By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
….Seek NBA’s intervention
ABUJA—Two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Chief Afe Babalola and Chief Wole Olanipekun, who led the team that approached the Supreme Court to reverse its judgment that sacked David Lyon as governor-elect of Bayelsa State have formally protested the N60million cost that was awarded against them by the apex court.
Recall that the apex court had on February 26, in a unanimous decision by a seven-man panel of Justices headed by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, dismissed the two different applications that sought to set-aside the judgment that sacked Lyon and his deputy, Degi-Eremieoyo.
In the lead verdict that was delivered by Justice Amina Augie, the apex court, described applications that Babalola, SAN, and Olanipekun, SAN, filed on behalf of Lyon, his deputy and APC, as “highly vexatious, frivolous and gross abuse of the judicial process.”
It held that the applications were aimed at “desecrating the sanctity of the court”, stressing that it was an invitation for the Supreme Court to sit on appeal over its final judgment.
Consequently, it awarded an aggregate punitive cost of N60 million it said should be personally paid by counsel to the Applicants, in favour of the Respondents.
However, the duo, in a separate protest letters addressed to the National Executive Council, NEC, of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, maintained that they did no wrong by asking the court to take a second look at its earlier judgment that have victory to governor Douye Diri and his deputy, Lawrence Ewhruojakpo of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
While seeking NBA’s intervention, they argued that they did nothing unlawful and unprofessional to warrant the harsh words used on them and the unprecedented cost awarded against them for merely carrying out their professional responsibilities as lawyers.
Babalola and Olanipekun decried that the decision of the Supreme Court, as it related to them was capable of laying wrong precedence that lawyers could be penalised for merely seeking to explore the justice administration process for the benefit of his/her client.
While Olanipekun personally authored his letter, dated March 10, Babalola’s letter dated March 11, was written by the Managing Partner of his law firm, Adebayo Adenipekun.
Both letters were addressed to the NBA President, Paul Usoro, SAN.
In his letter by Olanipekun read in part: “I and the team of lawyers that I lead in the matter did no wrong, either in terms of our presentation through the filling of the application or during the oral adumbration in court.
“I repeat again, with every emphasis at my disposal and all sense of responsibility that I/we did no wrong, committed no error and did/do not deserve the harsh comments (to put it mildly) in the leading ruling of the Honourable Justice Amina Augie.
“It might interest you to note that there is no nexus or proximity or even bearing between the processes filed by us and the most unfair and least expected stern expressions of her lordship, Amina Augie.”
On his part, Babalola, in his letter to NBA, stated: “I write to protest and draw the attention of NBA to the danger posed to the due administration of justice by the disparaging remarks made in the ruling of the court concerning our principal, Afe Babalola SAN, CON and the imposition on him of the unprecedented costs of N30million.
“The action of the Court, aside from being unfair and totally unwarranted, is, if not urgently addressed, capable of sending a wrong signal to judges of courts, lower in hierarchy to the Supreme Court about how they can and should relate with lawyers, who appear before them to plead the case of their clients.
“This in the long run will be inimical to the development of trust and respect between the bar and the bench and will ultimately hamper the smooth operation of the justice delivery sector in Nigeria.
“It is with respect to their Lordships of the Supreme Court, who sat on the 26th of February 2020 that we state that the award of cost of N30million against Aare Afe Babalola SAN, CON failed to meet the standard set by that very court concerning the award of costs.”
“This situation, at the risk of repetition, if allowed to persist and gain footing, will do incalculable damage to the administration of justice in Nigeria.”