The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), yesterday, boycotted the Call to Bar ceremony of 4,711 new lawyers that were admitted into the legal profession.
The legal body, in a statement by its National President, Mr. Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), said its decision to shun the ceremony was based on the refusal of the Chairman of the Body of Benchers (BoB), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), to resign.
NBA, the umbrella body of legal practitioners in the country, said it had in a letter it also copied to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, asked Olanipekun to step aside as leader of the BoB.
The call followed a claim by a leading partner in his chamber, Ms. Adekunbi Ogunde, that he influenced judges to deliver favourable judgements for his clients.
The NBA said it had, in view of the weighty nature of Ogunde’s claim and the negative impact it has on the overall image and integrity of the legal profession in the country, urged Olanipekun to allow his Vice, Justice Mary Odili (rtd), to preside over the Call to Bar ceremony scheduled for yesterday and today.
In the statement made available to newsmen, Maikyau, noted that he had in the said letter dated December 4, made position of the association known to the BoBchairman.
“In that letter, I requested the chairman of the BoB to recuse himself from presiding over the Call to Barceremony scheduled for December 6 and 7, 2022, for reasons clearly articulated therein.
“I sent the letter to the chairman and all Benchers by email on December 4, 2022, I also submitted a hard copy of the letter on December 5, 2022 to the Secretary of the BoB along with 150 copies of the letter for circulation to all Benchers.
“It would be recalled that my predecessor-in-office had, on July 22, 2022, written to the chairman of the BoB to recuse himself from office on the same grounds set out in my letter.
“But the chairman refused to acknowledge the said letter nor bring it up for consideration more than five months since its delivery to the BoB.
“My present letter is to bring to attention the earlier call made by my predecessor and to emphasise the damage being done to the legal profession by reason of our collective silence over such devastating issue, with the expectation that the chairman will see reason to show remorse and for the BoB to ask the chairman to recuse himself knowing that no one is bigger than the legal profession.
“At the meeting of the BoB held on December 5, 2022, I drew the attention of the chairman to my letter and called for deliberations on same, since it directly impacts on the propriety of the chairman presiding over the Call to Bar ceremony.
“But these were neither done nor were the hard copies of the letter distributed to the Benchers.
“The meeting of the BoB was adjourned to January, 2023, on a date to be fixed by the chairman.
“In the circumstances, therefore, having regard to my firm persuasion that the matters raised in my letter should have led the BoB to ask the chairman to recuse himself in the interest of safeguarding the integrity of the legal profession, I am in good conscience unable to attend and participate in the Call to Barceremony.
“The NBA under my leadership cannot be part of the ceremony superintended by the current chairman of the BoB for all the reasons stated in my letter under reference.
“To do so will be to endorse, celebrate or condone a practice that I consider unwholesome and unprofessional, by virtue of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007.
“I assure all members of the NBA that the sole motivation for my letter to the BoB is my conviction on the need to salvage the image, reputation, and integrity of the legal profession in Nigeria, which has been negatively impacted by the email by a Partner in the Law Firm of the Chairman of the BoB,AdekunbiOgunde.
“I congratulate our colleagues – the new wigs, for the great feat they have attained by fulfilling the requirements for joining the noble profession of Law.
“I pray that God Almighty will keep and preserve them as they contribute their quota in building the legal profession and the nation at large.
“The NBA remains committed to the protection of our legal space and shall spare no effort to stop any external incursions or actions amongst members that can destroy our dear profession of law.
The BoB is a statutory body that is responsible for the formal call to Bar of persons seeking to become legal practitioners as well as disciplining of erring lawyers.
Members of the body are categorised into Benchers and Life Benchers.
According to the NBA, Olanipekun’s partner, Ogunde, sent an email to Saipem Contracting Nigeria Ltd to solicit for a brief, after the Rivers State Government preferred charges against the company over allegations of $130million fraud.
Though the firm of Henry Ajumogobia (SAN) was already defending the company, however, Ogunde allegedly told the management to consider hiring Olanipekun& Co to take over the case.
NBA noted that Ogunde had in the said email, claimed that her principal, Olanipekun(SAN), has more “influence” with judges across all courts.
“A quick research about WoleOlanipekun& Co. will show that the law firm is the leading litigation firm that has helped other multinationals in sensitive, highly political matters.
“It will also reveal that the presence of our lead partner, Olanipekun in the matter will significantly switch things in favour of SAIPEM.
“Chief Olanipekun 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.
“In order words, Olanipekun is the head of the entire legal profession in Nigeria.
“WoleOlanipekun& 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,” NBA quoted Ogunde’s email to have read in part.
It insisted that Olanipekun’s resignation will help to salvage the image, reputation and integrity of the BoB and the legal profession.
Meanwhile, in his speech at the Call to Bar ceremony, Olanipekun, maintained that though the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC), is under his chairmanship, he stressed that the committee operates independently and “not controlled in any way or manner by either the Body or its chairman”.
He said: “Howbeit, may I caution that proceedings before the LPDC should not be politicised, sensationalised, publicised and advertised in advance or while the proceedings are ongoing, by complainants for whatever reason, howsoever, as so doing negates the principle of fair hearing, which all lawyers subscribe to.
