Nigeria: How Salami Panel Walked Us Out From Sitting - Magu's Lawyer

16 September 2020

A lawyer, Zainab Abiola, has given details of an episode on Monday when she appeared as a member of the defence team of the suspended EFCC boss, Ibrahim Magu, before the Ayo Salami-led investigative panel.

There were reports that Mrs Abiola, a widow of the late Moshood Abiola, was walked out from a sitting of the panel alongside another lawyer, Aliyu Lemu.

The reports said shortly after the panel commenced sitting, Justice Salami said only the lead counsel, Wahab Shittu, would be allowed to represent Mr Magu and, therefore, asked his two other lawyers to leave.

The panel, headed by Mr Salami, a former President of the Appeal Court ,is investigating allegations of corruption and insubordination over which Mr Magu was suspended from his EFCC role.

President Muhammadu Buhari had in July approved the establishment of a Judicial Commission of Enquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act (Cap T21, LFN, 2004), for the investigation of the activities of the EFCC from May 2015 to May 2020

When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mrs Abiola on Tuesday, she said the retired judge walked them out on the ground that the panel had only one chair for the defence team.

She described the action as an abrogation of Mr Magu's constitutional right, insisting that Mr Salami cannot determine the number of legal representatives of Mr Magu

"If you are going to any court, you are entitled to as many legal representatives, in the high courts, the Supreme court, and the appeal court which Salami operated in; even at that level, you can take as many as you can.

"Some counsel can be experts in cross-examination while others can be experts in different fields. One is entitled to much legal representation.

"This right also applies in other countries where the law provides an accused with the right to legal representation. On that hand, Magu's constitutional right was abrogated.

"We went in with Ibrahim Magu with his team of lawyers led by Wahab Shittu. Before going in, Mr Salami saw me, he greeted me very well and others. As we were at the waiting room, we saw some men suspected to be members of the SSS taking out some chairs from the room where the panel was holding.

"Then they invited us in but during the introduction by Mr Wahab we were told that as we could see, there were not enough chairs in the room. But we recalled that they took chairs out from the room.

"I told him 'if you say there are no chairs, send for more chairs'. That was a deliberate action."

She also faulted the panel for conducting a private hearing.

Mr Magu's probe began after his arrest in July at the EFCC's Wuse II office following which he was immediately driven to the Presidential Villa. His investigation has continued behind closed doors with journalists barred from covering the panel's hearings.

Although the Tribunals of Inquiry Act provides for public sitting, it says a panel has "in its absolute discretion, to admit or exclude the public or any member of the public or the press from any meeting of the tribunal."

Mrs Abiola said that discretion is "tilted towards the overriding interest of the public. Magu is not an unknown person that can be put under the table and forgotten about.

"He (Magu) is known by many persons across the world for his efforts towards fighting corruption, so it's not a matter we can give under the table or say just one counsel can represent him."

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