A group of lawyers, under the umbrella of “Lawyers for Justice” has demanded an immediate investigation into the tenure of Mr. Austin Alegeh (SAN), immediate past president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The group’s demand was contained in a petition addressed to the EFCC Chairman.
Jointly signed by Seth Amaefule, second Vice Chairman of the Lagos branch of the NBA, and Dotun Hassan, Assistant Secretary of the Epe branch of the Association, the petitioners based their demand on suspicions of a number of illegal deeds, including money laundering and corrupt enrichment by Alegeh while he served as NBA President.
On August 25, alleged the petitioners, Mr. Alegeh informed the NBA Annual General Meeting that he left N200million in the association’s account. However, the new officers only found N20million.
“Not being prepared to render a satisfactory account of the association’s funds and donations, investigations into those activities bordering on illegality and criminality ought to be uncovered by our law enforcement agents with a view to bringing culprits to book,” the group stated in its petition.
The petitioners also alleged that before Alegeh became the NBA President, he lived at 11 Ladipo Bateye Street, GRA, Ikeja, Lagos. This address, they claimed served as his residence, law firm and the office of Tratrix Engineering Limited, a company in which he holds majority shares as Chairman/CEO. The former NBA President, added the petitioners, also had offices in Benin and Asaba.
After becoming NBA President, Mr. Alegeh moved from his Ikeja home to 24 Ilabere Avenue in the upscale Ikoyi area of Lagos and acquired a fleet of exotic cars. This, Lawyers for Justice reckoned, is enough ground for suspicion, given that the NBA is a non-profit organization, whose officers are not allowed personal benefits, salaries, bribes and other forms of income from corrupt streams.
Also while serving an NBA President, Lawyers for Justice added, Mr. Alegeh moved from his rented office at 48 Lobito Crescent, Wuse 2 in Abuja, to a considerably swankier office at 22 Ziguinchor Street, Wuse 4. The property is believed to be owned by him.
“It is a matter of general knowledge amongst lawyers that Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN) spent a humongous sum of money prosecuting his campaign for the office of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association 2014, which he eventually won in July 2014 against four others, and which would naturally have depleted his resources. He appears to have stupendously, illegally recouped his pocket, as President who abused the office of the NBA President,” wrote Lawyers for Justice.
The group equally alleged that Mr. Alegeh personally showed his friends around his estate at Ilebare Street, Off Macpherson Street, Ikoyi, after a church service to mark his exit from office on August 28 2016. He is also said to own a stupendous, though yet to be completed, home in Benin, where he hosted some lawyers who attended the June 2016 NBA National Executive Council Meeting in Benin.
Another allegation leveled against the former NBA President carried the whiff of contractual fraud. According to the petitioners, before Mr. Alegeh took office in August 2014, the NBA had awarded an N2.5billion contract for the construction of the 11-floor NBA House at Plot 1101, Cadastral Zone A00 in Abuja’s Central Business District to Schaums Nigeria Limited. The contractor, noted the petitioners, was still building the first floor when Mr. Alegeh, using his office, decided that the building must be completed by direct labour despite the fact that the contract was not terminated. He was said to have approved and paid money to Tratrix Engineering Limited, where he is Chairman/ CEO, via proxies.
“Against ethical and lawful conduct, he retained his position as Chairman/CEO of Tratrix Engineering Limited during his NBA Presidency from August 2014 – August 2016. Mr. Alegeh sought and received colossal sums as donations for the building project. It remains to be investigated suspicious activities of diversion of funds by Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN) for personal use,” the petitioners noted.
Also during his tenure as NBA President, Mr. Alegeh, alleged Lawyers for Justice, organized six National Executive Committee Meetings and two Annual General Conferences of the Bar. These entailed the donation of huge sums of money by individuals, corporate organizations, governors and other political office holders.
The former NBA President, it was further alleged, entered an arrangement with Access Bank Plc to warehouse all NBA accounts in return for the bank sponsoring NBA NEC Meetings and Conferences with approximately N250million yearly and created a system that made lawyers pay extortionate registration fees to attend the Annual General Conferences 2015 and 2016.
Despite the huge registration fees paid by lawyers and hefty donations from other sources, the Annual General Conferences in Abuja and Port Harcourt in August 2015 and 2016 respectively were parodies, as conference bags and materials were barely distributed to conferees.
“The Annual General Conference, Port Harcourt, which concluded on Friday, August 26th 2016 was dubbed by some senior lawyers as “a scam and a sham.” Despite large sums of money, it generated little value. At the conference, not only did many lawyers not receive conference bags, others got very low-quality bags without conference programs, papers, and proceedings. The Annual Reports 2016, which included NBA Treasurer and General Secretary’s reports, were scarcely distributed to NBA members,” wrote the petitioners.
Lawyers for Justice also claimed that Mr. Alegeh received the dollar equivalent of N250million from Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State as a gesture of appreciation for bringing the 2016 Bar Conference to Port Harcourt. This sum, which the group said belonged to the NBA, was allegedly diverted, converted and shared by a few national officers, notably Mr. Alegeh, and immediate past General Secretary Mr. Afam Osigwe.