It is no longer news that Mr. Kunle Ogunba was stripped off his privilege of SAN. What is really news is the fact that the petition on the basis of which the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) withdrew the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) from Mr. Kunle Ogunba was also sent to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) the same day, and the two bodies came back with conflicting verdict.
How it Happened:
According to a story on The Nation online, Honeywell Group sent the petition to LPPC chairman and NBA President on April 7, 2016, but did not indicate on the body of the petition to LPPC that it sent a copy to the NBA. It also did not indicate on the petition to NBA that a copy was sent to the LPPC.
Ogunba had drawn LPPC’s attention to the fact that Honeywell sent the same petition to the NBA “word for word”. Investigations by our correspondent reveals that in his response to LPPC, Ogunba had said: “It is my fervent belief that it is against the constitutionally established rule against ‘double jeopardy’ for me to be subjected, for the second time, to respond to the same petition though differently addressed.”
He noted that the petition was signed by an “authorised signatory” that was not named, even as the letter-headed paper had no list of a board of directors. Ogunba argued that the petition amounted to an originating process, and was “grossly defective” for not being properly endorsed as required by law.
He told the LPPC that the petition was sub-judice as most of the cases complained about were on appeal, including at the Supreme Court. Besides, he said Honeywell’s suit before Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Lagos, was “a bid to perpetually tie the hands” of his client, Ecobank Nigeria Ltd.
He told the LPPC that his client’s decision to file several actions against individual companies within Honeywell Group was supported by judicial authorities, adding that the suits did not have the same parties and therefore did not amount to an abuse as alleged.
“The suits have to be separate because winding up petition is ad-hominem to each individual company and can thus not be lumped together by a collective action,” Ogunba told LPPC.
Ogunba also told the LPPC that considering the fact that the Constitution allows litigants to approach the court to ventilate their grievances, what constitutes an abuse is “infinite”.
He drew the LPPC’s attention to the case by Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) against Capital Oil and Gas Industries, which Justice Idris dismissed because of other pending suits on the same matter, numbered FHC/ABJ/CS/514/15, FHC/ABJ/CS/430/2015, FHC/ABJ/CS/514/2015 and FHC/ABJ/CS/1529/2015.
Justice Idris held that the suit was “aimed at substantially over-reaching and pre-empting” the other pending suits, adding that “it was not in the interest of justice” for the petition before him “to stand.”
Ogunba told the LPPC: “The counsel to the petitioner in the petition that was struck out is our esteemed A.B. Mahmoud SAN, with A. Sadauki and I. Abdullahi.
“Should we, therefore, set a template that every lawyer found in this unsavoury scenario should be sanctioned?”
Honeywell had alleged that Ecobank through Ogunba embarked “on a forum shopping spree and instituted six bankruptcy proceedings before three judges of the same court”.
However, the NBA in its August 5, 2016 response to Honeywell’s petition, said it would not refer Ogunba to its Disciplinary Committee.
Dismissing the petition, NBA said: “We are satisfied the cases referred to as well as the court processes attached by your good selves failed to show the existence of a case involving same parties in respect of same facts and seeking same reliefs.
“A careful examination of the court processes filed by parties at the various suits indicates differences in either parties or reliefs sought, which defeats your (Honeywell’s) allegation of abuse of court process.”
Unfortunately, the decision of the NBA may have become inconsequential in the light of the verdict already passed by the Privileges Committee.
The gods are wise!