Life Bencher and former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Augustine Alegeh SAN has disagreed sharply with the recent reconstitution of the Body of Benchers committees by its Chairman, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo SAN.

CITY LAWYER recalls that Awomolo had recently reconstituted the membership of the body’s standing committees while creating two ad hoc committees.

But in a sharp rebuke by Alegeh, who is also a member of the NBA Board of Trustees, the Bar Leader stated that the elite body must not engage in dumping decisions taken on the floor of the house merely due to a change in leadership, warning that it would “portend grave danger if each year the decisions made in the last year are overturned when a new Chairman assumes the mantle of leadership.”

When CITY LAWYER contacted the Body of Benchers, it however assured that all issues raised by the Bar Leader would be addressed by its Chairman.

Continuing, Alegeh wrote: “I believe that the Regulations passed and all decisions made under the leadership of Honourable Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, JSC [Rtd] must be respected as they are decisions of the Body of Benchers.”

He also questioned his removal as Chairman of the Benchers Appointment Committee, noting that he is yet to serve out his three-year tenure as the duly appointed chairman of the committee.

CITY LAWYER recalls that leading senior lawyer, Prof. Yusuf Ali SAN was announced as the new chairman of the committee, with Justice Fati L. Abubakar as Vice Chairman.

In a letter dated 28th March, 2024 and titled “APPOINTMENT TO SERVE AS CHAIRMAN OF THE BODY OF BENCHERS APPOINTMENT COMMITTEE,” Alegeh was named as the arrowhead of the all-important committee. Signed by Mr. Daniel Tela, the Secretary of the Body of Benchers, the letter stated that the appointment “shall be for a period of three (3) years.” The former NBA helmsman accepted the appointment the same day and vowed to “discharge the functions of the office with great responsibility and commitment to the ideals of the Body of Bencher.”

However, less than six weeks in the saddle, the Life Bencher was reportedly yanked off the seat through the reconstitution exercise by Awomolo. The exercise was communicated to benchers through an email by Tela.

But in a fiery protest letter dated 2nd May, 2024 Alegeh warned on the dangers of side-stepping the Rule of Law, saying: “All Legal Practitioners are indeed, expected to be avid proponents and defenders of the Rule of Law.” He added that “I have always seen the Body of Benchers as the apex body in the promotion and defence of the Rule of Law.”

The senior lawyer noted that “the Body of Benchers passed unanimously the new Regulations, made pursuant to the Legal Practitioners Act, 2014 [as Amended],” adding that “The Regulations are sacrosanct and binding on all members of this distinguished body.”

Alegeh stated that the Regulations “show clearly that the power to create Committees rests with the entire Body,” emphasizing that “I am not aware of any committee of this distinguished Body that has been created in a different manner.”

On the renaming of the committees, he stated that this also violated the Regulations, saying: “The Regulations clearly set out and define the Standing Committees of the Body of Benchers and the names so ascribed to the Committees cannot be changed as if the Regulations have no effect whatsoever. The renaming of the Standing Committees clearly violates the Regulations.”

According to the Bar Leader, tampering with the tenure of office of committee members was also a violation of the Regulations. His words: “In your email, under reference, you stated that the membership of the Committees was now to be for a period of two [2] years only, whereas Regulation 11[6] states clearly that membership of Committees is for a period of three [3] years. I wonder how the tenure of members can be shortened to two [2] years, contrary to the clear stipulations of the Regulations.”

Turning to the reconstitution of the Benchers Appointment Committee, Alegeh expressed concern that he was removed from the saddle before the expiration of his tenure. Making reference to his acceptance of the appointment from the Benchers” leadership, he wrote: ” I am surprised to see that whereas my tenure has not expired, my respected big brother and Life Bencher, Mallam Yusuf Ali, SAN, whom I hold in very high esteem, and who has a rich history of respect for the Rule of Law, was published in your email as the “Chairman” of the same Committee.”

He warned “that I accepted to serve the full term of three [3] years and I have not resigned my appointment as the Chairman of the Body of Benchers Appointment Committee. I believe there must be an error which I respectfully request should be corrected immediately.”

He observed that the error “is made more apparent” by the statement that “members already serving in Committees and are being retained, shall serve the remaining term of office as indicated in their letter of appointment earlier issued”

The former NBA President stated that he was named a mere member of the Benchers Appointment Committee in the reconstitution exercise whereas his letter of appointment “states clearly that I was appointed as the Chairman of the Committee for a term of three [3] years.”

In the clearest indication that he was ready to do battle over the matter, he vowed that “I therefore would continue to act as Chairman of the Committee in the terms stated in my Letter of Appointment.”

Alegeh stated that the “clear provisions” of the Benchers’ Regulations “may not have been brought to the attention of the Chairman before you sent the email under reference,” and urged Tela “as a matter of urgency, to raw the attention of the Chairman to the provisions of the extant Body of Benchers Regulations, 2024 and ensure compliance and respect for the said Regulations.”

Tela however told CITY LAWYER that the Body of Benchers is aware of the  letter and would tackle all the issues raised. His words: “We are in receipt of the letter and the attention of the Chairman has been drawn to it. The issues raised will be addressed by the Chairman.”

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