Nigeria: Magu - SANs Okay Presidential Panel's Procedure

6 August 2020

Abuja — Some senior lawyers have faulted the criticism of the ongoing investigation of the suspended Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, saying that there is nothing wrong with the way and manner the Justice Ayo Salami-led presidential panel is going about its task.

Magu's lead counsel, Mr. Wahab Shittu, has, however, said the legal team would follow the rule of law to ensure that his client received a fair hearing at the panel.

A member of the Magu's legal team had queried the perceived secrecy surrounding the proceedings of the seven-man presidential panel probing allegations of malfeasance against Magu.

Magu's counsel, Mr. Oluwatosin Ojaomo, had also raised posers over why the media was barred from covering the panel, since its inception in spite of the constitutional provisions that allow the media unfettered coverage of the panel's proceedings in Section 36 of the constitution.

But some senior lawyers told THISDAY that the investigation at this stage should not be public to avoid sensationalism.

The four Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) who noted that Magu is only being investigated and not tried advocated that the panel be given a free-hand to successfully complete its assignment.

They said since the panel allowed Magu to appear before it with his team of lawyers, he could take any legal measures if and when he deemed it necessary.

One of the senior lawyers, Professor Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN), said: "There were allegations against Magu. Therefore, the probe is in order if it is aimed at finding facts and providing him the opportunity to say his own side of the story.

"But it should not be limited to Magu alone. The case has opened the Pandora box of serious allegations against some other highly placed individuals and public office holders.

"Justice Salami and his team must be given a free hand to do a thorough job. People should give them information. The probe needs not to be made public for now because of sensationalism, which is part of what the EFCC is accused of. But the reports must be made public when the facts have been collated, analysed and documented by the probe panel.

"That's the only way the panel can find facts and evidence which can ground prosecution in court."

Akinseye-George, however, added that there appears to be an attempt to draw conclusions when the panel has not finished its assignment.

According to him, the media is awash with stories calculated to condemn Magu when the panel is still sitting.

"This is very unfair. We must wait for the panel to finish its investigative work," he added.

Another senior lawyer, Mallam Ahmed Raji (SAN), shared Akinseye-George' views, saying: "Since it is a probe and not a trial, it may be conducted discreetly for maximum results.

"It is only upon conclusions and trial is recommended, then such trial must be in the open as prescribed by the constitution of the country."

Raji said many probes were ongoing without any fanfare, especially those involving real security issues.

"The Salami panel could have been set up and it could have been conducting its business without the knowledge of the public. But courts of trial must sit in the open and not in the Villa," he stated.

Also speaking, another senior lawyer, Mr. Dayo Akinlaja (SAN), said: "Regarding the probe of Mr. Magu, what I can fathom as being done at the moment is a sort of administrative exercise. If it is a criminal trial, it is mandatory under the constitution for it to be done in public. But since it is not aimed at finding him guilty or innocent in the legal sense of the words "guilty" and "innocent," there is no constitutional imperative to conduct the proceedings in public.

"The good thing to note is that the gentleman has his legal team with him in the conduct of the ongoing proceedings. If there is anything like denial of fair hearing to him, his legal team would definitely know how to handle the situation."

Mr. John Baiyeshea (SAN) while noting that the exercise cannot be said to be secret from what he had seen, heard or read so far, expressed confidence that Magu will be given ample opportunity to defend himself in respect of all the allegations against him.

"I verily believe that the principle of fair hearing would be upheld. I say with a high degree of certainty that the integrity of the chairman of the panel or the committee can be relied upon for assurance, that the right things would be done.

"The Chairman, Justice Ayo Salami, stands for truth and righteousness and justice, anytime, anywhere, any day. He will do a thorough job, I'm very sure of that. Let's, therefore, wait and see," he said.

According to him, the whole world, and not just Nigerians, is waiting for the outcome of the probe.

"On final note, the issue may not be about Mr. Magu alone at the end of the day. He did not work alone; other government agencies and officials are involved. Mr. Magu said so himself. He has said with confidence that he will be vindicated. That will be nice because he has worked so hard to confront corruption headlong. It will not be good at all if he is 'consumed' by the same Nigerian corruption, which we all know is as deadly as coronavirus in this country," Baiyeshea added.

But Shittu has said Magu's legal team will follow the rule of law to ensure that his client received a fair hearing at the presidential panel.

The panel resumes today after the Sallah break.

Responding to queries on the way forward in view of his allegation that the panel did not allow Magu access to the allegations or the opportunity to render his defence, Shittu said the legal team would follow the path of constitutionalism and the rule of law.

"We will follow the rule of law and the path of constitutionalism. The only thing going for my client is his innocence," he said.

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