The Nigerian Bar Association, (NBA) says the Economic and Financial Commission (EFCC) lacks the power to meddle into client-lawyer contractual relationship.
In a communique issued at the end of its national executive council (NEC) meeting in Abuja on Sunday, the NBA said the fees to lawyers by their clients is “not only a matter of privilege but also contractual.”
Paul Usoro, NBA president, is being investigated by the anti-graft agency for alleged money laundering to the tune of N1.4 billion.
The alleged sum was said to have been received from the Akwa Ibom state government.
But the NBA said Usoro, who is expected to be arraigned over the matter on Monday, was investigated by the EFCC based on a N300 million inflow into his law firm’s account and on subsequent outflows.
“Usoro’s case is not the first of these intrusions; we all recall the case of Mike Ozekhome, (SAN) when the EFCC attempted to forfeit his fees on the pretext that the funds came from illegal sources,” the communique read.
“If these EFCC incursions are not checked, the Bar and the practice of our profession are doomed.”
According to the NBA, the practice of law is founded on the independence of the legal practitioner and his courage to advocate on behalf of his client to the best of his ability and conviction.
It said such independence is now “being threatened and trampled upon by the EFCC”.
“Lawyers now have to work and walk on tip-toe, looking over their shoulders to determine whether the EFCC would be coming after them solely on account of their courage and independence in advocacy,” the NBA said.
“The recent decision of the Court of Appeal that was delivered on June 14, 2017 between Central Bank of Nigeria v Registered Trustees of the NBA affirmed this position.
“By questioning lawyers on the legitimate fees that they have earned from clients, the EFCC is breaching the lawyer-client privilege and showing complete disregard for the judgments of the courts in this regard.”