By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Abuja
The cyclone of cupboard cleansing currently permeating the Nigerian Judiciary, recorded fresh victims last week, as the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, LPDC, in a decisive move, handed life ban to four legal practitioners.
The four ex-lawyers, who were expressly barred from either practicing the legal profession in Nigeria or ever identifying themselves as lawyers again, were said to have engaged in sundry acts of corruption that brought the legal profession to immense disrepute.
Delivering the verdict, Chairman of LPDC and former National President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Chief Joseph B. Daudu, SAN, maintained that the Committee unanimously agreed that Mr Dominic Ntiero, Timipa Okponipere, G.C Monye, and J.A Agwuncha, deserved to be axed from the noble profession, having proved themselves as highly ignoble both in conduct and character.
Consequently, the Committee mandated the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Mr Sunday Olorundahunsi, to strike off their names from the apex court’s scroll where name of every bonafide lawyer in the country must be found.
Besides, the LPDC handed 5-year suspension to one Olawole Ajoge-Daniel after he was equally found guilty of judicial misconduct.
Specifically, the 1st accused lawyer, Ntiero, was said to have shunned invitation to appear before the panel to defend himself, “we were however satisfied by the Committee’s Secretary that there was due notice in the Punch Newspaper,” Daudu noted.
According to him, “the respondent’s act violated Rules 47, 50, and 51 of the Rules of Professional Conduct in the Legal Profession 2007 and Section 12 of the Legal Practitioners Act as Amended.”
Meantime, the petition that culminated to the sanction that was imposed against Ntiero was forwarded to the LDPC by the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, which is the umbrella body of legal practitioners across the federation.
NBA in its petition accused him of issuing a dud cheque of N6.3 million to one of his client Rita Edet over a failed agreement.
In the case of Okponipere, Daudu said the respondent had sometime in 2007 admitted to have given unsolicited legal services to the ex-Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Corporation, NDDC, Mr Timi Alaibe.
Okponipere had claimed to have nominated Alaibe for National Merit Award and therefore made demands for the sum of N40 million and allegedly resorted to threats and intimidation, a conduct the Committee said was unwholesome.
LPDC insisted that Okponipere failed to maintain the high standard of professional conduct expected of a legal practitioner.
Similarly, NBA alleged that in the case of Monyei, the Principal Partner at G.C Monyei And Co, he was engaged by a company, GMNL, sometimes in 2003 as a debt collector to recover the sum of N9.2 million from the Edo State Ministry of Justice.
NBA alleged that, the money was an amount being the value of a Kodiak Bedford Vehicle (Black Maria) supplied to the Ministry, noting that whereas Monyei had collected the sum of N5 million on behalf of GMNL since May 3, 2005, as a part payment of the debt, he converted it to his personal use.
Thus LPDC, as part of its verdict on the petition, ordered that the respondent should forthwith refund a total sum of N4million to the GMNL.
On the other hand, Agwuncha was said to have cheated his client by converting fund meant for incorporating a company (New Resources Bureau De Change) as a limited liability company.
LPDC held that Agwuncha took advantage of the confidence reposed in him as a lawyer to dupe the unsuspected client.
“You failed to maintain the high standard of the professional conduct expected of a legal practitioner by engaging in a conduct unbecoming of a legal practitioner and thereby found guilty of the offence.
“The sum of six hundred and Fifty One Thousand, Eight Hundred Naira be funded to Lofty Investment Limited by the respondent.
“The Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court is hereby directed to strike off the name of the respondent J.A Agwuncha from the Roll of Legal Practitioners in Nigeria.
“The notice of the directions be immediately brought to the attention of the respondent by service on him personally or at his last known address and by publication in any edition of the Punch Newspaper.
“It should also be notified in the federal Gazette as required by law,” LPDC added.
Though the decision according to LPDC took immediate effect, it however directed that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mariam Aloma Muhktar and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, AGF, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, as well as the AGF of the 36 States of the Federation should be put on notice.
Warning that the committee was set to further wield the big stick against erring legal practitioners whose petitions are still pending, Daudu, expressed delight on the out- come of the cases so far, stressing that “it is no longer business as usual.”
He maintained that the Judiciary must be repositioned to its former status, adding that the LPDC was prepared to carry out the desired reform.
Meanwhile, the CJN has further hinted of a wave of sack looming in the judiciary, disclosing that the pruning axe of the National Judicial Council, NJC, is currently dangling on the head of 21 judges.
Speaking at a function organized by the council the CJN said the councilreceived a total of 198 petitions against judges in her 10 months of being in office, adding that 15 other judges had also been queried for alleged unethical conducts and their responses being awaited.
She said, “On my assumption of office as Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council, I inherited 139 petitions, 106 of which were vexatious or baseless, only 33 of the petitions were considered worthy of attention.
“After my assumption of office as Chief Justice, 198 fresh petitions were filed, of this number, 150 were found to be frivolous, 15 are awaiting responses from Judges and only 21 were slated for consideration.
“The Judiciary, considering its usually privileged stability in the face of political upheaval must be at the forefront of institutionalizing the rule of law. The enunciation of a radical, transformative jurisprudence by the judiciary holds considerable promise for the restoration of the rule of law and at the institutional level, signals a definitive break from the past. It behoves all of us gathered here today to pick up the challenge, join hands together and ensure that the rule of law is upheld in Nigeria, thereby extolling a viable democracy in the country.
“As the image of the judiciary in the country, we cannot afford to slack in our effort. I therefore use this medium to appreciate all and sundry who have lent their hands in support of the reforms of the National Judicial Council aimed at overhauling the judiciary. One basic fact must be clear, that nobody is out to witch- hunt any person or disparage any person’s office. The singular message remains that everything has to be done to ensure a credible Judiciary in Nigeria and no sacrifice is out of place.
“ There is indeed no reason a Judicial Officer who sits over trials should not be made to come under trial in deserving cases, as a person who cannot follow must not lead and a person who cannot practice incorruptibility must not seat at judgment over others and find it humiliating to stand trial,” she added.