A coalition of leading senior lawyers, civil society activists and users of court services under the aegis of Justice Reform Project (JRP) has added its voice to the growing call on the Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN to resign.

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) had asked the former NBA President to recuse himself from the seat to pave way for an unfettered investigation of its petition to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) against the foremost senior lawyer and other partners in his law firm.

In a statement obtained by CITY LAWYER, the group comprising over 20 senior advocates and other justice sector reform advocates urged Olanipekun to “step down” from his position as BoB helmsman, adding that such move would be a mark of honour.

It said: “JRP takes the position that the learned silk ought to step down from his position as Chairman of the Body of Benchers to enable investigations to be concluded with the requisite confidence. This should have predated the steps taken by the NBA and subsequent public commentary. Such an action on his part would not be a mark of culpability, it would be a matter of responsibility and honour. In his exalted position, he should ordinarily be instigating such a complaint.”

The body decried Olanipekun’s failure to recuse himself, saying: “The learned silk’s continued stay in office is, consequently, an indiscretion which will come at a cost to the integrity of our profession. The tribal sentiments being stoked by senior members of the bar are not helpful. Neither are allegations of witch-hunting or ulterior motives.”

The JRP also berated the BoB Chairman for the alleged “innuendos” in his speech during the recent Call to Bar ceremony, saying that that has only reinforced the call for his resignation.

According to the group of justice sector reform advocates, “On a related note, the innuendos in the learned silk’s speech at the Call to Bar ceremony, suggesting that opposing views were indicative of a ‘pulling down syndrome’, can only reinforce the call for his resignation, even though a formal complaint against him has not been lodged.”

It commended the Olumide Akpata-led NBA for its position on the saga, saying: “The NBA, and its leadership, must be commended for taking a bold step in upholding the standards of our profession, even in circumstances involving a man who commands an enormous amount of respect from the entire profession. This is the true test of our will to revive our dying profession and, all of us, including the learned silk, have a responsibility to put the profession first in circumstances like this.”

The JRP added that “The NBA leadership has done its job. Their actions have marked a new era in the enforcement of ethical standards in the legal profession and we must all stand behind the NBA to ensure the integrity of our profession.”

CITY LAWYER had in an exclusive report cited a searing complaint by an apparently embittered senior lawyer and former Minister of Energy and Petroleum ministries, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia SAN where he referenced an email to the oil company from Ms. Adekunbi Ogunde, a Partner in Wole Olanipekun & Co, and demanded an apology from the law firm. The firm apologized for the debacle and disowned the Partner.

JRP was set up in February 2019 with membership cutting across senior and junior lawyers, civil society activists and users of court services interested in reform of the justice system.. The group co-hosted the recent Justice Sector Summit. CITY LAWYER gathered that the JRP is an offshoot of the G20 group of senior advocates who in mid-2019 at the peak of the controversy surrounding the removal of former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, issued a statement saying they “feel embarrassed and deeply concerned by the recent events surrounding the suspension of Honourable Justice W. S. N. Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria.”

Among the signatories to the Onnoghen statement were Messrs Ebun Sofunde SAN, Kayode Sofola SAN, Kola Awodein SAN, Ademola Akinrele SAN, Eyimofe Atake SAN, Olufunke Adekoya SAN, Oluwafemi Atoyebi SAN, Yemi Candide-Johnson SAN, Olasupo Shasore SAN, Babatunde Ajibade SAN, Osaro Eghobamien SAN, Babatunde Fagbohunlu SAN, Wemimo Ogunde SAN, and Jibrin Okutepa SAN. Others Messrs Olumide Sofowora SAN, Ernest Ojukwu SAN, Olatunde Adejuyigbe SAN, Adewale Olawoyin SAN, Adeniyi Adegbonmire SAN and Oyesoji Oyeleke SAN.

More recently, the JRP brought a lawsuit at the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja to restrain President Muhammadu Buhari from appointing as judges, 21 persons recommended to him by the National Judicial Council (NJC), saying that “it is concerned about the dysfunctional justice system in Nigeria.”

It was unclear at press time whether all the senior advocates that endorsed the Onnoghen Statement are still members of the JRP, moreso as Okutepa has criticized the approach adopted by Akpata in seeking Olanipekun’s recusal while Ogunde is the father of Ms. Adekunbi Ogunde, the partner in Olanipekun’s law firm who has been dragged to the LPDC by NBA.

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