NBA’s Letter to Olanipekun; An Independent, Fair-Minded Investigation, Devoid of “Pull-Him-Down Syndrome” and “Sacred-Cow Mentality”, is in the Best Interest of All


(Sylvester Udemezue’s reply to Respected Learned Silk Aik Malik)

Memory Verse:

Did anyone see this news item in February 2022? “BREAKING NEWS: LPDC Chairman Resigns, Accuses BOB Of Undue Interference” or “BREAKING NEWS: LPDC chairman Resigns, accuses BOB of Undue Interference”. The report had it, that “Life Bencher Mr. Emmanuel C. Ukala SAN has resigned his appointment as Chairman of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) citing lack of discipline and undue interference by the Body of Benchers (BOB) in the activities of the committee”. The learned silk then cited “the singular decision by the BOB Chairman Honourable Justice Bode Rhode’s — Vivour to rule against the overwhelming views of the majority in favour of the minority portends grave danger to the maintenance of discipline in the Legal Profession”, stressing that “that the independence of the Disciplinary Committee, (LPDC) is of paramount importance in the scheme of things for maintenance of true discipline in the profession”. (see: DNL Legal And Style or BarristerNG of 22 February 2022)

I’ve read all documents and letters in respect of the Learned Silk Olanipekun matter. I am concluding a learned paper on this unprecedented scenario. However, having just read very respected learned silk Aik Malik’s reaction to NBA’s letter to Chief Olanipekun SAN, I feel obliged to drop a brief comment in reaction to the learned silk’s stance. Excerpts from Mr Malik’s comments: “…. I totally disagree with the NBA President on the contents of this letter to the BoB Chairman….the President is merely playing to the gallery… the issue at stake is so remotely or proximately unconnected with the role or status of Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN as BoB Chair…the BoB does not control the LPDC, beyond appointing its members. The Committee does not take instructions or directive from the BoB and decisions/Directions issued or handed down by the LPDC are not subject to any review by the BOB. Although a Committee of the BoB, the LPDC performs, strictly, quasi-judicial function which is only subject to a review by the Supreme Court…. thy the case of the Partner in the law offices of Wole Olanipekun & Co is only just one isolated case, amongst the many cases that the LPDC sits over. I fail to see how this solitary case, alone, all, all alone, can ground a call for a complete, total and outright recusal or resignation from BoB chairmanship position, as advised by the NBA President in the letter under reference? … .”

Dear Learned silk sir, I think (with respect) many grounds exist upon which this your comment could be faulted. The issues at stake go far beyond how simple you try unsuccessfully to make it look like. Besides, sir, I think a fair-minded investigation into this matter is in the very best interest of my respected oga, Chief Olanipekun SAN, considering that all facts are already in the public domain, and the scenario has created too many wrong impressions about him, which need to be cleared through an independent investigation, geared towards restoring the public confidence in his status as an icon and a leading light for upcoming generations of lawyers in Nigeria. Yes, Chief Olanipekun SAN is a colossus in the law profession in Nigeria. Unfortunately, Ms Adekunbi Ogunde (a partner in the Chief’s law firm) has linked Chief to this scenario. Besides, Mr Odein Ajumogobia SAN says that a few weeks before Ms Ogunde’s letter, Chief Olanipekun SAN had asked him (Ajumogobia) about the same matter. It’s similar to the story we were told, that a witch cries in the bush in the night, and a baby dies in the morning, in the neighborhood. Odein Ajumogobia SAN wrote: “That I and my firm of Ajumogobia & Okeke were retained in the matter, was a matter of public record and was personally known to you and your firm, since you had asked me about the matter during our Unilag Law Faculty Alumni dinner at Harbour point in February”. Although Oga Olanipekun SAN’s firm has denied authorizing the letter, it’s reasonable to think that an urgent, independent investigation is necessary. It would have been otherwise if the chief’s name was not linked by Ms Adekunbi Ogunde whose conduct and letter have left brought unprecedented shame, odium and opprobrium upon the Bar, the Bench and justice delivery system in Nigeria.

