Why Chief Wole Olanipekun Should Resign As Body Of Benchers Chairman

The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olumide Akpata, has demanded that Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN OFR recuses himself as the Chairman of the Body of Benchers after a petition was brought against one Ms. Adekunbi Ogunde, a Partner in his law firm, for “engaging in conduct incompatible with her status as a legal practitioner and in flagrant disregard of our rules of professional conduct.”

Mr. Akpata raised his concern about a potential conflict of interest in a strongly worded letter to Chief Olanipekun stating that “Against the backdrop of your partnership relationship with Ms.0gunde, vis-a-vis the prosecution of the petition by the LPDC, it is clear, albeit unfortunate, that you have been put in a situation where your continued occupancy of the office during this period would conflict, or be reasonably interpreted to conflict, with or influence the processes of the LPDC, by fair-minded observers and right-thinking members of the public, both within and outside our profession. By reason of your close professional ties and involvement with Ms. Ogunde, it would be an infraction of the salutary principles of natural justice for the said Petition to be heard by the LPDC while you continue as Chairman of the BOB, of which the LPDC is a committee.”

It is common knowledge around Nigeria’s legal circles that the LPDC is supervised by the Body of Benchers which raises a moral question of whether justice can truly be seen to be served if he presides, or in this case, supervises the body that will preside over a matter for which he is an interested party. Perhaps, It is to avoid what could be perceived as a tainted process that Mr. Akpata demanded that Chef Olanipekun “to recuse yourself from the chairmanship of the BOB henceforth and to allow for the emplacement of an interim leader of the BOB, in order to enable the LPDC to carry out this particular assignment, amongst others, without coming under an undue suspicion of impartiality.”

On the 20th of June 2020, Ms. Ogunde Adekunbi, a partner leading the Oil and Gas practice in Wole Olanipekun & Co, sent an email to one Francesco Caio of Saipem offering the services of her firm “in relation to the ongoing $130 million case at the Rivers State High Court, brought by the Rivers State Government against Saipem SPA, Saipem Nigeria and others.”  In the letter to Saipem, Ms. Adekanbi bragged about the competencies of her law firm noting that “I believe you need a more influential lawyer/law firm to prevent a potentially huge payout to the Rivers State Government and without a doubt, I believe that my law firm, Wole Olanipekun & Co, can help in this regard.”

Ms Adekunbi Ogunde – Partner at Wole Olanipekun & Co

She didn’t stop there. Ms. Ogunde went a step further to flaunt Chief Olanipekun’s credentials and influence noting in her email to SAIPEM that “the presence of Chief Olanipekun SAN, OFR, in the matter, will significantly switch things in favour of SAIPEM.” Additionally, she stated that “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.”

As if this wasn’t damning enough, Ms. Ogunde dispels any possible ambiguity while reeling out the accomplishment of her boss by emphasizing the point to SAIPEM that “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.” Worth mentioning is that Ms. Ogunde was quite aware that the “current lawyers” she was referring to were those of Ajumogobia & Okeke who had been retained by SAIPEM on the matter.

Three days after this email was delivered to Francesco Caio of SAIPEM from Ms. Ogunde, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia SAN OFR, addressed a strongly worded email to Chief Olanipekun expressing extreme disappointment and utter disillusionment at the letter from Ms. Ogunde. Ajumogobia further described the letter as tantamount to the gross misconduct of the worst kind. Referring to Rule 39 of the Rules of Professional Conduct which states that “a lawyer shall not engage or be involved in any advertising or promotion of his practice of the law which …..makes comparison with or criticizes other lawyers …..or includes any statement about the quality of the lawyer’s work, the size or success of his practice or his success rate,” Ajumogobia noted that “a letter of this nature should emanate from your chambers, given your stature at the bar generally and as the current Chairman of the body of benchers, in particular.”

After also addressing what he described as several defamatory imputations concerning himself and his firm, Ajumogobia demanded: “within 7 days of the date of this letter, a written apology to the firm of Ajumogobia & Okeke from Wole Olanipekun & Co, for this most deplorable conduct of Adekumbi Ogunde and your firm.” Additionally, Ajumogobia demanded “that Wole Olanipekun & Co sends a letter to Saipem the top management to retract your said letter. The retraction and a copy of the apology to my firm must be copied to the top management of Saipem SA and the same recipients as the original email, namely Caio Francesco.”

