THE NBA’S PUBLIC DEMAND OF RECUSAL OF CHIEF OLANIPEKUN, SAN AS CHAIR BODY OF BENCHERS PENDING CONCLUSION OF INVESTIGATION AGAINST A COLLEAGUE IN HIS CHAMBERS LEAVES MUCH TO BE DESIRED: STATEMENT BY CHIJIOKE OKOLI, SAN
1. It is an understatement that these are not the best of times for our country in general, the legal profession inclusive. The very unfortunate incident involving a junior colleague in what is arguably the leading litigation law firm in the country, Wole Olanipekun & Co., has arrested the attention of the Nigerian Bar Association and many of its members, with several disconcerting consequences for the reasonable and fair-minded observers and stakeholders.
2. It is against the foregoing backdrop that one was astounded to read in the social and other media the unfortunate ethnicization of the distressing developments by Silk, Chief Yomi Aliu, SAN. He accused the N.B.A. President/leadership of tribalism for their call for the recusal of Chief Olanipekun from the Body of Benchers pending the investigation of his said junior colleague for possible professional misconduct. The needless hysteria which underpins Chief Aliu’s position notwithstanding, there are some genuine concerns over the nature and manner of the N.B.A.’s call. But more on that later.
3. Chief Aliu obviously did not think through his rushed defence of Chief Olanipekun, and essentially calling on South-West lawyers to rise to the defence of “their Leader”. He unwittingly seeks to diminish the esteemed Bar Leader whose leadership constituency is way beyond the South-West, but is rather unquestionably national. Chief Olanipekun is a Leader amongst leaders of the Nigerian Bar, with mentees of all categories in all nooks and crannies of the country ready to stand up to his defence if occasion calls for it. Chief Aliu may therefore need to reconsider his unhelpful and incendiary statement with a view to a retraction of same.
4. Now, lawyers acknowledge as article of faith that oftentimes procedure is as important as the substantive, indeed that there is frequently a coalescence of both categories. It is in the foregoing light that the manner of NBA’s communication with Chief Olanipekun leaves a sour taste in the mouth. It is not too much to expect that if the NBA leadership felt that he should recuse himself from the Body of Benchers then the President should have met with and intimated him accordingly so that he could do so voluntarily. Even if he was approached as suggested but did not immediately see the point, it would still suffice to enlist some ranking practitioners and judicial officers to reiterate the message, and only after which recourse to letter writing could be justified.
5. As distasteful as the rush to write a letter to Chief Olanipekun was, even worse was the fact of it gracing the social media hardly before the ink on it had dried. For all its presumed good intentions of maintaining rules and order in the profession, this action unfortunately leaves the NBA leadership open to questions as to its motives, with complaints, by no means outlandish in the circumstances, of playing to the gallery and seeking to maximize Chief Olanipekun’s embarrassment. The fact that he apparently had not even been served with the letter before its release for the titillation of netizens and consumers of the social media is most unfortunate and detracts from the sobriety required in such delicate circumstances.
6. Finally, the present insistence that Chief Olanipekun deserved better, i.e. a more decorous engagement, from the NBA leadership is in no way suggesting the dismissal of the principle of equality before the law. However, an unnuanced application of the law almost invariably leaves it appearing crude and harsh; which is why, for example, we do not complain when a lawyer, especially a ranking one, who finds himself in the dock is given bail on self-recognizance. There is perhaps need for the reminder that the history of NBA and its pantheon of heroes extend well beyond the past one decade or couple of years. Chief Olanipekun’s place in that pantheon is beyond any contest if we remember his courageous and exemplary leadership of the NBA during the challenging times of the Obasanjo Presidency which frequently stretched the rule of law to the breaking point, with history recording Chief Olanipekun as NBA President firmly leading the defence line, leading to such feats as getting the Executive to surrender the Chief Justice’s official residence which it had seized for the Vice President’s occupation.
7. It is sincerely hoped, without suggesting that the Association become a ‘timorous soul’, that henceforth the NBA leadership appreciates the need for sobriety in its engagement in sensitive matters and that there are times and circumstances when discretion is the better part of valour.
Chijioke Okoli, SAN
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