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Babachir Lawal SGF says lawyers, judges are frustrating anti-graft war

Lawal said some compromised judges always exhibit a disquieting tendency to indulge the lawyers in their unpatriotic and unscrupulous conduct.

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The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Babachir Lawal, has said that lawyers and judges are frustrating efforts of the Federal Government to fight corruption and impunity.

Lawal made the statement in Abuja on Thursday at a workshop organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC).

The theme of the workshop was: ``Role of professionals in the fight against corruption’’.

Lawal, represented by the Director, Nigerian National Volunteer Services, Mr Tor Tsavsar, said the role of lawyers and some compromised judges was injurious to the anti-corruption campaign.

He said some lawyers offered services to indicted individuals and deployed delay tactics to frustrate the campaign.

Lawal urged professionals to see themselves as stakeholders in the campaign.

``If the country must move forward and attain the needed development, stakeholders must rise up to the task to rid the country of such problem.

``From recent revelations, corruption is usually aided and facilitated by conniving civil servants and professionals in the public and private sectors.

``It is no news that most stolen funds are laundered through our banks and other offshore entities that are owned and managed by professionals.

``A recent case of the ‘Panama Papers scandals’ is an example of how politicians, criminals and rogue industries were assisted by professionals to launder stolen funds.

``It is equally regrettable that some of the professionals do not stop at aiding, abetting and facilitating the stealing of public funds, but go further to offer direct and indirect support to indicted officials to beat the law.

``The retinue of frivolous interlocutory applications, which are pursued up to the apex court, while action on substantive matters are stayed, are common examples of how professional lawyers frustrate the fight against corruption,’’ he said.

Lawal said some compromised judges always exhibit a disquieting tendency to indulge the lawyers in their unpatriotic and unscrupulous conduct.

He said the efforts of the government to reflate the economy, build infrastructure, create employment and provide social services would remain a mirage if corruption persisted.

``The fight against corruption can only be fought and won when every Nigerian, particularly our professional lawyers, accountants, auditors, engineers, etcetera rise above petty considerations and genuinely support the efforts of the government,” Lawal said.

The Chairman of PACAC, Prof. Itse Sagay, condemned professionals who aided corruption.

Sagay said the Federal Government was looking at ways of ensuring that those who aided fraud and corruption were prosecuted.

He said the workshop was intended to seek the support of professional bodies and draw their attention to their responsibilities in this regard.

Sagay said as part of strategy to enlist professional’s’ support, PACAC met with Christian Association of Nigeria, the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs and others to play their role in the fight against corruption.

Sagay said religious bodies were carried along with the intention of evolving ways of ensuring that religious injunctions against corruption, fraud and impunity were highlighted and emphasised.

Mr Femi Falana (SAN), an activist, urged the anti-graft agencies to look beyond public officers and politically exposed individuals to include professionals, drug dealers and human traffickers in their activities.

``In the very many cases of politically exposed persons who have been charged with corruption, fraud and money laundering, a number of lawyers, accountants, bankers, estate agents have been indicted.

“Even though such professionals were not prosecuted in the past, not a few have been charged to court for aiding and abetting the commission of money laundering offences. …

``The other relevant professional bodies have seen the wisdom in sensitising their members to fight the scourge of money laundering and terrorism financing.

`The Nigerian Bar Association has continued to insist that lawyers are immune from the prosecution under the Money Laundering Act,’’ Falana said.

He said the country found itself in a pitiable economic state largely because funds meant for social programmes were mindlessly laundered by those entrusted with public offices.

Falana suggested that professionals who offered services to aid money laundering be made to face the full wrath of the law.

The PACAC Executive Secretary, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, said efforts were on to isolate professionals who contributed to money laundering and corruption.

According to Owasanoye, professionals who know that their clients are thieves and are not interested in exposing them, but share from the proceeds will be penalised.

A representative of a multinational professional services organisation, PricewaterhouseCoopers, London, Paul George, said for Nigeria to successfully combat corruption, professionals could not afford to remain passive.

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