Only in APC era leaders of government, party don’t show arrogance to rule of law – Nigerians
By Kemi Kasumu
For offering to step down pending the outcome of investigations into allegations that he offered N500,000 as bribe to Mr. James Agbadu-Fishim, a judge of the National Industrial Court, National Legal Adviser of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr. Muiz Banire (SAN), has been described as the type of politicians Nigerians need.
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) stated this in a its press release signed by its Director, Professor Ishaq Akintola, commending the constitutional lawyer and politician over the rare decision he took saying it was sign that people in government presently have chosen to lead by example.
The faithbased non-government organization commended Banire for the decision it described as “surprising offer,” adding that, “It is not only altruistic but uncommon and highly exemplary. Nigerian politicians have a lot to learn from Banire’s gesture. We are used to the sit-tight syndrome whereby public office holders ignore public outcry even when all indications point to their guilt.
“Banire comes across as the type of politician Nigerians need in this era of change. He has offered to step aside even when nothing seems to connect his party to the incident. Against his background as a brilliant lawyer of the Gani Fawehinmi Chambers and school of thought, this offer confirms his reputation in political circles as a radical element and a disciplinarian nulli secundus.
“How many public office holders in Nigeria can do this today? How many have done it before? We cannot remember any. At least not in this country. It is only characteristic of politicians in advanced democracies. This is a commendable precedent and it calls for emulation. Banire is the pride of Nigerian youths and a model earnestly sought after.
“MURIC advises the National Chairman of the APC, Chief Odigie Oyegun, to reject Banire’s temporary resignation. The rationale for our position is that the incident involved is not in any way connected with the party and Banire himself has given a very logical and satisfactory explanation concerning the circumstances surrounding the transfer of the money.
“When did philanthropy become a crime anywhere in the world? The money was transferred in response to someone in distress who sent a text message. Ethics makes kindness payable in like manner. Nigeria must not criminalize generousity. How else shall we be our brothers’ keepers if we cannot respond to distress calls?
“For the avoidance of doubt, Banire’s antecedent shows his propensity for philanthropy. Scores of indigent students in tertiary institutions enjoy his scholarship scheme. As a prominent Muslim leader, he single-handedly pays the salaries of staff of many Islamic organizations and sponsors many of their programmes. As an agent of change, he has succeeded in persuading many young and wealthy Muslims to support Islamic organisations.
“To cap the edifice, Banire is a highly respected Muslim leader and, in actual fact, the man who is effectively filling the vacuum created by the deaths of M. K. O. Abiola of blessed memory, Alhaji Wahab Folawiyo and Aare Arisekola Alao in Yorubaland today.
“In conclusion, MURIC gives total support to the fight against corruption and we do not protect or fight for corrupt Muslims. We believe that any Muslim public officer who steals should be dealt with according to the laws of the land. However, anti-corruption agencies should not allow themselves to be railroaded into embarrassing innocent Nigerians just to prove that they can also go after APC chieftains. We will not stand akimbo while the names of credible Muslim leaders are dragged in the mud,” the group observed.
The decision by the National Legal Adviser of All Progressives Congress, APC, Dr. Muiz Adeyemi Banire, to step aside pending the conclusion of investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) into the allegation of his involvement in bribery of some judges has been viewed in some quarters as good sign that the change that the Muhammadu Buhari’s APC-led Federal Government is real.
Recall that the is currently investigating Banire for allegedly assisting a Judge of the National Industrial Court with N500,000, an allegation he had since denied.
But Banire, in a letter to the National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, personally signed by him, also communicated his decision to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), offering to also step aside as member of Electoral Reform.
The APC Legal Adviser in the letter, titled, “Offer to Step Aside as National Legal Adviser Pending Conclusion of Investigation of My Person by the EFCC,” also copied President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo.
The Muiz Banire’s Letter
The letter read: “On Saturday, the 29th day of October, 2016, I read online, a publication titled “APC National Legal Adviser, Muiz Banire, allegedly paid Federal Judge “=N= 500k”. I was not only shocked by the purport of the publication against my person, but extremely disturbed by its negative propagandist effect on our Party, the Government it leads at the Federal level, and, above all, our signature programme of anti-corruption in public life.
“I, therefore, immediately on the same day, wrote a letter which was delivered to, and acknowledged by the EFCC on Monday, the 31st day of October, 2016, submitting myself to investigation on the allegation, and offering to visit the EFCC offices in Lagos on Tuesday, the 1st day of November, 2016 to be interrogated as part of that investigation. A copy of the said letter of request is enclosed herewith. Ostensibly, due to the constraints of its heavy work schedule, my request to attend the EFCC to be interrogated on the allegation did not receive attention until Thursday, the 3rd day of November, 2016.
