…SAN denies allegation, demands N115m legal fees
A firm, Nacenn Nigeria Limited, has filed a petition against Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George, SAN, before the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN/Chairman of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, LPPC, and the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA.
It is alleging “professional misconduct, criminal misrepresentation, suppression of material facts and fraud” against the SAN.
This is despite the pendency of a suit by the SAN at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, in which he is demanding N115 million from the firm.
Nacenn, in the October 8, 2020, petition sent separately to the CJN and the NBA, is urging them to investigate its complaints.
It wants them to refer the petition to the LPPC and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, LPDC, respectively “for appropriate sanctions as the justice of this petition demands.”
In an affidavit on oath deposed to by Nacenn’s Director, Chukwugozie Ezulike, the petitioner accused Akinseye-George of violating the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007.
Specifically, the firm said the SAN contravened Rule 1 and Rule 23 (1), which provide: “A lawyer shall uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and foster the cause of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and shall not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner…
“A lawyer shall not do any act whereby for his benefit or gain he abuses or takes advantage of the confidence reposed in him by his client.”
Nacenn Nigeria said it engaged Prof. Akinseye-George by a letter dated February 28, 2018, to assist in recovering N2 billion judgment-debts from the Federal Government.
The firm said it was agreed that his professional fees would be 10 per cent of whatever he recovered and that the duration of the engagement shall automatically terminate after March 30, 2018, if Nacenn does not receive the said payment.
The petitioner said Prof Akinseye-George did not recover any amount within the period of the subsistence of his engagement letter.
The firm said it re-engaged the SAN on April 25, 2018, to continue with the recovery on the terms that he was entitled to 10 per cent of any recovery made.
Nacenn said this engagement terminated on May 15, 2018, by the end of which Prof. Akinseye-George made no recovery.
The company said: “Despite the fact that no effort by Prof. Akinseye-George (SAN) yielded any benefit for the company in form of any payment, when in June 2018, after the effective termination of his second engagement the Federal Government paid the sums of N100 million and N150 million, Nacenn Nigeria still magnanimously paid him the sums of N10 million and N15 million respectively, representing 10 per cent of the recovered sums as contained in the earlier terms of the engagement letter.
“Nacenn Nigeria, having paid off Prof. Akinseye-George for his services and given the fact that his engagement had lapsed, formally wrote him on the 10th day of August 2019 terminating his services to the company.”
The petitioner said its former Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, the late Chief N. G. Ezulike had engaged the services of another lawyer, Henry Iheanacho to recover the remaining debt.
The petition read in part: “Unfortunately, the former Chairman/CEO died on the 23rd day of October 2019.
“Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George, SAN, immediately took undue advantage of the death to misrepresent to Mr Afam Ezulike, the son of the former Chairman/CEO, that his engagement to recover the sum of N2 billion was subsisting, and wilfully refused to inform him in actual fact that his contract was terminated on the 10th of August 2019.
“Furthermore, Prof. Akinseye-George also suppressed the fact and refused to disclose to Mr Ezulike that the law firm of Henry Iheanacho & Co. was engaged to take over from him and the said law firm has commenced work based on the terms of its engagement; despite these facts being personally known to Prof. Akinseye-George.”
The firm said shortly after the death of the former Chairman/CEO, Prof. Akinseye-George learnt that the Federal Government made another N500 million payment in November 2019.
“He immediately took advantage of the situation of the death and the fact that the family was in grief and completely unaware of the terms of his earlier engagement and termination and demanded N100 million, being 20 per cent of the N500 million.
“The family of the former Chairman/CEO of Nacenn Nigeria, not being aware of this pre-meditated plan of Prof. Akinseye-George, actually paid him the sum of N100 million, being 20 per cent of N500 million paid to Nacenn Nigeria based on the misrepresentation in his demand letter.”
Nacenn Nigeria said it attached to the petition the statement of account of Prof. Akinseye-George showing that he “collected 20 per cent of N500 million”.
The firm said the SAN, in a letter of November 27, 2019, demanded 20 per cent of the recovered sum for himself only, “even when he knew he had no contract.”
The petitioner further alleged: “He equally demanded additional 7.5 per cent of the recovered sum to be paid to Henry Iheanacho & Co, which clearly confirms that he is aware that Henry Iheanacho & Co was the one with the subsisting contract to recover the balance of the judgment debt and not him.
“The total percentage contained in the demand letter is far above the contemplation and instruction of Nacenn Nigeria to anybody”.
The firm said even if the SAN had any subsisting contract, he would only be entitled to 10 per cent of any sum recovered “and not the 20 per cent he misrepresented and collected.’’
The petitioner added: “In May 2020, long after the termination of the contract and the appointment of the law firm of Henry Iheanacho & Co, the Federal Government made an additional payment of N416,666,666.00 to Nacenn Nigeria Limited.
“Prof. Akinseye-George, on becoming aware of the payment, set in motion a plan to continue collecting money from Nacenn Nigeria by sending a WhatsApp message to Mr Ezulike vide his telephone number demanding 20 per cent of N416, 666,666.00 for himself alone and an additional seven per cent for Henry Iheanacho & Co, which he had earlier demanded 7.5 per cent for as its entitlement.’’
Akinseye-George denies allegations
Denying the allegation, Akinseye-George said to his “utter surprise and dismay,” the company refused to pay him the agreed 10 per cent fee.
Instead, the SAN said he was paid “a paltry sum of N10.4 million being 2.5 per cent of the amount paid the defendant by the Federal Government.”
He said the Ministry of Finance, on June 15, paid the second installment to the company.
The SAN said the company owed him N31,666,666.6 less N10.4 million for the first installment; N41,666,666.67 for the second installment payment and the same sum for the third installmental payment, which he said was due to be paid in July.
The claimant said the first defendant was indebted to him to the tune of N73,333,333.27 up to the time of filing the suit and that he was entitled to a further N41,666,666.67 given the last payment.
Akinseye-George claims “he has suffered great financial inconvenience” due to the refusal to pay the balance of his professional fees, adding that the company is “stopped from denying the efforts and work of the claimant.”
The SAN averred that “even though the letter stated that his contract would automatically terminate on March 30, 2018, a new contract was created by the actions, words and conduct of the first defendant after that date.”
He said he not only continued to render his professional services, but also wrote letters, facilitated meetings, visiting the ministries of justice and finance countless times, and exchanged over 30 messages with the late chairman and other executives.
The SAN said he continued “representing the first defendant according to the terms of the contract engagement”.
The claimant said he would rely on the doctrine of estoppels, adding: “The first defendant cannot deny the existence of a contractual relationship between it and the claimant.”