What did Lagos lawyer Ricky Tarfa (SAN) think he was doing when he allegedly tried to foil the arrest of two Benin Republic nationals by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)? Also, why are dozens of SANs supporting him?
For about five hours on February 5, Tarfa allegedly hid two Beninoise suspects – Nazaire Sorou Gnanhoue and Modeste Finagnon– in his Mercedes-Benz Sports Utility Vehicle, following a move by the EFCC to re-arrest them. The men, Tarfa’s clients, were standing trial for alleged fraud. They were out on bail but were also being investigated for alleged tax evasion running into millions of naira, which prompted the move by the anti-graft agency to re-arrest them.
It was at this point that Tarfa perhaps forgot that he was not just a lawyer, but a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), a title that placed him in the elite circle of legal practitioners in the country. He rubbished professionalism and professional honor by allegedly shielding the Beninoise from EFCC agents in such a spectacular manner that raised questions not only about his understanding of the ethics of his profession but also about his appreciation of the meaning of justice.
It is interesting that a report described Tarfa as “a lawyer with over two decades of experience at the Bar and runs a law firm with over 50 lawyers, 30 paralegals and support staff, as well as two retired judges as consultants-in-chamber.”
Ironically, Tarfa staged the drama on the premises of the Lagos High Court, Igbosere, Lagos. It was at the place of justice that Tarfa allegedly attempted to frustrate the process of justice.
Lawyers usually describe their profession as noble, but there was nothing noble about Tarfa’s alleged conduct. Indeed, by his alleged action, he demonstrated that being a lawyer, or even a SAN, is no argument against the ignoble behavior.
It is food for thought that Tarfa’s arrest and detention by the EFCC for alleged willful obstruction of the course of justice provoked narrow-minded reactions from some prominent members of the elitist circle of Senior Advocates who shockingly glossed over his alleged offense. A report said:
“Former Presidents of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Joseph Bodunrin Daudu (SAN), Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), Prof. Kanyisola Ajayi (SAN) and Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN) all condemned the detention without bail.” Dauda said: “We shall consult with the president and take a united action against that at the Bar to protect the interest of Nigerian lawyers.” Akeredolu attributed the arrest to the overzealousness of the commission’s operatives.
“This is an utter disregard for the rule of law and the sanctity of the legal profession guaranteed by the constitution,” he said.”
The report continued: “Ajayi said: ‘I don’t know what the allegation against Ricky Tarfa is, but if he was arrested for obstructing justice, then it would be most unfortunate if he isn’t given bail because it is not that serious an offense that should even require any form of detention.’” Ngige urged the commission to follow due process in carrying out its duties. He said: “Nobody is against the war against corruption, nobody is against the EFCC; we support the anti-graft war 100 per cent, but let the due process be followed in doing this.”
It is curious that the logic of these senior lawyers accommodated the illogic of Tarfa’s alleged attempt to hinder justice. Their skewed perspective does a great disservice to the concept of even-handed justice by overlooking Tarfa’s alleged anti-justice conduct and focusing on his detention that lasted almost 48 hours.
It is noteworthy that Tarfa was released to the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN), suggesting elite-circle solidarity. Would the NBA chief have been involved in the bail process if Tarfa wasn’t a SAN?
The solidarity of seniors was also demonstrated when Tarfa took the EFCC to court barely 24 hours after his release, demanding N2.5billion damages for unlawful arrest and detention. Tarfa was reportedly accompanied by 32 Senior Advocates led by former NBA President, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), to file the suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos.
What was the objective of this army of Senior Advocates on this journey to the court? If it needed 32 of them to help Tarfa file the suit, how many of them would be needed to help him achieve his aim? It would appear that the Senior Advocates were on a mission of intimidation.
It is reassuring that the EFCC is fighting back. The commission wants Tarfa tried for obstruction of justice and attempted perversion of justice. It was reported that he would also be arraigned for illegally and unethically communicating with a judge in a suit involving the EFCC and two companies.
More importantly, this is not just about Tarfa and his alleged misconduct.
EFCC Chairman Ibrahim Magu has urged the NBA to sanitize itself. Magu was quoted as saying during a meeting with members of the NBA Executive: ”We must tell ourselves the truth: there are lawyers within the fold of the NBA, who ought not to be among your noble ranks. Those people are not fit to be called ministers; rather, they are vandals of the temple of justice.”
It is true that the temple of justice is desecrated by dishonorable behavior.