The National Legal Adviser of the All Progressives Congress, Muiz Banire, has offered to resign from his post pending the conclusion of investigations into his alleged bribery of a judge. In a letter addressed to the party leadership, Mr. Banire said he was not only shocked but “extremely disturbed” by media reports claiming he paid a judge N500,000.
“As surreal as I find the allegation to be, I will not stand by and watch it negatively affect the name of the party,” said Mr. Banire, a former lecturer at the University of Lagos. “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.”
Mr. Banire’s offer to step down from his post, a position he occupied at the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria and continued after the merger that birthed the APC, came less than 24 hours after he issued a public statement denying the bribery allegations.Following the arrest of some judges by operatives of the State Security Service, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had launched a massive investigation into allegations of bribery of judges by some senior lawyers.
Mr. Banire, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, allegedly transferred N500,000 into the bank account of James Agbadu-Fishim, a judge at the National Industrial Court. Mr. Agbadu-Fishim was among the judges who reported to the Lagos office of the EFCC on October 19 to write statements on the findings against them. The media reports said Mr. Banire was questioned for over six hours at the Commission’s office and his international passport seized.
In his five page letter of resignation dated November 8th, Mr. Banire insisted he had voluntarily submitted himself for questioning by EFCC officials. “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 subject of an ongoing EFCC’s investigation, contained a June 2013 entry of a ‘N500,000’ 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.” Mr. Banire said he had had no contact with Mr. Agbadu-Fishim 14 years prior to that text message, when he was appointed a Special Adviser to then Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, in 1999.
“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 have never throughout my career as a legal practitioner or public functionary ever appeared in any case before any judge whatsoever at 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 17 years of my leaving the University of Lagos) on my attendance at the EFCC on Thursday the 3rd of November, 2016.”
Mr. Banire said Mr. Agbadu-Fishim’s text message to him soliciting financial assistance for his mother’s funeral showed he was in “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 to him.”
Mr. Banire also said that following his interactions with the EFCC, on whether the money was meant to influence Mr. Agbadu-Fishim’s performance of his duties, he had come to realise that his law chamber had been involved in two cases before the judge. “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 N1.2 million, 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 N22 million,” said Mr. Banire.
“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.”