December 5, 2022

Body Of Benchers: NBA tackles Olanipekun, insists he must resign

….wants Justice Odili to take over

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, has again, demanded the immediate resignation of the Chairman of the Body of Benchers (BoB), Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, following a claim by a leading partner in his chamber, Ms. Adekunbi Ogunde, that he influenced judges to deliver favourable judgements for his clients, in sensitive and highly-political cases.

The NBA, through its President, Mr. Y. C. Maikyau, SAN, maintained that Olanipekun, SAN, should recuse himself and allow the Vice Chairman of the Body, retired Justice Mary Odili to preside over the forthcoming Call to Bar Ceremony, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

It said the move would salvage the image, reputation and integrity of the BoB and the legal profession.

The BoB oversees the call of graduates of law school to the Nigerian Bar, as well as the regulation of the legal profession in Nigeria

Members of the body are called Benchers.

The NBA, which is the umbrella body of legal practitioners in the country, noted that Olanipekun’s partner, 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, was already defending the company, however, Ogunde, allegedly told the management to consider hiring Olanipekun & Co to take over the case.

According to the NBA, in the email, Ogunde, claimed that her principal, Olanipekun, SAN, has more “influence” with judges across all courts.

According to the NBA, Ogunde’s email, read: “I believe that, you need a more influential lawyer/law firm to prevent a potential huge pay out to the Rivers State Government and without a doubt, I believe that my law firm, Wole Olanipekun & Co., can help in this regard.

“A quick research about Wole Olanipekun & Co., will show that the law firm is the leading litigation firm that has helped other multinationals in sensitive, highly political matters.

“It will also reveal that the presence of our lead partner, Chief Olanipekun SAN, OFR, in the matter will significantly switch things in favour of SAIPEM.

“Chief Olanipekun SAN, OFR is currently the Chairman of the Body of Benchers, which is the highest ruling body in the Nigerian legal profession, made up of Supreme Court Judges, Presiding Justices of the Court of Appeal and Chief Judges of all State High Courts, including the Rivers State High Court. In order words, Chief Olanipekun SAN, OFR, is the head of the entire legal profession in Nigeria.

“Wole Olanipekun & Co. has also helped other multinationals, such as in the famous cases of MTN tax dispute, Shell Petroleum, Equinor (former Statoil) dispute etc. avoid huge pay outs in more complex, sensitive and highly-political matters.

“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.

“I hope that you consider this so as to help SAIPEM avoid a huge pay out in claims and I am happy to set up a meeting to discuss further”.

In its fresh 24-paragraphed petition dated December 4, the NBA, insisted that Ogunde’s email was not only “condemnable”, but also painted the entire legal profession in Nigeria as one that is susceptible to manipulation.

It said: “There is no gain-saying that this email has brutally hurt the legal profession; it made a caricature of the Nigerian Court system and brought the entire legal profession to abject disrepute. It is disgusting! That this lie was told and allowed to be fed to Nigerians is the greatest assault on our collective psyche.

“Why then do we go to Court if this was true? Of course, this is not who we are, but we would appear to celebrate the content of the email by our silence and the insistence by the Chairman to continue to preside over the affairs of this Body without any remorse whatsoever over the embarrassment which the entire legal profession is subjected to on account of the content of that email.

“What is even more worrisome is the fact that, this Body did not in any way react to the email to demonstrate to Nigerians, that what was said of the Body and the entire profession was false and that the legal profession cannot be manipulated by the Chairman, or any other individual or group of persons”.

“Many Nigerians are disillusioned with our justice system. They believe that justice is for sale. That we can buy justice. And they have reason to believe this. They have seen the strange judgements in the courts, whether they be on election cases or commercial cases, which do not stand the test of fairness or the test of legal reasoning.

“Nigerians have heard of legal retainers being obtained through bribes. They have heard of contract laws used to extort money from the government.

“They have heard of lawyers who compromise their own clients for money. (This is not common but it does not have to be common to be something that needs to be addressed.

“Nigerians are disillusioned because they know of senior members of the legal profession who act in unbefitting ways, and who do not voluntarily recuse themselves when they should”.

Maikyau, SAN, while adopting a previous petition by immediate predecessor, Mr. Olumide Akpata, dated July 22, urged Olanipekun, SAN, to step aside for the Vice Chairman of this Body, Justice Odili, rtd.