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Anyone who has read Ms Ogunde’s and Mr. Ajumogobia’s letters sould not have any reasons to talk about “remotely or proximately unconnected”. A Partner in the Law Firm Of CHIEF OLANIPEKUN SAN, wrote a letter, which is considered a breach of the RPC and the LPA. Ordinarily, it would have been an affair of the lady (letter writer) alone. However, and this is unfortunate, the contents of the letter take us away, and far beyond the lady. The lady had gone on in the letter, to give the following grave, shocking impressions, among others, not just about Chief Olanipekun SAN but about the legal profession in general:
(1) That the Principal partner in the Law Firm in his capacity as the BOB Chairman, is the head of the Legal Profession in Nigeria, and as such has control, and influence, over all judges in Nigeria. Says Ms Ogunde: “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”.

(2) That as the BOB Chairman (Chief Olanipekun SAN) can use his influence to sway judgements of courts against or in favour of any party, depending on who hires him;

(3) That Chief Olanipekun SAN who is her partner, has been using his influence (as the BOB Chairman) to get favourable judgements for litigants in high-profile cases in Nigeria. Ms Ogunde then cited instances in which she says (very unfortunately) that Chief Olanipekun SAN has used his influence as the BOB Chairman, to sway court judgments in High-Profile cases in Nigeria. Says she: “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”.

(4). That Law Practice in Nigeria, especially victory in court cases, is all about who you know. That Nigerian Judges are easy to be influenced one way or another, depending on the lawyer you hire. In other words, Nigerian judges are tools in the hands of the BOB Chairman who has the influence to toss the judges around as he likes

(5). That if SAIPEM hires the firm, the principal partner (Chief Olanipekun SAN, who happens to be the BOB Chairman) would do for SAIPEM, as he has been doing for the others. According to Ms Ogunde, Chief Olanipekun SAN has control over even the Chief Judge of Rivers State where the case involving SAIPEM, then was pending.

Dear learned silk sir, LPDC may not (as you suggested) be directly controlled by the BOB. But do you agree that LPDC Members are appointed by the BOB? Do you agree also that the LPDC is an arm of the BOB?
What do you say about the reasons cited by Mr Ukala, SAN, for resigning his membership of the LPDC? Does Mr Ukala’s letter/actions not raise reasonable suspicion that the BOB (especially the BOB Chairman) has the capacity to influence the LPDC? What does this say about application of the rules relating to likelihood of bias to this case? Memo Judex in Causa Sua, especially in this instance where the BOB Chairman himself is in the eye of the storm, being at the very centre of the entire unfortunate controversy? What does this say

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I agree with you that a Law Firm cannot be prosecuted or punished for for professional misconduct. But, don’t you agree with me, that individual Partners in a Law Firm may be linked to a particular case of alleged professional misconduct on the part of one of their partners, to the extent that those other partners may even be found equally culpable as the principal offender, if those other partners are found to have colluded with the principal offender, or to have authorized the principal offender’s act constituting a misconduct? Are you not aware that the contents of the letter by Ms Ogunde gave so much negative impressions about alleged professional conduct of Chief Olanipekun who happens to be the BOB Chairman? Do you not agree that the letter gave the impression that its contents were actually authorized by Chief Olanipekun’s Firm? What if this is true? And what if the imputations made by Olanipekun’s partner happen to be true about Olanipekun, SAN? Although the Law Firm has denied prior authorization of the letter, yet only an independent investigation would reveal the truth, and confirm or disprove the law Firm’s claims. Thus, it’s not reasonable to accept as conclusive, the Law Firm’s denials and disclaimer on the matter, especially considering the impression already created in the minds of the public about our justice delivery system and the legal profession in general?
How then does your view on not “remotely unconnected” add up in the face of all the above?

Is there no need for a fair-minded, comprehensive and thorough investigation into this scenario in the best interest of Chief Olanipekun SAN, the profession, and its image apparently soiled in the mud in the eyes of the watching public?