Henry Odein Ajumogobia SAN

Responding to Ajumogobia’s letter, James Adesulu and Quam Owolabi, both Associate Counsel at Wole Olanipekun & Co., signed a Disclaimer that essentially threw Ms. Adekanbi under a moving vehicle. The letter read in part; thus, “first, let it be known without equivocation that the said letter was written without the instruction, authority, mandate, approval, or consent of Wole Olanipekun & Co. It was also not brought to our attention by the writer.  It has also not been the practice of our law firm to solicit for cases or clientele and we shall never indulge ourselves in such disturbing practice.” Wole Olanipekun & Co also noted that “the practice in our law firm is that before any letter goes out, it must be cleared in-house and jointly attested to or signed by two counsels. In effect, the writer of the letter under reference was on her own.”

Although Wole Olanipekun & Co dissociated themselves from the letter under reference, the firm extended an apology to Ajumogobia & Okeke noting that “our principal values and covets the very cordial, professional and friendly relationship between both of you – a relationship that has stood the time for over three decades.” Chief Olanipekun has also in a recent statement obtained by The Nigerian Lawyer, claimed that he is yet to be served a copy of Akpats’s letter and that “it appeared there was an ulterior motive behind the action of the NBA president.

Recall that in February this year, Mr. Lucius Nwosu SAN had petitioned the Nigerian Bar Association to restrain Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN from bidding for the chairmanship of the Body of Benchers. In a letter dated February 17, 2022, Mr. Nwosu accused Chief Olanipekun of “engaging in unprofessional conduct contrary to section 3 of the Legal Practitioners Act Cap L 11, which provides that a BOB member should be of the highest distinction in the legal profession.” Mr. Nwosu in his letter to the NBA further referenced the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court condemning Chief Olanipekun “wherein Amina Augie, justice of the court, while delivering judgment in the case of “Biobarakuma Degi Eremienyo & Ors Vs. Peoples Democratic Party & Ors”, berated Olanipekun for seeking a review of the court’s judgment on the Bayelsa state governorship election.”

Additionally, Mr. Nwosu pointed out that “there is no parallel in recorded judicial history in this country where a senior lawyer is mulcted with humongous costs of N30,000,000 and ordered to be paid personally by himself,” also noting that “he (Chief Olanipekun) has defiantly refused to pay the costs awarded by the supreme court as at my last inquiry, not that it would have made a difference if he had paid same.”

Olumide Akpata SAN – President Nigerian Bar Association

Reacting to the petition and possible prosecution by the NBA President, a respected lawyer and Senior Advocate, Mr. Yomi Aliyu stated that “President Akpata, una do well ooooo! Yoruba lawyers shall be there in full force to defend our leader and Primus inter Peres! No Yoruba son shall ever be made a sacrificial lamb like it was done to Kunle Kalejaiye SAN!  Call it what you like! Tribalism! Yes! What an insult! We are Yorubas before we are Nigerians!”

It is important to point out that the said Kunle kalejaiye SAN was in 2015 stripped of the SAN rank by the Legal Practitioners and Disciplinary Committee following allegations that he exchanged text messages with an election tribunal judge, Thomas Naron, during the election litigation between former Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola and Rauf Aregbesola.

Mr. Aliyu’s comments are highly unprofessional and embarrassing, another senior lawyer who spoke to the Avalon Daily anonymously. Deeply shocked and embarrassed by Mr. Aliyu’s tribal comments, the lawyer, also a Yoruba man asked, “did I sign up to become a member of the Nigerian bar or the Yoruba bar?”

Commenting on the NBA’s petition in a brief interview with the Avalon Daily, Mr. Yemi Candide-Johnson SAN who is a former President of the Lagos Court of Arbitrators stated that “Wole Olanipekun is a leading Nigerian lawyer and recognized by many important offices as a leader of the profession. It is of the utmost importance that such an individual always conducts himself and regulates his practice in a manner that is exemplary.

Any implication that he acts below optimum standards makes his position, especially as chairman of an important professional organ untenable. In the face of public allegations of egregious professional misconduct, I would expect him to defend the profession first before himself and accordingly to resign from the office that leads the profession. It’s a matter of responsibility and of honour.

The appearance of corruption by itself is deeply damaging. My own view generally is that nobody is above the law and the bane of our profession to this time has been that the most senior are often the most badly behaved. It is intolerable and unsustainable. The law and its due and proper administration is more important than any individual.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ayodele is a Senior Editor at The Avalon Daily. He is the host of Beyond The News, a news analysis show on the Avalon Radio.

Join the discussion

1 comment
  • If the matter has been referred to the Body of Benchers the Chairman should automatically excuse himself from the hearing of the matter.

Further reading

Subscribe