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EFCC probe: Salami panel bars Magu’s new lawyers from sitting

Two lawyers – Prof. Zainab Duke Abiola and Mr Aliyu Lemu – were on Monday barred by the Justice Isa Salami-led Judicial Commission of Inquiry from appearing for the suspended Acting Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFC) Chairman, Ibrahim Magu.

They (lawyers) were appearing for the first time to beef up Magu’s defence team.

The panel, which walked out the lawyers, said it recognizes lawyer-activist Wahab Shittu as Magu’s only defence counsel.

Although the development caused a stir at the sitting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Justice Salami stood his ground.

A source said: “Trouble began at about 11.50am when Mr. Wahab Shittu, who has been appearing for Magu, stood up to introduce other members of the legal team.

“But, Justice Salami was said to have interrupted Shittu and insisted that only him would be allowed to defend Magu.

“The former PCA thereafter directed the security agents to bundle out the lawyers from the venue.

“Shittu has appeared for Magu for the past two months and raised certain issues including fair hearing for his client and the need to cross-examine witnesses who testified against his clients.

“Due to the seriousness of the inquiry, Shittu reportedly led Prof Zainab Duke Abiola (MNI) and Mr Aliyu Lemu to the venue of the panel on Monday.

“Abiola is a globally renowned human rights activist, anti-corruption crusader, member of the British Bar and the Akasoba of Kalabari Kingdom. She is also the widow of the late Chief MKO Abiola who lived and died for the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria.

“Upon arrival at the venue, Shittu introduced members of his team before the panel and as soon as he finished speaking, Justice Salami ordered that only Shittu would be allowed to represent Magu.

“He insisted that other members of the team dhould leave the venue. Attempts by Shittu and Abiola to explain the sanctity of legal representation for Magu were resisted by Salami and other members panel who refused to listen to their explanations.

“But, Monday’s proceedings took a new dimension when Salami immediately ordered security agents to escort Abiola and Lemu  out of the venue, thus denying Magu the constitutional right to be represented by the legal practitioners of his choice.”

Reacting to the incident, Prof Duke Abiola expressed her disappointment with the conduct of the panel.

A statement by Magu’s  defence team quoted her as saying:  “What happened today has highlighted  the nature and manner the panel of inquiry has been conducting its sittings secretly against the presidential directive and the instrument setting it up, that it should hold a public. It is unacceptable and patently illegal”.

She said it was unfortunate that she was given such a treatment meted out to her.

The professor added: “The development is unprecedented in the history of Nigerian legal system as even in the worst days of the Nigerian Military junta, Nigerians had the right to be represented by lawyers of their choice.

“The conduct of the panel indicates a descent into a Hobbesian state where the powerful trample upon the honest and upright citizens’ quest to serve their country with honour and integrity.

She asked Nigerians to stand up in support of their anti-corruption champions.

Abiola also called for an “end to the travesty and charade being conducted by the panel, saying that its action may ridicule Nigeria in the international anti-corruption community.”

It was learnt the panel was angry because there was no formal letter from the defence team to engage more lawyers.

A source said: “What happened was an ambush because the commission had no knowledge of new lawyers joining Wahab Shittu.

“I think there ought to be a formal process of announcing additional representation for Magu which was not done.

“This is a Judicial Commission of Inquiry which should be well-respected.”

 

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