…Lawyer demands N115m legal fees, denies allegation
By Nnamdi Ojiego
A company, Nacenn Nigeria Limited, has explained why it dragged Prof Yemi Akinseye-George, SAN, before the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN/Chairman of Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, LPPC, and the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA.
In a petition, the firm is alleging “professional misconduct, misrepresentation, and suppression of material facts.”
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 N115million 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).
Nacenn Nigeria said it engaged Prof. Akinseye-George by a letter dated February 28, 2018, to assist it to recover N2billion judgment-debts from the Federal Government.
The firm said it was agreed that his professional fees will 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 is 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 N100million and N150million, Nacenn Nigeria still magnanimously paid him the sums of N10million and N15million 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 reads 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 N2billion was subsisting, and willfully 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 N500million 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 fraudulently demanded the sum of N100million, being 20 per cent of the N500million.
Nacenn Nigeria said it attached to the petition the statement of account of Prof. Akinseye-George showing that he “collected 20 per cent of N500million”.
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 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 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 to Nacenn Nigeria Limited in the sum of N416,666,666.00.
According to the petitioner, the SAN wrote a letter on May 29, 2020, nine months after his final disengagement, “where he somersaulted to demand 10 per cent of the recovered sum relying on the letter of engagement dated 28th February 2018 as opposed to the 20 per cent which he demanded and was paid.”
The firm claimed Prof Akinseye-George served it a bill of charges the same day re-emphasising his entitlement as 10 per cent and continued to monitor payments made to it “to make spurious demands”
“It is, inter-alia, on the basis of this that Nacenn Nigeria denies being indebted to Prof. Akinseye-George in respect to the bill of charges served on it.
“It is pertinent to state here that as at 10th of August 2019 when Nacenn Nigeria finally terminated the contract of engagement of Prof. Akinseye-George, it was not indebted to him and it is wrong and fraudulent for him to demand payment for a work done by another person duly engaged after his formal disengagement.
“The petitioner is prepared to appear and defend this petition whenever called upon by any organ or panel that may be constituted to handle this petition.”
However, Akinseye-George, in his suit, is demanding N115million from Nacenn Nigeria for services rendered in recovering the debt.
The SAN said he was engaged due to his expertise as a professor of law and experience in mediating between the government and the private sector, having also worked as a special assistant to three different Attorneys-General of the Federation.
He said the late Chief Ezulike asked him to do all within his powers to recover three judgment-debts worth about N2bilion and was engaged via a February 28, 2018 letter.
He said he briefed his client about the developments at the expiration of the time given him.
He said he was asked “to continue to carry out the assignment”, with the assurance that the promised 10 per cent would be paid on the recovery of the debt.
The SAN said he succeeded in recovering the funds.
Meanwhile, Professor Akinseye-George has said he sued his former client, Nacenn Nigeria Ltd, -because its new management reviewed his fee unilaterally.
He spoke on December 8, 020 while testifying before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Apo, as the first plaintiff’s witness (PW1) at the resumption of trial in the suit, marked:HC/CV/2055/2020, he field against Nacenn and in which he is claiming N115million as outstanding fees.