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•809 intending lawyers fail final exams; 1,490 called to Nigerian Bar

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, ABUJA

The Chairman of the Nigerian Body of Benchers, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, said yesterday that the body does not in any way, interfere with proceedings before the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, LPDC.

He said the LPDC, which is an organ of the Body of Benchers, BOB, that is saddled with the responsibility of disciplining any legal practitioner accused of engaging in an unprofessional conduct, had over the years operated as an independent arbiter.

“Over the years, the LPDC has continued to operate as an independent arbiter, enjoying absolute independence in the course of carrying out its assignment.

“The Body of Benchers does not and will not interfere with any of the proceedings or outcome of such proceedings before the LPDC,” he stated.

Olanipekun, who doubles as Chairman of the LPDC, spoke at the swearing in ceremony of 1, 490 new lawyers who were successful in the May 2022 Bar Final Examinations of the Nigerian Law School.

The senior lawyer, however, warned that the LPDC would not serve as an avenue “for dealing with perceived enemies or ventilation of grievances against fellow lawyers on personal issues.

“The decision of the LPDC is known as Direction, and any appeal against the Direction goes directly to the Supreme Court.”

Olanipekun’s speech at the event may not be unconnected with a recent demand by the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, on him to step aside as Chairman of the Body of Benchers, following a petition that was lodged against a lawyer in his chamber, Ms. Adekunbi Ogunde, before the LPDC.

Sequel to the petition, the NBA, in a letter dated July 22, which was signed by its President, Mr. Olumide Akpata, asked him to resign from his position.

Akpata argued that Olanipekun’s continued stay in the position would conflict with or influence LPDC processes.

“I am constrained to invite you to recuse yourself from the chairmanship of the BOB and to emplace an interim leadership”, the NBA President stated.

According to him, Olanipekun’s resignation would allow the LPDC to carry out its investigation of Ms. Ogunde, without coming under the suspicion of impartiality.

“I am pained that I have to make this call, but in this circumstance, it is in the best interest of our Association and of the legal profession in Nigeria ”, Akpata added.

Specifically, Ogunde, was accused of engaging in “conduct incompatible with her status and in flagrant disregard of rules of professional conduct”.

It was alleged that Ogunde sent an email to Saipem Contracting Nigeria Ltd to solicit for a brief, after the Rivers state government preferred charges against the company over allegations of $130million fraud.

Though the firm of Henry Ajumogobia, SAN, is defending Saipem, Ogunde, allegedly told the management to consider hiring Olanipekun & Co.

It was alleged that she informed CEO Francesco Caio that Olanipekun has more “influence” with judges across all courts.

“We are aware that another law firm is currently in the matter but you will agree that highly-sensitive and political matters require more influence.

“We are happy to work with the current lawyers to achieve the desired results. Chief Olanipekun SAN, OFR, will significantly switch things in favour of SAIPEM.”

Ogunde allegedly included that Olanipekun chairs the BOB comprising “supreme court judges, presiding justices of the court of appeal and chief judges of all state high courts, including the Rivers state high court.”

However, in a protest letter, Ajumogobia, SAN, declared that the action was a breach of mandatory rule, especially the acknowledgement that Saipem had a counsel.

Ogunde had since apologized to Ajumogobia, even as her principal, Olanipekun, SAN, also distanced himself from her letter which he said caused his chamber “a lot of embarrassment as well.”

Meanwhile, the Director-General of the Nigerian Law School, Prof. Isa Hayatu Chiroma, SAN, said yesterday that of the 2, 299 intending lawyers that sat for the Bar Final Examinations, 809 of them failed.

Prof. Chiroma, who disclosed this at the call to Bar Ceremony of 1, 490 candidates that were successful in the exams, described the performance as good, saying it translated to 65.42% success rate.

“I wish to assure all of you that we shall remain the gate keepers of our noble profession.  As teachers and administrators, we will continue to uphold the standard and integrity of the Bar,” he added.

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