The Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN has survived a move by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to have him step aside from the seat following a petition to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) seeking sanctions against partners in his law firm for alleged professional misconduct.

Though CITY LAWYER gathered that NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata had sent an email to the BoB asking that the recusal matter should be tabled for discussion, an impeccable source who attended today’s Body of Benchers meeting told CITY LAWYER that the issue did not receive any attention during the meeting. “There was absolutely no mention of the matter during the entire duration of the meeting,” said the source. Akpata’s email was copied to all BoB members.

CITY LAWYER had predicted that the issue may not be debated at today’s meeting as it was not listed on the agenda. Sources however said that this may not be unexpected given that the agenda for today’s meeting had long been drawn up. The non-receipt of the recusal letter until yesterday may also have made it practically impossible to include the issue on the agenda.

The source told CITY LAWYER that the meeting was delayed for about 30 minutes as the chairman took turns to felicitate with members, even as the meeting witnessed massive attendance by many BoB members, some attending after a prolonged absence.

Though at least two national newspapers reported that NBA President, Mr. Olumide Akpata shunned the meeting, CITY LAWYER gathered from unimpeachable sources that Akpata attended the meeting virtually and was signed on throughout the deliberations as he is overseas.

The source said that while the only opportunity to include the recusal issue on the agenda was during debate on “Adoption of Agenda,” Olanipekun side-stepped the item by stating that his “Chairman’s Address” would cater for that.

This paved the way for a discussion of only issues relating to tomorrow’s Call to Bar ceremony following a committee report on the subject. Other reports were deferred to the body’s next meeting on September 29, 2022, moreso as the reports were not circulated to members.

CITY LAWYER however gathered that this has been the tradition, as the body’s meetings on the eve of Call to Bar ceremonies often focus exclusively on preparations for the event.

Aside from the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Kayode Ariwoola, two past Chief Justices of Nigeria also attended the meeting. They are Justice Mahmud Mohammed and Justice Walter Onnoghen as well as retired Justice Mary Peter-Odili who doubles as the Vice-Chairman of the Body of Benchers. Also in attendance was Justice Helen Ogunwumiju of the Supreme Court.

The NBA was also well represented at the meeting which held at the Body of Benchers Complex in Jabi, Abuja by Akpata and its statutory representatives as well as seven past presidents including Messrs Onomigbo Okpoko SAN, O. C. J. Okocha SAN, Joseph Daudu SAN, Augustine Alegeh SAN, Okey Wali SAN, Abubakar Mahmoud and Paul Usoro SAN. Daudu, Alegeh and Wali signed on virtually.

It remains to be seen whether the matter will be raised at the next meeting of the Body of Benchers in September.

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.

In a letter personally signed by Akpata following the filing of the petition, 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.”

But Olanipekun, a former NBA President, had expressed anger against the association for allegedly making its demand public without communicating the recusal letter to him, saying it appeared there was an ulterior motive behind the action. 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.”

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