By Ikechukwu Nnochiri – Abuja
Lead counsel to the suspended Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, on Sunday, accused the Justice Ayo Salami-led Presidential Judicial Commission of Inquiry, of trying to indict their client at all cost.
The suspended EFCC Chairman is facing probe over allegations bordering on abuse of office and mismanagement of Federal Government Recovered Assets and Finances from May 2015 to May 2020.
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, raised the allegations against him in a memo he forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Magu’s lawyer, Mr. Wahab Shittu, in a statement he made available to newsmen on Sunday, accused the panel of “scheming” to indict the suspended EFCC boss before the final submission of the probe report to President Buhari.
Shittu further faulted the panel for embarking on verification of all assets that were recovered by the EFCC, without the knowledge or involvement of his client.
The statement, a copy of which was made available to Vanguard, read: “Our attention has just been drawn to a sponsored and jaundiced story in one of the national newspapers in which our client, Mr Ibrahim Magu, the suspended Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), is being portrayed in a negative light by Justice Isa Salami- led Judicial Commission of Enquiry.
“In the story entitled- “Magu: Presidential panel begins verification of assets,” the sponsors of the story within the panel was quoted as saying that Magu did not give satisfactory answers to its questions on recovered assets.
“Ordinarily, we would have ignored the media report like the previous orchestrated stories against our client.
“But we are of the opinion that the timing is suspicious and there is the need to take up issues with the media report on the grounds that the reporter quoted sources close to the panel as the arrowheads of the story with a predetermined agenda.
“It is apparent that the panel is trying at all cost to indict our client before the submission of its report to President Muhammadu Buhari.
“It is on records that our client closed his defence two weeks ago without the opportunity to call any witness to strengthen his innocence as applications to call witnesses and subpoena certain individuals including AGF Abubakar Malami (SAN) were blatantly refused by Salami.
“We wish to say with high sense of responsibility that our client has nothing to hide unlike the panel that refused to give him fair hearing and has been sitting for about six months without timeline and numerous illegalities.
“We say categorically that this publication was made without any attempt to get across to Wahab Shittu, our client’s Counsel on record who represented our client throughout the proceedings and inspite of the apparent unwillingness of Mr Tosin Ojaomo (a counsel in the defence team) to “…respond to calls” according to the published story.
“It is instructive to note that the the source of the story was attributed to the source close to “the panel” without disclosing the identity of the source.
“But since the media story attributed to the panel made several prejudicial comments against our client, we are inclined to respond as follows to set the record straight:
“However, our client has noticed a consistent pattern of orchestration/planting of prejudicial stories in the public space, one of which is the story that we are now forced to react to for its prejudicial consequences on the work of the panel.
“In the past, many of such false stories against our client had featured in the public space only for such unfounded allegations to collapse like a pack of cards during the proceedings of the panel.
“Based on the proceedings, we are certain that our client will be exonerated completely from all these allegations orchestrated in the public space and many others in that category during the proceedings of the judicial commission of inquiry inspite of stories planted in the public space to the contrary.
“Our view, arising from the media story, is that the fate of our client is being predetermined even before the panel submits its report to the President and this will be tragic.
“This is because it is elementary that the panel is a judicial commission of inquiry, established pursuant to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry Act 2004.
“That being so and by virtue of being an inferior tribunal, the panel “ought not to descend into the arena lest it faces the danger of being blindfolded by the dust raised by the combatants.”
“We urge Mr. President on whose authority the Judicial Commission of Inquiry was established to note this development including the trauma and prejudice to which our client is being subjected by these endless prejudicial publications being attributed to the panel even before the report is submitted to the President.
“The story had said the panel was embarking on verification of seized assets across the country in the absence of our client or his counsel inspite of our client being the main subject of inquiry by virtue of the instruments establishing the Judicial Commission of Inquiry.
“It is an exercise in futility for the panel to conduct verification of recovered assets in the absence of Magu and his lawyers and thereafter proceed to write a report without clarification from him.
“This is particularly worrisome since the report said: ‘We visited some of the houses which Magu claimed to have seized. However, some of them which he claimed to have been seized had no markings of ‘EFCC Keep Off’ while in some other cases; the alleged looters were still living in them.
‘Some houses are also being occupied by strange persons. Magu claims to have obtained presidential approval to allocate the properties to them. Unfortunately, he has not been able to provide the letter of authorisation he purportedly got from the President.
‘A lot of vehicles that were seized were also in a bad shape. Some of these vehicles had some parts of their engines removed while for some others, tyres had been removed. We are compiling all the reports.’
“The above conclusions concerning our client are being made prejudicially and allegedly attributed to the panel in our client’s absence even before the report is submitted to the President.
“And for those who are bent on planting false stories against our client with a view to convicting him at all cost, we have news for them because they do not understand the nature and limitation of judicial commission of inquiry.
“In the case of Donbraye & Anor v Preyor & Ors (2014) LPELR-22286 the Court of Appeal held as follows:
“A Judicial Commission of Inquiry is normally constituted by virtue of and under a Judicial Commission of Inquiry Law or Act as the case may be, to inquire into certain affairs and/or conduct of some individuals and after the inquiry, which is investigative in nature, the said commission turns in its report to the government which set it up to study the recommendations and take further necessary actions, as it deems fit
On Nature and effect of findings and recommendations of a judicial commission of inquiry the Supreme Court in Olagunyi v. Oyeniran (1996) 6 NWLR (Pt. 453) 127 held as follows:
“The findings and recommendations of a judicial commission of inquiry are not to be regarded as a judicial decision having binding force on the Executive Council or Government that set it up.
”They remain findings and recommendations upon which the Government may act and, in so acting, it is not to be expected that the Government will adopt the findings and recommendations intoto.”
“The position was made clearer beyond doubt by the Court of Appeal in Bariga- Amange v Adumen (2016) 13 NWLR (Pt. 1530) 349 which held as follows:
“A judicial commission of inquiry is not a court of law or a judicial tribunal.
“This is obvious because nobody can be convicted by a judicial commission or administrative panel or a tribunal of inquiry established by law. There is no prosecutor because there is no prosecution.
“No one is formally accused, as it is not a criminal proceeding. In essence, it is a fact finding inquiry”, the statement added.