The current President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Paul Usoro SAN, was today arraigned before a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, on a 10-count charge bordering on conversion and criminal breach of trust, preferred by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Other defendants in the charge are the incumbent governor of Akwa Ibom, Emmanuel Udom, who is described in the charge as being “currently constitutionally immune from prosecution”;the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Finance, Nsikan Nkan; the Accountant-General of Akwa Ibom State, Mfon Udomah; the Akwa Ibom State Attorney-General, Uwemedimo Nwoko and Margaret Ukpe. Asides the sitting governor of Akwa Ibom State, the other defendants are said to be at large.
After a lengthy argument on the effect of a letter to the Chief Judge asking the charge to be transferred, the Court ruled that proceedings would continue until a decision was made by the Chief Judge. Mr. Usoro was thus arraigned and he pleaded not guilty to all the counts. After his arraignment, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) leading the team for the defense of Mr. Usoro applied for his bail on self-recognizance. The Court admitted Mr Usoro to bail in the sum of N250 million with a surety in like sum. He also ordered that his international passport be deposited at the registry of the court. The Court however handed Mr Usoro to a counsel of the inner bar, Mr E.B Effiong (SAN), pending perfection of his bail terms.
Trial in the charge has been fixed for Feb.5, March 5, and March 6, 2019.
The defendants are alleged to have sometime in 2015 conspired to and to have converted the sum of N1.4 billion belonging to the Akwa Ibom State Government and which sum they ought to have reasonably known forms proceeds of an unlawful act. They are also alleged to have done the same with respect to the sum of N300 million in March 2016.
Mr Usoro is accused of retaining and using various sums of money belonging to the Akwa Ibom State Government and of transferring the sum of N65 million to Uwemedimo Nwoko, the Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State on or about the 27th day of August 2015.
The charge has been described by the NBA as an attempt by the EFCC to criminalize lawyers’ fees.