The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has asked Wole Olanipekun, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), to recuse himself from office as chairman of the Body of Benchers.
The NBA had, in a petition sent on July 20, asked the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) to prosecute Adekunbi Ogunde, a partner in the law firm of Wole Olanipekun, over “professional misconduct”.
Ogunde had, in June, admitted to sending an email to SAIPEM Contracting Nigeria Ltd, soliciting a brief.
The Rivers state government had earlier preferred charges against SAPIEM over allegations of $130 million fraud.
Despite being aware that the law firm of Henry Ajumogobia, a senior advocate of Nigeria, is handling the matter, Ogunde asked SAIPEM to consider hiring Olanipekun & Co, adding that the founder has more “influence” with judges across all courts.
In the petition, NBA asked the commission to consider whether the partners of the firm of Wole Olanipekun & Co. are not liable to be disciplined alongside Ogunde.
Reacting to the development in a letter addressed to Olanipekun, Ajumogobia said the move was in breach of essential mandatory rules.
Olanipekun has since apologised to Ajumogobia, stating that he never approved the email sent by Ogunde.
The lawyer also apologised to Ajumogobia for the embarrassment, blaming her action on exuberance.
In a letter dated July 22 and addressed to Olanipekun, Olumide Akpata, NBA chairman, said Olanipekun could influence the processes of the LPDC, since the committee is under the supervision of the Body of Benchers chairman.
“As you know, the LPDC is a standing committee of the BOB whose processes come under the supervision of the chairman of the BOB – an office which you currently occupy,” the letter reads.
“Against the backdrop of your partnership relationship with Ms. Ogunde, vis-a-vis the prosecution of the petition by the LPDC, it is clear, albeit unfortunate, that you have been put in a situation where your continued occupancy of the office during this period would conflict, or be reasonably interpreted to conflict, with or influence the processes of the LPDC, by fair-minded observers and right thinking members of the public, both within and outside our profession.
“By reason of your close professional ties and involvement with Ms. Ogunde, it would be an infraction of the salutary principles of natural justice for the said petition to be heard by the LPDC while you continue as chairman of the BOB, of which the LPDC is a committee.
“Consequent upon the above, I am constrained to invite you to recuse yourself from chairmanship of the BOB henceforth, and to allow for the emplacement of an interim leadership of the BOB, in order to enable the LPDC carry out this particular assignment, amongst others, without coming under an undue suspicion of impartiality.
“As a beacon of rule of law and due process, the NBA must continue to demonstrate that it is committed to the vision of its founding fathers, especially in its internal affairs.
“This situation, therefore, puts our foundational ethos as an Association on the line, and I trust that as a former president of the NBA and a very respected senior member of the Bar, you will take the honourable path of stepping aside in the interest of justice, fairness, and posterity.
“I am pained that I have to make this call, but in the circumstance, it is in the best interest of our association and of the legal profession in Nigeria.”