“The allegation, as I have come to understand it, is that a Statement of Account of one Judge of the National Industrial Court, the Honourable Justice J. T. Agbadu-Fishim, who is the subject of an ongoing EFCC’s investigation, contained a June 2013 entry of a “=N=500,000.00” payment ascribed as being from one “Dr. Muiz B”.
“I did not hesitate in confirming that this probably referred to me because I remember that about three years ago, I received a text message from someone I recollected at the time to be an old colleague in my days as a lecturer at the University of Lagos, an ‘Agbadu-Fishim’ who was then a Research Fellow at the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, informing me of the death and funeral programme of his mother.
“The last contact (of any sort) I had with this person before that text would have been about fourteen years earlier, that is, before I was appointed Special Adviser to the Governor of Lagos State at the inception of civil rule in 1999 (now seventeen years ago).
“As far as assumption goes, he was to me, at the time of his contact, still employed by the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies; he never informed me that he had moved on to become a Judge of any court in Nigeria, and I had never throughout my own career as a legal practitioner or public functionary ever appeared in any case before any judge whatsoever at the National Industrial Court, or attended any function of the National Industrial Court, that would have put me on notice that the Agbadu-Fishim I used to know had become a judge of the National Industrial Court.
“Indeed, it was with considerable difficulty that I was able to eventually recognise his face when I eventually saw him again (after seventeen years of my leaving the University of Lagos) on my attendance at the EFCC on Thursday the 3rd day of November, 2016.” Continuing, Banire said, “When I received the said message and his information to me of the death and funeral programme of his mother in which he solicited for financial assistance in a tone suggesting great distress, I considered it necessary to assist an old friend in dire need. Without any further prompting, he sent his account details to me and I made a cash gift of N500,000.00 to him.
“As I have now come to realize after my interactions with the EFCC, that payment is being investigated from the angle of whether or not it was to influence the receiver in the performance of his judicial duties on the Bench of the National Industrial Court. This is perfectly understandable to me within the general context of the investigation in which the allegation had arisen, and considering that I have lately come to also realize that two of my colleagues in chambers had been involved as defence counsel in two cases before the subject judge amongst twelve cases in all they have ever done at the Industrial Court since inception.
“My review of the two case files which I came to be conscious of after my interactions with the EFCC shows that one of them was amicably settled between the parties for a sum less than N1.2m, thereby technically losing the case, whilst they won the other and that the combined professional fees (net of taxes) for the two cases was less than N2m,” he explained.
Banire, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), however said, “While protesting my innocence, and will therefore do everything within legal limits to defend myself, I have, from the first instance, become aware of the allegation, offered my full cooperation to the EFCC and will continue to cooperate with, and give it all the assistance it may require of me in the course of its ongoing investigation into the matter.
“I have gone to the above length so that other members of the National Working Committee of our Party may become fully apprised of the allegation and the facts surrounding it, at least, as I have come to know/understand them. It is equally important to state that the said judge under one guise or the other solicited and collected from several other lawyers with not less than nine senior advocates involved as at the last count. The said judge does not deny the fact of solicitation equally.
“My concern for the name and image of the party has become heightened following the frenzy of press reports (allegedly based on undisclosed EFCC sources) that have followed my interrogative visits to the EFCC all of which have not failed to play up the fact of my being the National Legal Adviser of our party, the ruling party. I have, throughout my life, believed in the primacy of the whole over its constituent parts, and, therefore, in the importance of building and doing everything possible to preserve the institution over and above the personal interest of any individual within that institution.
“For me, this Party, our Party, and the government which it now leads at the federal level stands for something beyond any individual interest; I see it as the last beckon of hope for our long-suffering people. Whatever is necessary to be done to preserve it and ensure its effectiveness in order for it to attain and achieve its full potential must be done; and where that calls for our individual sacrifice, we must willingly offer it. That is the challenge before all of us, who genuinely seek a change in the pitiable situation of our country, Nigeria. “Therefore, as surreal as I find the allegation to be, I will not stand by and watch it negatively affect the name of the Party. I will rather stand by, even in the unfair circumstance I have narrated, than allow the party that I (with you and our other leaders and members across the length and breadth of Nigeria) have sacrificed brain and brawn to build-up into the formidable party it has become as a potential tool for the political re-engineering of Nigeria, and the emancipation of our peoples from want in the midst of plenty, spreading illiteracy in the age of knowledge, the ravages of commonplace diseases that have become history in other climes, and such other manifestations of poor governance that have been and remained our lot, even after 56 years of independence from colonialism. “Mr. Chairman, Sir, it is in view of the above circumstances that I wish to temporarily step aside from my position on our National Working Committee as the National Legal Adviser of our Party until completion and final outcome of the EFCC investigation involving my person.”