By Jonathan Ugbal
Baba Isa, a rights lawyer has raised alarm over an alleged witch hunt by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).
The ICPC had on Friday, June 19, 2020, issued a statement about the arrest of a Primary School Teacher, Mrs. Roseline Egbuha, three staff of the Guaranty Trust Bank and a lawyer, Nsikak Udoh, for alleged fraud of N550 million.
The staff are Beckley Ojo, a compliance officer; Chisomaga Daly-Okoro, an operations manager and Sarah Ugamah, a staff of the bank’s legal department.
In that statement, the ICPC said that a Post No Debit (PND) was placed on the account of Mrs. Egbuha after it was discovered that she had N539.5 million in her account and despite investigations being ongoing, she met with another lawyer, Baba Isa who proceeded to obtain an order of court to remove the PND. The commission also said the money was moved the same day the court order was obtained.
ICPC arrests Primary School Teacher, GTB Officials, Lawyer over N550m Money Laundering
The Independent Corrupt…
But, Isa in a statement dated June 20, 2020 denied this claims and wondered why the ICPC which said investigations were still ongoing, will proceed on ‘media trial.’
According to Isa, the ICPC was “angry” about his ability to convince the court to lift the PND placed on his clients account after she weathered the storm of deals brought to her by ICPC officials who wanted her to part with some of the sum which was sent to her by her children abroad.
Isa who shared some of the Court documents among others relevant to the case on his social media handle has since written an SOS message to the president of the Nigerian Bar Association over the activities of the ICPC which he said were worrisome.
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION
Mr President, Paul Usoro, SAN,
Sir, a few hours ago I told my story: a…
“My attention was drawn to a statement published my ICPC on Social Media with a picture of my client Mrs Roseline Uche Egbuha, linking her, my law firm and myself to an alleged money laundering case of N550, 000. 000 (Five Hundred and Fifty Million Naira). Find the said statement attached.
“Same day, the 19th of June, 2020, that ICPC issued this statement, ICPC posted a letter on my house and office doors (and called me on phone) inviting me to interview with them concerning this issue on Monday, the 22nd of June, 2020. One will think that an agency like ICPC will be patient to hear from me before they go ahead to issue a statement of that magnitude; they even admitted in the statement they issued that “Investigation is still ongoing…” Then why the rush? Well, in Nigeria media trial, conviction and sentencing is a real thing. The letter inviting me is hereby attached.
“This is not right. This is not how things should be done. Though my lawyers are on top of this. But now that they have brought it online, in the court of the public, I have no choice but to also state my side of the story. Let the SAN’s, the entire bar, the bench and the public read this and see how plundered the rule of law is in this country.
“I begin by stating the obvious that I am a Legal Practitioner, called to the Nigerian Bar to practice law as an Advocate and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria; I practice law under the name and style of F.B.I Legal with offices in Mabushi, Abuja.
“I have both my personal accounts and corporate account (client account) with Guaranty Trust Bank, GTB.
“On Saturday, the 13th of June, 2020, I tried making a payment from my personal account and I was prompted that all my accounts have been restricted. The notification that my accounts have been restricted is hereby attached.
“I immediately contacted my account officers who could not tell me why my accounts were restricted. Up to the point of writing this, the account officers have refused to tell me why my accounts were restricted.
“I was able to gather that the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) instructed that my accounts be frozen by Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) because inflows came into it from an account they had previously instructed Guaranty Trust Bank to freeze, the same account the court ordered the bank to unfreeze.
“On or about the 24th Day of February, 2020, I got a call from a lady who identified herself as Mrs Roseline Uche Egbuha. She requested to see me and when we met she briefed me and retained my services to take legal action to unfreeze her account with GTB. We also executed a service agreement where she agreed to pay me a percentage of the amount being frozen in the said account as contingency legal fees. The letter of instruction is hereby attached.
“My Client, MRS. EGBUHA ROSELINE UCHE, is a teacher, and an indigene of Anambra State of Nigeria. She told us that:
i. Over a period of time, her children living abroad sent the sum of N544, 436, 202.5k (Five Hundred and Forty Four Million, Four Hundred and Thirty-Six Thousand, Two Hundred and Two Naira, Five Kobo) into her account opened for that purpose. She said they planned relocating back to Nigeria to build some factories.
ii. One day she found out her account has been frozen and when on the 2nd of October, 2019, she went to the bank to find out why from the bank manager, two men who apparently know the bank manager very well, came in, identified themselves as officers from the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC; and the she was whisked to Enugu.
iii. She was not told the offence she committed, she was not shown a warrant of arrest, she was not shown the order of court authorizing them to freeze her account, even when she asked for all these; at Enugu she was thrown into solitary confinement in an unknown facility where she spent the night of 2nd October, 2019.
iv. On the 3rd of October, 2019, she was driven to Abuja by these two men and taken to ICP where she was locked up for 10 days. She was eventually released on the 12th of October, 2019 after she collapsed and fainted in their custody several times. During this period, she was not allowed to call anyone and her family members did not know where she was.
v. While she was being detained at the ICPC, the two men that brought her to Abuja brought 3 different groups of persons they claimed were lawyers to negotiate with her to part with 60% of her money, which they claimed 40% will be given to the Federal Government and 20% will be given to them as lawyers. She blatantly refused. They threatened her with jail. She insisted that she cannot part with the money her children gave her for safe keeping.
vi. When she was released, she was just told to leave and that they will ask her to come back when they need her. Since then these groups of purported lawyers have been calling her and cajoling and threatening her to part with the money in her account if not she will lose the whole money and go to jail. They later promised to unfreeze her account immediately she agrees to give them 50% of the money in the account.
vii. When she was released she went to the Respondent branch in Area 3 Abuja and, again, inquired why her account was blocked and she was told it was done on the instruction of the ICPC. She demanded to see the court order that authorized them to block her account; they did not show her any of such court order.
