A Lagos based lawyer, Chimezie Christian Onwudiwe, Esq., has petitioned the Nigerian Bar Association and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abuja, over alleged unlawful detention and humiliation in the presence of his client as well as flagrant disregard to his fundamental rights by the Sectional Head of AFFS, EFCC, Okotie Eboh, Lagos, Mr. Sini Omar John.
The petition which was submitted to NBA Ikeja, EFCC Zonal office, Lagos, on 16th Febuary, 2021, and a copy obtained by TheNigeriaLawyer was titled: “COMPLAINT AGAINST MR. SINI OMAR JOHN, THE HEAD OF THE ADVANCED FEE FRAUD SECTION, ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL CRIME COMMISSION (EFCC) OKOTIE EBOH, IKOYI, LAGOS FOR BREACH OF MY FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHT, ABUSE OF MY PROFESSIONAL PRIVILEGE, UNLAWFUL DETENTION, UNPROVOKED HARRASSMENT AND UNWARRANTED HUMILIATION IN THE PRESENCE OF MY CLIENT IN HIS OFFICE ON 10TH OF FEBRUARY, 2021”.
According to Onwudiwe who is the founder and a Senior Partner at HARVAD LAW FIRM, he was contracted by his client, Emmanuel Aitanu, who is not in Nigeria to represent him and his wife over an undisclosed case in EFCC.
But sadly, he was harassed by the EFCC official, his phone was seized and searched, he was detained and eventually bailed by a lawyer colleague
“Sometime in November, 2020, one Mr. Emmanuel Aitanu got my number from a mutual friend of ours and contacted me through a Whatsapp message requesting for the legal services of our Law Firm in respect of the case he has with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Mr. Emmanuel told me he is presently out of the country and that he would like me and my Law Firm to put up a legal representation for him at the EFCC pending when he will return to Nigeria to honor the EFCC invitation.
“I specifically asked Mr. Emmanuel about the nature of the case he had with the EFCC but he told me that the EFCC officials have refused to disclose to him the nature of the offence for which they are looking for him. Consequently, he briefed me to act as his lawyer pending when he would return to Nigeria to honor the EFCC invitation.
“In line with our Law Firm’s policy for rendering legal services to clients outside Nigeria, I demanded that Mr. Emmanuel Aitanu should send an official email to our Law Firm’s email address: firstname.lastname@example.org specifically appointing and authorizing me and my Law Firm to act as his lawyer in respect of the case for which the EFCC is investigating against him. A copy of the email conversations between me and Mr. Emmanuel Aitanu is hereby attached for your view
“Shortly after appointing me as his lawyer and as I was preparing to put up an appearance on his behalf at the EFCC, Mr. Emmanuel Aitanu contacted me through a Whatsapp message and instructed me to stay my legal representation on his behalf since he is planning to return to Nigeria soon to face his case with the EFCC.
“He however instructed me to legally represent his wife whom he said is being arrested, harassed and frightened by the EFCC officials in respect of the same case for which the EFCC is looking for him. I acceded to his request and started acting as a lawyer to his wife, Mrs. Ahmed Rukayat Emmanuel.
“I had written a couple of letters on behalf of Mrs. Ahmed Rukayat Emmanuel and had accompanied her to honor her appointments with the EFCC officials at Advanced Fee Fraud Section (AFFS), EFCC, Okotie Eboh, Lagos on several occasions
“However, precisely on Wednesday the 10th day of February, 2021 at about 10am, I once more accompanied my client, Mrs. Ahmed Rukayat Emmanuel to Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Advanced Fee Fraud Section) at Okotie Eboh to honor her appointment with them as usual.
“Upon entering the office of the Sectional Head of the Advanced Fee Fraud Section (Mr. Sini Omar John) with my client, Mr. Sini immediately pounced on me and started accusing me of obstructing the course of his investigation and preventing them from arresting Mr. Emmanuel Aitanu whom he said he had declared “wanted”. He threatened to lock me up in his cell if I do not produce Mr. Emmanuel Aitanu whom he alleged I am hiding from them. He further ordered his subordinates to follow me to the counter where I had registered my mobile phone and bring the phone to him.
“When my mobile phone was brought to him, Mr. Sini ordered me to unlock my phone or else he would forcefully break into the mobile phone. I calmly protested against this gestapo styled investigation and politely reminded him that my communication with my clients in the course of discharging my professional duty to them as their lawyer is privileged. On hearing that, Mr. Sini became infuriated and told me that he had investigated and dealt with SANs and Judges talk more of a small lawyer like me.
“Sensing that I will be physically manhandled by him and his subordinates in the presence of my client should I hesitate to unlock my phone as he ordered, I unwillingly complied with the ORDER and unlocked my phone for him.
“Mr. Sini took his time to go through all my phone calls, text messages, Whatsapp conversations and email communications with clients. He directed his subordinates to obtain my bank account numbers, BVN, phone numbers and email addresses. He further accused me of being into advanced fee fraud with Mr. Emmanuel Aitanu and ordered his subordinates to run a computer forensic examinations on my email and Whatsapp communications. Thereafter, he printed copies of my Whatsapp and email conversations with Mr. Emmanuel Aitanu and ordered me to sign on them.
He further stated “As if the humiliation I had already been subjected to in the presence of my client whom I accompanied to honor her appointment with them was not enough, Mr. Sini ordered and compelled me to write a statement under caution concerning what I know about Mr. Emmanuel Aitanu, the husband of my client who Mr. Sini said he is investigating. After writing the statement under caution, Mr. Sini confiscated my mobile phone and detained me for about 8hours. I was eventually taken on bail by a lawyer colleague later in the evening.
The lawyer further stated “I have been representing clients at the various offices of different Law Enforcement Agencies particularly the EFCC for well over a decade and the level of courtesy, civility and professionalism I have experienced from other EFCC personnel during my encounter with them has been amazingly commendable”.
“Consequently, I was stunned by Mr. Sini’s unprovoked harassment and unwarranted humiliation of my person in the presence of my client as well as his mindless abuse of my fundamental human right and flagrant disegard to my privilege as a lawyer in the course of discharging his professional obligations.”
The petitioner therefore stated the following poser:
1. Is there no longer any privilege attached to a lawyer who is formally briefed by a client to represent him in a matter?
2. Can a lawyer’s phone be forcefully invaded and confiscated by an investigating officer without any reasonable justification in the course of the performance of the lawyer’s professional duties wherein the lawyer was formally briefed and his services retained?
3. Can an investigating officer rely merely on his groundless assumption and speculative conjecture to arrogate to himself the power to order a lawyer in the course of his professional duty to “produce” a wanted suspect, force the lawyer to open his mobile phone, force the lawyer to write statement under caution, confiscate the lawyer’s mobile phone, declare the lawyer a suspect in the matter and eventually detain the lawyer for hours?
He said “If these questions are answered in the negative as I strongly believe they should, it then follows that Mr. Sini Omar John, the Sectional Head of AFFS, EFCC, Okotie Eboh, Lagos has invaded my personal privacy, defecated on my professional privileges and violated my fundamental human right.”
He therefore demands for “a thorough and proper investigation of the case of unwarranted and unprovoked humiliation of my person in the presence of my client by Mr. Sini Omar John on the 10th of February, 2021
“I demand for an unequivocal written letter of Apology from Mr. Sini Omar John and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to be published in two national dailies”.