By Bartholomew Madukwe

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has reserved judgment till May 16, 2014 in a suit filed by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), challenging the legality of the directive by Special Control Unit against Money Laundering (SCUML) that lawyers report to it certain transactions relating to their clients.

The defendants are the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The 1st Defendant was represented by Mr. M. B. Wali, while the 2nd Defendant was represented by Charles Uwensuyi-Edosomwan, SAN. However, the Plaintiffs were represented by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), Mr. Babajide Ogundipe and 12 other lawyers.

In an Originating Summons dated March 15, 2013 and taken out on behalf of the Registered Trustees of the NBA by Olanipekun, Mrs. Funke Adekoya (SAN), Messrs Babajide Ogundipe, Emeka Nwadioke and Davison Oturu, the NBA asked the court to declare that the provisions of section 5 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, MLA, insofar as they purport to apply to legal practitioners, are invalid, null and void.

Olanipekun argued that by virtue of the Legal Practitioners Act and the Rules of Professional Conduct, legal practitioners have an obligation not to permit any entity outside the Bar or Judiciary to control the practice of law, adding that this is what Section 5 of the MLA 2011 seeks to accomplish.

According to him, Section 5 (1) of the MLA 2011 enacts that “A Designated Non-Financial Institution whose business involves the one of cash transaction shall (b) prior to any transaction involving a sum exceeding US$1,000 or its equivalent, identify the customer by requiring him to fill a standard data form and present his international passport, driving license, national identity card or such other document bearing his photograph as may be prescribed by the Ministry.”

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