Tuesday, September 26, 2023

EXCLUSIVE: U.S. legal panel terminates Femi Gbajabiamila’s law licence after stealing money from client, violating bar rules

The former House Speaker, who now serves as President Bola Tinubu’s chief of staff, was ostracised from the prestigious body effective July 1, 2020, The Gazette found.

• September 18, 2023

Former Nigerian House Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila has been terminated as a licensed lawyer of the State Bar of Georgia in the United States after his corruption and ethical lapses outstripped acceptable thresholds for members, Peoples Gazette can report.  

The Nigerian politician, who currently serves as the chief of staff to President Bola Tinubu, himself a man of uncountable scandals, was ostracised from the prestigious body effective July 1, 2020, according to records recently obtained by The Gazette. He was found to have stolen money from a client and also failed to pay his membership fees. 

Mr Gbajabiamila’s disgrace in the U.S. underscores yet again the gulf between civilisations that exert fair and available instruments to foster accountability versus Nigeria, where transparently fraudulent, odious figures are in charge of the most consequential positions of authority. 

For several weeks, Mr Gbajabiamila dodged The Gazette’s requests for comments about his corruption and punishment in the U.S. A spokesman for the State House also failed to send in comments that were promised after several weeks.

Georgia Bar officials told The Gazette that Mr Gbajabiamila’s latest ordeal began when a client filed a grievance against him for theft. Mr Gbajabiamila subsequently ignored the bar and stopped paying his fees and other membership obligations. The Gazette was told that attempts were made to reach Mr Gbajabiamila through his Peachtree Road address in Atlanta, but he frustrated it all. 

On July 2, 2015, Mr Gbajabiamila was suspended for five years, The Gazette learnt. The suspension was finally approved as a permanent termination of his membership on July 1, 2020. Mr Gbajabiamila, who was admitted to the State Bar of Georgia on June 29, 2001, was the Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time of his infractions in the U.S. 

Femi Gbajabiamila
Femi Gbajabiamila (Photo Credit: @femigbaja)

“He can no longer practice law in the state of Georgia,” an official told The Gazette. “He’s done.”

In a unanimous decision on February 26, 2007, the Supreme Court of Georgia approved the suspension of Mr Gbajabiamila for 36 months, after he admitted stealing $25,000 from a client. He was reinstated after serving out his suspension, only for him to commit another infraction that led to his final dismissal.

Mr Gbajabiamila, “who has only been a member of the bar since 2001, admits that he accepted payment of $25,000 as settlement of a client’s personal injury claims, deposited those funds in his attorney trust account in January 2003, failed to promptly disburse those funds to his client, withdrew those funds for his own use, closed his practice and moved out of the country,” the court said at the time. 

Mr Gbajabiamila, who had already been a federal lawmaker for nearly four years before the verdict, paid the money back in 2006, a year before the judgement, in order to get lighter punishment, including being disbarred. 

Whereas Mr Gbajabiamila has suffered the consequences of his known offenses in the U.S., which spanned from the early aughts through 2020, his corruption in Nigeria has gone unpunished. In 2021, Mr Gbajabiamila was among top lawmakers and government ministers who received heavy bribes from private businessmen to undercut local communities in passing the controversial 2021 law regulating the Nigerian hydrocarbon industry. 

President Bola Tinubu and Abdullahi Umar Ganduje
President Bola Tinubu and Abdullahi Umar Ganduje

Recently, he has faced allegations from within his own party that he received bribes to sell key government positions. A video produced by ruling All Progressives Congress’ youth wing accused him of unbriddled corruption that could severely undermine Mr Tinubu’s administration. He has yet to deny the allegations, but some of his supporters accused those behind the campaign as saboteurs. 

After spending the past 20 years as a federal lawmaker, House Speaker and now President Tinubu’s chief of staff, Mr Gbajabiamila may not need to work again as a lawyer, said a political commentator Ken Eluma Asogwa. He also has little to be ashamed of since he’s on Mr Tinubu’s team with Nyesom Wike, a notoriously violent politician already condemned by foreign observers, and Atiku Bagudu, a former Kebbi governor who’s infamous for laundering billions for departed Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha. 

Nyesom Wike and Abubakar Atiku Bagudu
Nyesom Wike and Abubakar Atiku Bagudu

“Looking at the characters he’s serving with, he has many reasons to brush this off,” Mr Asogma, an Abuja-based legal practitioner, said. “His inglorious days in the United States might be catching up with him, but you can expect him to continue to thrive in Nigeria, where no one in power pays for willful infractions.”

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