Olanipekun presides over Body of Benchers’ meeting despite NBA President’s petition

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The Body of Benchers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN is treading a path many in the legal profession fear may destroy the integrity of the profession in Nigeria.

According to a Source at Tuesday’s meeting, the Body of Benchers carried on with its meeting ignoring the advice of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olumide Akpata, that its Chairman, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, step down pending the hearing of a petition against a Partner in the law firm of Wole Olanipekun & Co., Adekumbi Ogunde.

Ms. Ogunde had in June written a letter to Caio Francesco of Saipem SpA, clients to the law firm of Ajumogobia & Okeke, to woo the client, promising Saipem SpA that Chief Olanipekun SAN would use his position as Chairman of Body of Benchers to Influence all Nigerian judges to give the expatriate oil company a favourable judgment in the case involving Rivers State Government vs Saipem SPA, Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited and Ors.

Adekumbi Ogunde’s action elicited condemnations from members of the legal profession who described it as violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct prohibiting self-advertising and solicitation by Nigerian legal practitioners.

Consequently, the NBA on 19 July 2022 filed a petition with the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) against Ms. Ogunde for engaging in conduct incompatible with her status as a legal practitioner and in flagrant disregard of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

In a letter to Chief Wole Olanipekun as Chairman of Body of Benchers, dated July 22, 2022 and titled “RE: PETITION AGAINST MS. ADEKUNBI OGUNDE BY THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION FOR ALLEGED PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT”, the NBA President drew the attention of the Learned Silk to the said petition against Ms. Ogunde, a Partner at the law firm of Wole Olanipekun & Co. “where you are a Founding Partner and remain involved in the day-to-day running of the firm”.

Akpata said given the “undeniable shared and intertwined professional relationship between” Chief Olanipekun and Ms. Ogunde, and given that “the LPDC is a Standing Committee of the BOB whose processes come under the supervision of the Chairman of the BOB – an office which you currently occupy”, it would be against natural justice for Chief Olanipekun to continue to sit a Chairman of the Body of Benchers while the petition against Ms. Ogunde was being heard.

“Against the backdrop of your partnership relationship with Ms. Ogunde, 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,” Akpata said in the letter.

“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,” he said.

Akpata, therefore, requested Chief Olanipekun to recuse himself from “chairmanship of the BOB henceforth and to allow for the emplacement of an interim leadership of the BOB in order to enable the LPDC carry out this particular assignment, amongst others, without coming under an undue suspicion of impartiality”.

“As a beacon of Rule of Law and due process, the NBA must continue to demonstrate that it is committed to the vision of its founding fathers, especially in its internal affairs,” Akpata said.

“This situation, therefore, puts our foundational ethos as an Association on the line, and I trust that as a former President of the NBA and a very respected senior member of the Bar, you will take the honourable path of stepping-aside in the interest of justice, fairness, and posterity,” he said.

Ignoring the NBA President’s counsel, however, the Body of Benchers had gone on with its meeting on 26th July, 2022, which was in furtherance of its traditional preparations for the Call to Bar ceremonies scheduled for Wednesday, among other issues around national security, particularly as it affects the legal profession.

NBA President’s letter on Olanipekun, it was gathered, was completely overlooked as it did not even come up for discussion.

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