NBA Crisis Over Saipem Escalates: I’m angry, says Olanipekun
Legal luminary and Chairman of Body of Benchers (BoB), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), has said that he was angry with the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
Olanipekun, in a chat with Sunday Vanguard, said he would not understand why the President of the NBA, Mr Olumide Akpata, would write him a letter requesting him to step down as Chairman of BoB and circulate same document on social media without serving him a copy more than 24 hours after same had been released to the public.
BOB is a professional body concerned with the admission of prospective students into the Nigerian Law School, NLS. Members of the body are called Benchers.
The body also regulates the call of graduates of the NLS to the Nigerian Bar as well as the regulation of the legal profession in
Olanipekun, a one-time President of the NBA, said it appeared there was an ulterior motive behind the action of the NBA President.
“As we talk, I am yet to get a copy of the letter. People have been calling me but I can’t react to a document that I have not seen”, he stressed.
The letter by Akpata had asked Olanipekun to step down as the BoB Chairman over an allegation of misconduct which affected a female lawyer, Ms. Adekunbi Ogunde, a partner at Wole Olanipekun & Co. Chambers.
Sunday Vanguard reports that Ogunde had sent an email to Saipem Contracting Nigeria Ltd soliciting 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 told the management to consider hiring Olanipekun & Co.
The partner informed the 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,”she wrote.
“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 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.”
In a protest letter, Ajumogobia declared that the action was a breach of mandatory rule, especially the acknowledgement that Saipem had a counsel.
Meanwhile, Ogunde and Olanipekun have apologized to Ajumogobia.
On June 24, Olanipekun in a rejoinder stressed that no one authorized the email by Ogunde.
After the exchanges between the two chambers of Olanipekun and Odein Ajumogobia, a petition sprang.
In the petition with registration number, BB/LPDC/901/2022 to the LPDC, John Aikpokpo-Martins, NBA vice president, said the issue brought shame to the justice system and legal profession.
The petition wants to know whether Wole Olanipekun & Co. “are not liable to be disciplined…seeing that the respondent has the ostensible authority to act as a partner, and indeed acted for and on behalf of the said firm”.
While plans were in the pipeline to commence the trial of Ms Ogunde, the NBA President fired a letter to Olanipekun wanting him to step down as BoB Chairman.
Although the letter has been trending on social media for more than 24 hours, Olanipekun said he was yet to be served.
Akpata, in the letter, informed the embattled senior advocate that the NBA had taken the matter to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC).
The LPDC is a panel under the BoB which Olanipekun, a former NBA President, heads.
Akpata said Olanipekun was in a situation where his continued occupancy of the office would conflict with or influence LPDC processes.
I'm angry too sir, but with you.
In my humble opinion, this issue should not even have gotten to this stage if you had done the right thing. In saner societies, you would have dropped your letter of resignation as Chair of the BoB less than 24 hours after the scandal broke.
The issue here is not whether the public got to read the NBA President's letter to you first but whether what happened is just, fair and right. To me, IT IS NOT. It is dirty, scandalous, opprobrious and disreputable.
I think there is no point scape-goating Ms Ogunde as a sacrificial lamb; (of course, she should face her misconduct trial for her indiscretion and misguided "exuberance"). But something tells me that all she said in that letter to SAIPEM are what she knows you are able to do (or have been doing, if I am that bold to say so). I am absolutely persuaded that Ogunde wouldn't have flaunted your capacity to "sway" judges and judgments if she hadn't seen you doing so in the past or in some past cases. It is therefore no use denying her at this stage. To me, she boasted about what she knew.
I think the most appropriate course of action for you sir, is to resign your Chairmanship of the Body of Benchers, NOW, to save the NBA these needless negative media attention. For I fail to see how you will not be involved in the prosecution of Ms Ogunde by the LPDC, whether as a party or a witness to say what you know about the matter. And what will a reasonable man, properly informed of the facts of this case, conclude, seeing you as a litigant against the same body whose highest office you lead?
Lastly, I think the headline itself is misleading. THERE IS NO CRISIS IN NBA. What we have is just intransigence, indiscretion and insensitivity on the part of some elders of the Association. We all accuse our politicians of the sit-tight syndrome. But here we see it at work right in a professional body that is supposed to be a watch-dog on behalf of the society.
Please resign now sir.
Manuel Akinshola Esq.