Now, considering that the actions of Ms Adekunbi Ogunde allegedly constituting a professional misconduct appears to revolve around Chief Olanipekun, SAN, who happens to be the Chairman of the BOB, do you think a thorough, fair-minded investigation of this scenario can be conducted with Chief Olanipekun SAN sitting as the BOB Chairman, especially in view of the fact that BOB is the principal disciplinary organ in the law Profession in Nigeria? Dear respected learned silk sir, do you not think that the imputation by Ms Ogunde, that Chief Olanipekun SAN “is the head of the legal profession” and “has influence over all judges in Nigeria”, has raised a reasonable suspicion in the minds of fair-minded observers, that Chief Olanipekun SAN’s influence extends to members of both the BOB and LPDC? If, as Ms Ogunde claimed (falsely or rightly), Chief has capacity and influence to sway judgments of Courts of law (over which he has NO direct control or supervision), what’s the LPDC that he can’t influence, especially considering that LPDC is under his direct supervision?

In view of the above, would it be reasonably fair and just for Chief Olanipekun SAN to remain sitting as the BOB CHAIRMAN even while investigations are ongoing, into a letter that raises to many questions (rightly or falsely) about his integrity as a lawyer in Nigeria?
It is unfortunate for anyone to think that this scenario is not remotely and proximately connected to Chief Olanipekun SAN; it’s shocking to hear any lawyer make such suggestions. On the contrary, may I humbly suggest that to appreciate whether or not it connects Chief Olanipekun SAN, one should just take Ms Adekunbi Ogunde’s letter and read it all over again! Although the Chief’s Law Firm has denied all allegations and imputation, I see no way this matter could be resolved with finality and to the satisfaction of the reasonable segment of the general public, (that justice has been done and seen to be done) if any investigation goes on with Chief Olanipekun SAN sitting as the BOB Chairman.

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Regarding likelihood of interference, Lord Denning, MR, in R. v. Amber Valley DC, ex parte Jackson [1985] 1 WLR 298, [1984] 3 All ER 50, gave an insight into the determining factor, as follows: “’The court looks at the impression which would be given to other people. Even if he was as impartial as could be, nevertheless if right-minded persons would think that, in the circumstances, there was a real likelihood of bias on his part, then he should not sit. and if he does sit, his decision cannot stand’. It is irrelevant whether he was in fact biased, because ‘justice is rooted in [public] confidence’”.

See also the following cases: (1) R. v. Bow Street Magistrate ex parte Pinochet (No. 2) [2000] 1 AC 119 , [1999] 1 All ER 577 and (2) R. v. Secretary of State ex parte Kirkstall [1996] 3 All ER 304 . In the Nigerian case of ZAMAN v. STATE (2015) LPELR-24595 (CA) the Court of Appeal took time to explain the rationale for the wide application of the Nemo Judex rule. The court stated: “…. One important object, at all events, is to clear away everything which might engender suspicion and distrust…, and so to promote the feeling of confidence in the administration of justice which is so essential to social order and security”.

Finally, about this particular (Olanipekun) scenario, a certain disappointed, disenchanted young lawyer had this to say on the social media, “…Young Lawyers … don’t believe [that] these things are taken seriously. With every passing day, young lawyers are being given reasons to lose faith in the profession. We’re being given reasons to jump ship”. There are hundreds of such and similar comments of disillusionment, on the social media, following news of this scenario. Dear Sir, don’t you think that only a comprehensive, independence investigation and necessary actions accordingly, will restore their belief in the profession.

By way of conclusion, may I respectfully reiterate that we should not allow any form of ethnic, parochial, myopic and clannish interests or factors to guide or interfere with our actions and utterances on this very sensitive matter. Let’s ensure we are always guided by the best interest of the law profession and the need to do justice in fairness to all, without any form of witch-hunt, victimization and persecution. In handling or commenting on this matter, we must avoid two ugly, childish and crude attitudes:
(1). The Pull-Him-Down Syndrome; and
(2).The Sacred-Cow Mentality.
Both or either is too dangerous, and doesn’t augur well for the future of this profession.
Long live NBA, and the law profession in Nigeria.

Thank you so much, learned silk sir.

I am Sylvester Udemezue (Udems)
(23 July 2022)


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