandon or shirk my responsibility to be in the forefront of this fight, including the fight for the independence of our judiciary. To that extent, I appear, with pride, to answer the charges before the Courts in Charge Number FHC/L/418C/18 and I will keep you fully informed of every step and action taken in that Charge, in keeping with my administration’s policy of full disclosures. As it relates to the Charge, I insist on a fair trial before an independent jurist who does not have hanging over him the incubus of bias orits likelihood. That is a right that enures to every Nigerian pursuant to the provisions of our Constitution. It is in conformance to that right that I applied, as was mentioned in court yesterday, for the reassignment of this Charge by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court from the Court of Honorable Justice M S Hassan to any other Judge of the same Court.
6. My letter in that regard is published with this my Statement and sets out the reasons for my application. That application remains pending before the Chief Judge and my conviction in that regard remains constant and unshaken, to wit, that justice is best served by not assigning EFCC matters to the Court of Honorable Justice M S Hassan given his antecedent as an EFCC Prosecuting Counsel from which office he was appointed to the Bench. I am even more convinced of that position after today’s proceedings and I must mention that this conviction is not personal or limited only to my Charge; it is a position that applies across board to any EFCC matter that may have been or is being assigned to or handled by Honorable Justice M S Hassan.
7. In concluding, I perhaps also need to mention that I have, in separate communication, kept Past Presidents of our Association fully informed of my current trials and it is my understanding that they are having discussions amongst themselves and will soon meet to formulate a common position and issue a statement on the matter. As soon as they do, I believe that this will also be communicated to everyone. In the meantime, I not only remain focused on proving my innocence before the law courts – thereby by extension establishing the right of every one of us to earn our legitimate fees without being hounded, criminalized and persecuted by the EFCC –but also remain focused on delivering my promises to you as your NBA President.
8. In the coming days, we would come out with Statements and Releases that would let you know what we are doing in some of the following key areas:
I. Monitoring of the 2019 National Elections and ensuring that the will of our people is not subverted howsoever;
II. Ensuring that Court Orders are obeyed by our State institutions and that the excesses of these institutions are curbed and controlled to safeguard our democracy, independence of the judiciary and the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people;
III. Development of our young lawyers and in particular, the constitution of the Young Lawyers Forum and focusing the Forum on mentoring and developmental issues;
IV. Planning of the 2019 Annual Conference and ensuring that it is the best ever;
V. Facilitating electronic payment of 2019 Practice Fees by lawyers and prompt issuance of Stamps to lawyers – a practice that we have already greatly improved and will further enhance in the New Year.
VI. The revamping of NBA website.
9. I was elected as your President with a mandate to change the NBA landscape for the better and to advance the Association’s course and this I am determined to do in all circumstances and without flinching. I am even more resolute today in fulfilling this mandate and ensuring that our Association lives up to its credo while carrying aloft the Rule of Law flag, a strand of which includes our rights as lawyers to earn decent and legitimate fees without any form of intimidation and/or persecution. That right, I will defend for the remainder of my term as President of the NBA and beyond and with all the fiber of my strength. In like manner, we must, as an Association of Lawyers, defend the rights of our people to have functional State agencies and institutions that do not operate corruptly and with impunity and do not subvert the will of our people.
10. Finally, I must express my deep and sincere appreciation for the overwhelming support that I have received from all of you, my colleagues, both of the Inner and Outer Bar – and indeed, from Nigerians generally. Most of you, lawyers and non-lawyers, have journeyed from far and near, at personal cost and great sacrifice, to attend court with me; others have called and/or sent messages of encouragement and solidarity. I am truly humbled by your outpouring of support and prayers. May the Good Lord bless all of you abundantly particularly but beyond this Season of Good will.
11. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Long live the Nigerian Bar Association.
Paul Usoro, SAN