The Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN (SAN) has expressed anger over the demand by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for him to step aside due to a petition to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) concerning his law firm.
CITY LAWYER had in an exclusive report noted the petition by NBA to the LPDC where it not only demanded sanctions against Ms. Adekunbi Ogunde, a Partner in Wole Olanipekun & Co, for alleged solicitation of briefs from Saipem SPA, but invited the Committee to “consider whether the Partners of the Firm of Wole Olanipekun & Co. are not liable to be disciplined by this august body seeing that the Respondent has the ostensible authority to act as a Partner and indeed acted for and on behalf of the said Firm.” Olanipekun is the Founding Partner of the law firm. The LPDC is a committee of the Body of Benchers.
Olanipekun told SUNDAY VANGUARD that he would not understand why NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata would write him a letter requesting him to step down as the Body of Benchers and circulate the letter on social media without serving him a copy more than 24 hours after.
According to the report, Olanipekun, a former President of the NBA, said it appeared there was an ulterior motive behind the action of the NBA President.
His words: “As we talk, I am yet to get a copy of the letter. People have been calling me but I can’t react to a document that I have not seen.”
In a statement personally signed by Akpata, NBA had urged Olanipekun “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.”
In the letter to Olanipekun dated July 22, 2022 and titled “RE: PETITION AGAINST MS. ADEKUNBI OGUNDE BY THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION FOR ALLEGED PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT,” the NBA stated that it had petitioned the LPDC to penalize Ogunde “for engaging in conduct incompatible with her status as a legal practitioner and in flagrant disregard of our Rules of Professional Conduct which both the NBA and the Body of Benchers (BOB) are by their respective mandates bound to enforce as part of the disciplinary objectives of the legal profession. (Please find enclosed the Petition dated 19 July 2022).
“Ms. Ogunde, the subject of the Petition, as it turns out, is a Partner at the Law Firm of Wole Olanipekun & Co. where you are a Founding Partner and remain involved in the day-to-day running of the Firm. This dynamic creates an undeniable shared and intertwined professional relationship between your goodself and the said Ms. Ogunde. Indeed, in the said Petition, we have also asked the LPDC to “…consider whether the Partners of the Firm of Wole Olanipekun & Co. are not liable to be disciplined by this august body seeing that the Respondent has the ostensible authority to act as a Partner and indeed acted for and on behalf of the said Firm.
“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.
“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.”
Quoting Lord Denning, Akpata noted that justice must be rooted in confidence and that confidence is destroyed when right-minded people go away thinking that the Judge is biased, adding: “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.”
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