By Abdulrasheed Ibrahim, Notary Public
There are ongoing two events that have shaken the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Legal Profession at large to their roots. The first was the call on Chief Wole Olanipekun, (SAN) to step aside as the Chairman of the Body of Benchers (BOB) by the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olumide Akpata.
The second one was the sending to prison of Mr. Inibehe Effiong, a lawyer by the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom for one month. The level at which these two incidents have divided members of the legal profession is becoming too astonishing and embarrassing that I found it difficult to look the other way pretending nothing is happening. Those who are not lawyers have equally picked interest in the shows being displayed by lawyers to see how it will end. The incident between the NBA and BOB reminded me of that Lord Denning’s remarks that: when a judge sits on the bench to conduct trial, the judge himself is also on trial. The present situation on the ground has prompted the question as to whether the NBA or Legal Profession is on trial.
There is no better way to appreciate the issue on the ground than trying to understand what actually happened that eventually led to the eruption of the ongoing cold war. Mr. Odein Ajumogobia (SAN), the head of the law firm of Ajumogobia & Okeke was said to have sent an email dated 23rd June 2022 to Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), the head of the law firm of Wole Olanipekun & Co., who at the same time is the Chairman of the Body of Benchers protesting an email said to have been written to the Ajumogobia & Okeke’s client: In the words of Ajumogobia:
“…The attached email from your firm also contains false and misleading statement with several defamatory imputations of and concerning myself and the law firm. In the circumstances we demand within 7 days of the date of this letter, a written apology to the firm of Ajomogobia & Okeke from Wole Olanipekun & Co. , for the deplorable conduct of Adekumbi Ogunde and your firm…”
In what the firm of Wole Olanipekun & Co. called DISCLAIMER dated 24th June 2022, it stated that “the writer of the letter under reference was on her own, and we do wholly dissociate ourselves from the letter and its contents. Our Principal, without being immodest, has never been known to indulge himself in the type of practice portrayed in the letter under reference. He is very sober and humble person, and we believe learned silk, H. Odein Ajumogobia, SAN, OFR can attest to this. He stands for the best in the profession, in terms of ethics, honour, integrity, discipline, character and carriage.”
Reading through Adekumbi’s mail that brought about this controversy, there is no doubt that it was full of blunders which may be attributed to her lack of adequate knowledge of law and experience which facts were confirmed by the lady herself in her subsequent release to rectify the blunders or mistakes. Please listen to her:
“ …In order to remedy the situation , I reached out personally to H. Odein Ajumogobia , SAN, OFR, via email and whatsapp message sent to the Learned Silk on 24th June, 2022, to apologize for this error of judgment. My partners at the firm, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, OFR and Mr. Bode Olanipekun, SAN also reached out to H. Odein Ajumogobia SAN, OFR, separately, via various messages sent to the learned silk on 24th June, 2022, to apologize for the entire situation. My father, Mr. Oluwemimo Ogunde SAN , also reached out to H. Odein Ajumogobia SAN, OFR to apologize on his daughter’s behalf. I also reached out to persons that have personal relationship with the learned silk, including a classmate of mine at the University of Hull, United Kingdom , because of the learned silk’s avowed reputation for the mentoring young lawyers. With those measures taken, I believed that the matter was already settled as the learned silk had represented to different persons, who had reached out to him to explain that I made an honest but regrettable mistake…”
After reading this from the lady, I told a colleague in a private chat that I was of the view that with all steps that had been taken to allow that issue to be laid to rest, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia (SAN) should have allowed the issue to die down like that rather than pressing further. But we must recognize the fact that that discretion absolutely belong to the learned silk to take except those who are involved in the crisis refuse to do what he wanted from them to do to his satisfaction which might have not been cleared to the public. If the learned silk on his own had decided to go ahead with the case and make it an issue for the Legal Practitioner Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) through the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), I think it will not be proper for anyone to blame, condemn, or accuse Mr. Olumide Akpata, the NBA President of “ill motive or bring down syndrome” for asking Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) to momentarily recluse from the Chairmanship of Body of Benchers. One must at the same time commend the law firm of Wole Olanipekun for the earlier apology they had tendered to the law firm of Ajumogobia & Okeke immediately their attention was drawn to the letter written by their Partner which brought about the scenario.
Honestly, there are times you just have to allow some things to die down naturally, but when you live in a society or have an association where ego and back biting or stabbing are the order of the day; one will not be surprised seeing the present kind of show being displayed. I once represented a Claimant in a case at the Lagos State High Court, Ikorodu Division wherein the Defendant was duly served by the Sheriffs of the Court and Proof of Service placed before the Court.
The Counsel to the Defendant filed a preliminary objection stating in their affidavit in support that he was on admission at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja at the time the Sheriff claimed he was served and exhibited a Medical Report purportedly issued by the Hospital authority .I wrote to the Medical Directo no nf the hospital to confirm the date authenticity the medical report and the reply was in the negative. I filed an affidavit before the Court exhibiting the hospital’s reply and same was served on the Defendant‘s counsel who was terrified. He apologized to the court and to me that he was misled by his client. The lawyer refused to appear in the case again. We had the opportunity to take appropriate actions against them because I knew for sure that the lawyer was the brain behind the unethical act, but we just decided to let it go. We eventually got judgment and we executed same.
