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NBA Election Passions Heat up As Odinkalu Revives debunked Usoro Allegations

The race for the presidency of the Nigerian Bar Association looks set to take a nasty turn as Senior Managing Legal Officer for the Africa Program at the Open Society Justice Initiative and former chairman of the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission, Professor Chidi Odinkalu alleged that leading commercial lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Paul Usoro is unfit to lead the umbrella association of Nigerian lawyers because of allegations that Usoro bribed a judge.

In a series of broadcast messages widely circulated on WhatsApp that is roiling the legal community, Prof. Odinkalu asserts that Usoro’s presidential campaign illustrates the “staggering levels of impunity” in the country and is “terribly misguided.” In demonstrating his opposition to Usoro’s candidacy, he said: “it is worse than a bad dream and it has to be stopped.”

Prof. Odinkalu’s peeve is that Paul Usoro SAN has been accused of giving Justice James Agbadu-Fishim, a judge of the National Industrial Court, ₦800,000 in 3 instalments of ₦300,000, ₦400,000 and ₦100,000. The judge is presently on trial for these acts and payments he received from Paul Usoro are in evidence in the trial. Prof. Odinkalu’s tirade was pointed at times, saying Usoro SAN should “bury his head in ignominy.”

“The only right he has is to go before the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee to clear his name or be disbarred,” the message added. Multiple sources and an enquiry with three associates close to the human rights lawyer confirmed the authenticity of the message and Odinkalu’s authorship to the Daily Times. The reaction within the legal community has been swift and cutting, with one lawyer, Dimeji Sarumi calling Prof. Odinkalu’s comments a “falsehood”. “Usoro is never charged with any bribery offence or any charge whatsoever and he’s not on trial before any court of law. Chidi should provide any evidence to the contrary. “Chidi also alleges that Usoro ‘admitted to bribing a judge.’ This is also total falsehood all in the name of soiling Usoro’s hard-earned reputation & to discredit him. There’s nowhere where Usoro ever admitted ‘bribing’ a judge. If he admitted such, we all know that he would have been slammed with criminal charges & facing the music by now. But none of this is being done,” Sarumi added.

Usoro was questioned by and wrote three letters to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in October and November 2016 that before Justice James Agbadu-Fishim was appointed to the bench, they were colleagues & friends working as communication lawyers. When Agbadu-Fishim lost his mother upon his appointment as a judge, he requested for his financial assistance from Mr Usoro, which he gave as a friend. Usoro further told the EFCC that he had neither appeared before the National Industrial Court where Agbadu-Fishim presided over nor before Agbadu-Fishim himself.

Sarumi argues that the SAN was not charged the corruption watchdog “because the agency was satisfied that no law was broken by Usoro in any way.” Mr Usoro SAN has not been accused by the EFCC or any of the regulatory bodies in the legal profession of any wrongdoing. Under Nigerian law, a judge is required not to receive gifts or other inducements for the purpose of perverting the cause of justice or to buy his influence on a subsisting case.

Rule 3 of Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers in its Paragraph F permits judicial officers to accept “personal gifts or benefits from relatives or personal friends to such extent and on such occasions as are recognised by custom.” The EFCC charged Agbadu-Fishim in July before Justice Raliatu Adebiyi of an Ikeja High Court on 19 counts of allegedly receiving ₦4.4 million in gratification from seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria, a lawyer and a law firm between 2013 to 2015.

The National Judicial Council (NJC) had recalled Agbadu-Fishim and five other judges in June from suspension following a raid on their homes in November 2016 by the Department of State Security (DSS). A total of eight judges were suspended by the NJC, sparking concerns about the judiciary’s independence under the current Muhammadu Buhari administration.

By Zino Eki
The Daily Trust News