Chief Olanipekun, SAN, Chairman, Body of Benchers.
THE Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has renewed its call on Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN to resign his chairmanship of the Body of Benchers (BoB).
The BoB is the statutory body saddled with the primary responsibility of calling Law graduates to the bar and generally regulating the legal profession in Nigeria.
Chief Olanipekun, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and former President of the NBA, has been enmeshed in controversy since June when his law firm was accused of “influence peddling”.
According to Odein Ajumogobia, also a SAN, who levelled the allegation, a partner in Chief Olanipekun’s law firm, Adekunbi Ogunde, had written soliciting briefs for the law firm.
Mr Ajumogobia, who was already handling the case of interest on behalf of the client, had alleged that Ms Ogunde’s letter violated the professional code of conduct for lawyers.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that Ms Ogunde informed the prospective client, Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited, that the presence of Chief Olanipekun in a case “will significantly switch things in favour of Sapiem”.
She would later tender an apology in a press statement while she maintained that neither Chief Olanipekun nor the law firm knew of her letter.
But the NBA under the leadership of the immediate-past president of the NBA, Olumide Akpata, had petitioned the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) seeking the sanction of Ms Ogunde over the allegation of professional misconduct.
The association also requested the LPDC to determine the possible culpability of Chief Olanipekun and other partners of the law firm, although the chambers had distanced themselves from Ms Ogunde’s conduct.
On the basis of its petition, the then NBA president had written to the BoB calling on Chief Olanipekun to step down, “in order to enable the LPDC to carry out this particular assignment, amongst others, without coming under an undue suspicion of impartiality.”
While Ms Ogunde announced taking a break from active legal practice following the outrage that greeted the scandal, Mr Olanipekun shrugged off calls from eminent lawyers to resign.
He had accused Mr Akpata of trying to settle personal scores with him.
But in a fresh letter dated 4 December, addressed to Chief Olanipekun, NBA’s President, Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), who took over from Mr Akpata in August, called on Mary Odili, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, to preside over the call-to-bar ceremony of new lawyers scheduled for 6 and 7 December in Abuja.
Mrs Odili is the deputy chairperson of the BoB.
In his inaugural address on 26 August, Mr Maikyau recalled his displeasure over the “negative impact” of Ms Ogunde’s scandalous email on “the Legal profession in Nigeria.”
He restated this in his letter to Chief Olanipekun, the NBA president.
“I did not mince words about the devastating effect of that email on our noble profession of law and by virtue of the strategic position of this Body in showcasing the crème-de-la-crème of the legal profession in Nigeria, this Body must acquit itself of any complicity, albeit after the fact, in any act of professional misconduct,” Mr Maikyau’s letter read in part, according to a report by The Nigeria Lawyer.
Mr Maikyau noted that the BoB draws its membership from other organs of the legal profession “consisting of men of the highest distinction in the legal profession,” adding that it cannot afford to look away from the issues surrounding Chief Olanipekun’s alleged complicity in the saga.
He said younger lawyers must not be allowed to “have the slightest thought that the content of Adekunbi Ogunde’s email is a template for legal practice in Nigeria.”
“No one should be in any doubt that, the content of the email is condemnable and does not represent this Body and the legal profession. We owe the younger generation of lawyers the duty to speak and not be silent,” Mr Maikyau said in the letter he copied the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Olukayode Ariwoola, all Life Benchers and Benchers.
Emphasising the damaging impact of Ms Ogunde’s conduct, the NBA President said his call for Mr Olanipekun’s resignation was borne out of the association’s duty to “protect the integrity of the legal profession, and to engender public confidence in the Judiciary.”
He said the forebears of the legal profession would “cringe and turn in their graves if they could read” the “content” of Ms Ogunde’s email.
“In the circumstances therefore, and given the need for an urgent remedial action, I adopt the letter by my immediate predecessor-in-office dated 22 July 2022 and call for its immediate consideration. I also humbly call on the Chairman to immediately yield to the Vice Chairman of this Body – Hon. Justice Mary Peter Odili, JSC, Rtd., to preside over the Call to Bar Ceremony scheduled for 6 and 7 December 2022. We owe the younger generation of not only lawyers but Nigerians honest and sincere mentorship. To allow the status quo to remain in spite of the colossal damage that has been done to the conscience of this nation – the legal profession is to abdicate our responsibility to the nation,” the letter read in part.
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