It is very unfortunate that rather than trying to see the best way to resolve this issue, some lawyers brought in ethnicity into the issue. Members of the legal profession are now grossly divided on whether the Chairman of the Body of Benchers should step down or should not step down. This is one of the things that differentiate the Black men from the White men. If this kind of thing happens in some part of Europe, those involved need not to be told before they do the right, but we are in Africa and this is Nigeria. The argument that is being put forward now by some lawyers : Is whether Chief Olanipekun should be made a scapegoat for the sin of Nee Ogunde? The other time that Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN) as NBA President had issue with the EFCC; lawyers were divided on whether he should resign or should not resign. When Bukola Saraki had issue with the same EFCC,
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were also divided on whether he should step down or not to step down as Senate President. When the former CJN, Justice Onnoghen was summoned to appear before the Code of Conduct Tribunal the other day, Nigerians particularly the lawyers were also divided. The usual argument is that an accused person is presumed innocent until he is pronounced guilty by the court. Can you now blame Akpata for crying out louder when he said ?
“Nobody at the meeting raised the issue, I was present from the beginning of the meeting to the end and I had no intention of raising the issue because as far as I am concerned, I have done my duty …There is nothing personal between me and Chief Olanipekun. I have no problem with him…There was at least four past NBA Presidents, Okpoko SAN, Usoro SAN, Mahmood SAN, and Okocha SAN were physically present while JB Daudu SAN, Alegeh SAN and Okey Wali, SAN were virtually present raising the number to seven….At least 95% (of BOB members) of them have seen the letter and know of the letter but not one person in the four hours of that meeting brought it up….I wrote the letter as required by my job ,but all of them kept mute at the meeting .That is our system ,hypocrisy and double standard all the way. ‘If na one lawyer wey no get Papa, way no get Mama, they will be shouting, preaching like an archbishop that ‘what has this profession come to. Standard has fallen’. There cannot be two standards in the land. You cannot not be a Judge in your own case, end of story .May b.
B.. , 😍😍🤩🤩🤩🤩🤩🤩🤩🤩😍🤩🤩🤩😍e they want to push it to the next meeting when I will no longer be President. Something as this that is affecting the whole profession and they are playing the ostrich …We play double standard .We like to pontificate .We are hypocrites.”
While we are yet to hear from any of the past NBA Presidents in attendance on why they “kept mute at the meeting”, Chief Olanipekun has continued to argue that the Body of Benchenmmb.bbmfrs (BOB) has no power to interfere with the working of Legal Practitioner Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) usually constituted by the BOB but the counter argument on the part of some lawyers is that the law in theory is not the law in practice th:-!at:-!:-!:-P:-!:-!:-!:-!:-!:-! although it is apparent that any appeal against the decision LPDC lies to the Supreme Court, but some have maintained the position that the recent happening in the BOB where the former Chairman of the LPDC ,Mr. Emmanuel Ukala SAN tendered his resignation on the ground of undue interference from the BOB has remained a source of fear of compromise for many of them and that considering the assertion of Odein Ajumogobia (SAN) in his letter that : “ My sentiment about the unfortunate but unmistakable allusion to “influence” with “Justices of the Supreme Court, Presiding Justices of the Court of Appeal and Chief Judges” with whom you happen to serve on certain bodies in the legal profession , with regard to a matter before a Court, is better left unsaid”. That if the functions of this set of jurists can be interfered with, what will then happen to the members of LPDC to be constituted by the Body of Benchers?
Now on the imprisonment of Mr. Inibehe Effiong, a human rights lawyer by the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State many versions of the story have surfaced on the social media that one finds it difficult to know which side to believe. When I saw the caption in the news my reaction was that “This has clearly showed the difference between some judges of those days who rarely used the long stick and some of the judges of today that react swiftly. Do you remember that case where Lord Denning sitting in a panel and book were threw at them or that of Uwais panel’s at the Supreme Court where a lawyer boldly accused them of corruption in the open court? Denning and Uwais did not use the long stick” But unlike Denning and Uwais , the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom used the long stick against the lawyer. Some lawyers have condemned the CJ’s action in their various positions.
A big story has been built around an application said to be pending before the Chief Judge to recluse herself from the case but that same was ignored by the learned Judge and went ahead to send the lawyer to prison. I was almost fallen for that since the law is settled that no matter how useless an application is it must be decided by the court in one way or the other but why did the learned Judge refuse to abide by that principle of law? But upon coming across another story by someone who claimed to be an eye witness to what has been happening in the case till the event that led to the imprisonment of the lawyer. It became very clear that it was a case in which a judgment had already be entered against the lawyer’s client who is also a lawyer. It was learnt that lawyer Effiong had succeeded in making the court to set aside the said judgment and what remained the court is the continuation of the trial proper and along the line some other things cropped up that made the case to be making slow progress with different people including journalists coming to court secretly recording proceeding leading to various reports in the media which the court was seriously opposed to until the event went the way it went.
One is of the view that while lawyers must be allowed to defend their clients within the boundary of the law without any intimidation from the court, lawyers must equally conduct their cases in the best manner with decorum and avoid any act that will bring disrepute to the integrity of the court. Lawyers must conduct their cases decently before the court without any intention to play to the gallery. As some people will say “respect begets respect”. With the efforts being made and put together by the leadership of the NBA to secure the release the Mr. Inibehe Effiong, we pray it urgently comes to reality so that he can reunite with his family .
NOTE: Anyone is at liberty to disagree with my above submissions as I will surely appreciate a balanced, fair and objective rebuttal.
31st July 2022