Mr Wahab Shittu, the lawyer to the suspended acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr Ibrahim Magu, has written the Justice Ayo Salami-led Judicial Commission of Inquiry, accusing the panel of various acts of illegalities and violations of his client’s right to fair hearing.
The letter dated August 11, 2020, was addressed to the Chairman of the panel, which is probing Magu for alleged abuse of office and mismanagement of Federal Government recovered assets and finances from May 2015 to May 2020.
Shittu, in the letter, alleged that the panel’s proceedings had been conducted in violation of not only the presidential instrument appointing it but also the Tribunal of Inquiry Act, 2004, which empowers the President to set up the JCI.
He described as “curious and worrisome” that the panel led by Salami, which started as an administrative panel of inquiry taking oral and documentary evidence in the past one month suddenly metamorphosed into a Judicial Commission of Inquiry.
“How this comes within the contemplation of a Commission of the Tribunal of Inquiry Act 2004 is very questionable,” he added.
The lawyer also expressed concern that despite his client being the principal subject matter of the proceedings, he was not formally invited to appear before the panel and that the instrument appointing the JCI which was signed on July 3, 2020 by President Muhammadu Buhari was not served on him until 35 days after.
Faulting the secretive nature of the proceedings of the panel, Shittu conceded that the panel had the power to, in a given situation, exclude members of the public from its proceedings, but cited section 2(d) of the Act which he argued does not permit the panel to bar the public from “the entirety of the proceedings but limited to few special situations in the context of the public sittings”.
Shittu said, aside from barring the public from its proceedings, the suspended chairman of EFCC along with his lawyer was excluded from the proceedings of the panel on numerous occasions, particularly, the July 11, 12, and 13, 2020 proceedings.
He added that the panel appointed on July 3, 2020, had started sitting when he was brought before it on July 6.
He said among other violations of the provisions of the Tribunal of Inquiry Act, 2004, even when allowed to participate at the proceedings as Magu’s lawyer, he was never allowed to cross-examine the witnesses testifying against his client.
He added that oaths were also not being administered to witnesses testifying at the panel in violation of Section 5(b) of the Tribunal of Inquiry Act 2004.
He also suggested that the tenure of the proceedings had been surrounded in doubts, despite the presidential instrument appointing the panel clearly stipulated that its proceedings must be concluded within 45 days.
He stated, “Please be further advised that by the instrument of appointment signed by the president of the federal republic of Nigeria on the July 3, 2020 and served on our client on August 8, 2020, the judicial commission of inquiry is to conclude all proceedings of the Inquiry within 45 days unless given express extension in writing by the president of the federal republic of Nigeria.”
Shittu also accused the panel of delving into matters not within its terms of reference and entertaining petitions on live cases pending before superior courts.
He stated, “In summary, we have concerns regarding the legality of the honourable tribunal in the areas highlighted above such as:
“The tribunal has consistently sat in private (camera) and not in public of the applicable law;
“The tribunal has held proceedings and invited and entertained witnesses to the exclusion of our client and his counsel in violation of the applicable law on rules of fair hearing.
“The tribunal has sat and conducted proceedings in the absence of our client in violation of the applicable law and rules of fair hearing.
“The detention of Mr. Magu and subsequent denial of Mr. Magu’s detention by both your panel and the police.
“The suspension of twelve officials (investigators and prosecutors) of the EFCC without query, interrogation, or any other expected standard treatment for such an action.
“The appearance of several conflicting reportage in the media without any official statement from your committee;
“Failure to allow Mr. Magu’s counsel to cross-examine our client’s accusers and witnesses.
“Failure of the committee to reveal its mandate, terms of reference and timeline until August 8, 2020(35 days after the panel was expected to have commenced public sitting by virtue of the instrument of mandate. It is also unclear whether proceedings of the panel before the date of the issuance of the instrument of mandate will be deemed to be part of the forty-five days timeline prescribed in the instrument of mandate or proceedings will be deemed to commence when our client was served the instrument of mandate on 8th August 2020.”
He said the panel could only “lawfully proceed on the basis of strict adherence to the letters of its instrument of mandate as well as the enabling legal regime from which the instrument of mandate derives its authority including the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which is the ground norm.”
He added, despite “the above factual and legal observations”, should the panel “decide to proceed with the inquiry; our client will be ready to present his defence and meritorious case.”
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