…alleges plot to force him out of office
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Paul Usoro(SAN), has declared his readiness to surrender himself to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to face trial over his alleged complicity in the illegal diversion of about N1.4 billion belonging to the Akwa Ibom State Government.
However, Usoro, who emerged the 29th President of NBA in August, said he is yet to receive a copy of the 10-count money laundering charge EFCC entered against him before the Federal High Court in Lagos.
EFCC had in the charge alleged that Usoro and the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel, converted and laundered funds from the coffers of the state under the pretence that it was payment for “legal services.”
Briefing newsmen yesterday on key decisions the National Executive Committee, NEC, of NBA took at the end of its meeting in Abuja, Usoro said he resolved to appear before trial Justice Muslim Hassan today to enter his plea to the charges he said were baseless and politically motivated.
On NBA leadership
Usoro accused EFCC of engaging in unnecessary witch-hunt, insisting that the agency leaked copies of the charges to the media in a bid to instigate his removal as NBA President.
Asked if he would relinquish the NBA Presidency and step aside to clear his name, Usoro said: “No, I will not. It is the National Executive Committee, NEC, that has the power and could decide whether I should resign or not.
“This matter was presented to the NEC and we had a very good and successful meeting. Nobody raised the issue with regard to whether I should stay or leave.
“The NEC adopted my address as far as this matter is concerned. By the way, I have seen it happen a number of times when this kind of incident is hyped up simply to drive people away from office.
“We saw it in the case of the Senate President, but ultimately, what happened? The Senate President was absolved of any form of crime. What would have happened assuming the Senate President had resigned?
“We have also seen where it has happened and someone was hounded that way and he resigned only to be found not to have done it.
“It is also very possible that in this particular instance, what these people wanted was that hype.
“All of you are aware that there was plenty of leakages before the NBA NEC meeting. The reason was to instigate NEC to possibly get me out of office, but that did not succeed.”
Usoro said he was not aware that EFCC investigated NBA accounts over alleged N40 million that was overdrawn by the immediate past leadership of the association.
His words: “I am not aware of such complaint and am not also in support of EFCC getting involved in our association. Except the association itself makes a complaint to EFCC, it does not have any business to come into our affairs.
“I don’t think EFCC has the power to poke nose into affairs.”
Alleges media trial
He condemned the anti-graft agency for engaging in media trial, saying there was need for a legislation to sanction prosecuting agencies that engage in such practice.
According to him, “that was how they also alleged that I bribed a judge, but when the facts came out, it was proved that I did not bribe any judge.
“There should be an end to media trial of persons. Even though I have not been served with the charge, I have decided to be in court on Monday(today). But the facts as I know it, I am completely innocent of the allegations.”
… on EFCC’s grilling
Meanwhile, in the said address he presented to the NBA NEC, Usoro gave his own side of the story, acknowledging that he was earlier grilled by EFCC with respect to fees the Akwa Ibom State Government paid to his law firm between 2015 and 2016, as well as fees that Governor Emmanuel paid “for the benefit of counsel that worked on his election petition appeal that was decided by the Supreme Court early in 2016.”