Find attached the Affidavit containing all these facts she signed and filed in court.
“We asked her if she has been charged, she said no. That she even wrote to ICPC after she was released and her letter was totally ignored (she gave us the letter). In their statement, ICPC claimed that a suit to forfeit the sum found in our client’s account was instituted in a court. This is not true. We challenge ICPC to show Nigerians the Court papers. Let us see when this suit was filed and when was my client served. ICPC failed to charge her for over 4 months since she was arrested and released before she briefed us in February.
“After hearing this and more, we immediately filed a fundamental human right enforcement proceeding against GTB and ICPC at the Federal High Court, Abuja and served all parties. The matter came up for the first time on the 23rd of March, 2020 but due to the Covid-19 outbreak, court did not sit. A copy of the originating motion and the hearing notice for court sitting on the 23rd of March, 2020 are hereby attached.
“We did not hear from the ICPC until the 27th of May, 2020 when they served us their Counter Affidavit; before this time I had written to the Judge, including the Chief Judge, applying for a date to hear the case; we had also reached a settlement with GTB and filed terms of settlement and we had also filed a Motion on Notice for discontinuance against ICPC since we thought that ICPC were no longer interested in the case, having failed to serve us any court process since February and having also failed to charge our client, Mrs Roseline Uche Egbuha, since October 2019 when she was arrested and released. ICPC’s Counter Affidavit, letters applying for hearing dates, terms of settlement and motion on notice for discontinuance are hereby attached.
“When ICPC served us their Counter Affidavit on the 27th of May, 2020, we found out that they filed it since 23rd March, 2020 but failed to serve us. I immediately reached out to the ICPC lawyer requesting a meeting so that we can discuss how to settle out of court amicably. A meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, 3rd June, 2020. However, on Monday, 1st of June, 2020, we were informed by the Court Registrar that the case has been fixed for hearing on Wednesday, the 3rd of June, 2020. I immediately informed the ICPC Lawyer, Mr Ephraim Otti, who asked me to come over to their office immediately for the meeting. Text message communication between the ICPC lawyer and I and the hearing notice of court sitting of 3rd June, 2020 are hereby attached.
“I went over to the ICPC Head Office where I met with Mr Otti and the Head of Legal. I duly informed them that we had reached a settlement with GTB and that we are withdrawing the case against ICPC (they were already aware because they have been served with the Motion on Notice for discontinuance; even before they served us their Counter Affidavit) to pave way for the said settlement. I suggested to stay the adoption of the terms of settlement in court until we can also settle with ICPC and make them part of the settlement. But the ICPC Lawyers asked me to go ahead and withdraw the suit against them and then write to the ICPC Chairman.
“On the 3rd of June, 2020, when I got to Court; I moved the Motion to discontinue against ICPC, ICPC did not object to the motion for discontinuance against them but asked the Court to rather dismiss the case against them on the grounds that issues have been joined, I objected and the Court agreed with my argument that the case cannot be dismissed against ICPC since we were just served barely a week ago; citing a Rule of Court, ICPC was struck out by the Court. We adopted the terms of settlement with GTB and the court entered it as consent judgment directing GTB to unfreeze my client’s account. On the instruction of the client, I applied for and got a copy of the judgment immediately. The records of proceedings and the judgment order are hereby attached.
“On the 4th of June, 2020, our client instructed us to file a fresh fundamental human right proceeding against ICPC, which I did. My client agreed to pay me additional fees for this new suit. The originating motion for this fresh suit is hereby attached.
“On the 4th of June, 2020, my client took a copy of the judgment and two letters to her bank requesting for her account to be unfreeze and for her money to be transferred into our law office client account. The bank granted her request: her account was unfrozen and her money (N550, 000, 000; Five Hundred and Fifty Million Naira only) transferred to the Applicant’s law office client account that evening. The bank alert showing the money transferred to the Applicant’s law firm client’s account is hereby attached.
“In their statement, ICPC said that the money was transferred to FBI LEGAL corporate account, a company owned by her lawyer. This is not true. This is very poor investigating. FBI LEGAL is a law firm and not a company. And law firms are allowed in law to have corporate accounts and/or client accounts to receive and hold client money.
“I received written instructions from the client to keep 10% of the sum transferred into the law office client account as legal fees, pursuant to the service agreement; and further instruction as to how to disburse the remainder of the money.
“The Client also instructed me to keep an additional sum as legal fees for the new suit filed against ICPC.
“I carried out all these instructions diligently, faithfully and legally.
“The money I transferred to my personal account is part of my fees and the money still left in the law firm’s account is also my fees. The money frozen in all my accounts with GTB is my earned fees.
“I have been reliably informed that men of ICPC have been to my law office and home several times to arrest me. After failing to arrest, handcuff and humiliate me as they planned; they went to my house and office on the 19th of June, 2020 to post a letter inviting me to their office.
“I wonder unceasingly what exactly my offence is: Am I being illegally punished for obtaining a valid court judgment to unfreeze my client’s account? Am I being persecuted for carrying out a valid and legal instruction of my client? Am I responsible for the failure of ICPC to charge my client for whatever offence since October, 2019 when she was arrested and released? Am I responsible for ICPC’s lawyer’s decision not to object to the discontinuance against them or their decision not to object to the terms of settlement?
“Since my accounts were frozen, I have not been able to fend for my family or cater to the running of my law firm. I have not been able to practice law since I am being hunted down to be arrested.
“I have PDF copies of all documents and I will gladly share them with anyone who wants to have them… Those documents that will not breach attorney-client privilege.”
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