“This is apart from the fact that such steps might pre-empt and prejudice the proceedings band decisions of the LPDC”.
On his part, the Director-General of the Nigerian Law School, Prof. Isa HayatuChiroma(SAN), said the 4,711 new lawyers that were admitted into the Bar, yesterday, met all the required conditions that were set by the Council of Legal Education.
RSHA: Amaewhule-Led Lawmakers Defy Court Order, Elect New Leaders
The crisis rocking the Rivers State House of Assembly took a new twist on Wednesday as lawmakers loyal to the former Speaker, Martin Amaewhule, sat under tight security in the complex.
This is contrary to the court order asking the two factions of the State House of Assembly to maintain the status quo pending the determination of a suit filed by the Edison Ehie faction.
Recall that Ehie faction had obtained a court order that parties should maintain the status quo pending the determination of a suit seeking to sack Amaewhule as the House Speaker.
The Rivers Assembly had become factionalised following an unsuccessful move to impeach Governor Siminialayi Fubara.
The Amaewhule-led lawmakers are believed to be loyal to Fubara’s predecessor and political godfather, Nyesom Wike.
It was learnt that ahead of Wednesday’s sitting, cleaners had on Tuesday been deployed to clean up the Assembly complex, which had been under locks, since October 29, following an explosion in the complex the night before.
One of the cleaners said they were instructed to tidy up the complex ahead of a sitting on Wednesday.
It was gathered that the Wednesday sitting was held for about two hours as a team of riot policemen and security vans were stationed in front of the House to prevent any breaches.
It was gathered that the lawmakers elected a former Chief Whip as the new Majority Leader of the Assembly.
The member, representing Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Constituency 1, Frankline Nwabochi, was named the new Chief Whip.
An unsigned statement sent to the Assembly Press Corps obtained by The Tide said the two new principal officers accordingly took their oath of office.
Amaewhule congratulated them, charging them to be committed to their new responsibilities.
According to the statement, the lawmakers also passed the first reading of a Bill seeking to amend the Rivers State Local Government Law, No. 5 of 2018.
They also debated on the Rivers State House of Assembly Funds Management (Financial Autonomy) Bill, 2023, which passed second reading on Wednesday.
Amaewhule who described the Bill as important, expressed his conviction that Governor Fubara would assent to it after the lawmakers finally pass it.
He hinted that the governor had withheld funds meant for the Assembly for the month of November.
He said the lawmakers were determined to perform their constitutional duties despite the distractions.
He thereafter referred the Bill to the House Committee on Public Accounts for public hearing and further legislative scrutiny.
The other faction of the Assembly led by Ehie, and loyal to Fubara, had yet to react to the Wednesday development as of the time of filing this report.
Ogoni Group Mulls Recall Of Lawmakers Over Foiled Fubara’s Impeachment
An Advocacy group in Rivers State, Ogoni Development Drive (ODD), says it has begun the process to recall four Ogoni lawmakers from the Rivers House of Assembly over their alleged roles in the botched impeachment of Governor Similanayi Fubara.
The lawmakers are Dumle Maol (PDP, Gokana constituency), Barile Nwakoh (PDP, Khana), Aforji Igwe (PDP, Eleme) and Bernard Ngba (PDP, Tai).
The group’s Convener, Comrade Solomon Lenu, made this known at a news conference in Port Harcourt, yesterday.
Recall that Fubara survived an alleged impeachment plot on October 30.
ODD said it had on November 10 issued a seven-day ultimatum to the four Ogoni lawmakers who partook in the plot that attempted to serve an impeachment notice to Governor Fubara.
The four lawmakers, now suspended, were asked to apologise to the Ogoni people whom they represent and to Gov. Fubara for denigrating his exalted office or risk being recalled.
“Instead of heeding this advice and embracing the olive branch extended to them, they rather embarked on an egocentric escapade,” the group said.
Lenu further said the lawmakers rather than heed to the advice by ODD, engaged in various meetings that purportedly plotted to unseat the governor.
“Governor Fubara was collectively voted for by the entire Rivers people, and as such, the action by the lawmakers has not gone well with all men and women of conscience.
“It is illogical for the erring assembly members to think it is right to impeach an innocent governor for no just cause but wrong to recall them for erring against their constituents.
“The suspended lawmakers called a bluff of ODD ultimatum, and so, we have decided to carry out this recall process in earnest, to put our democracy aright,” he said.
Lenu said the group had already reached an advanced level in sensitising and mobilising the lawmaker’s constituents to recall them.
He said that ODD had also obtained the comprehensive voters’ register of all voters in the four local government areas and constituencies.
According to him, an electronic capture form has also been created to make the petition process easier for students at various tertiary school campuses and those on holiday to sign the petition.
“So far, the response from the aggrieved constituents has been very impressive, and we shall in a few weeks’ time complete the compilation of the required signatures.
“The signatures are required for INEC to call for a referendum, which shall be carried out in branches with strict security guidance, to abort any sinister counterplot against democracy.
“We know this process is not going to be easy, but we are ready to go all the way, to create a sense of responsibility in our elected leaders,” he said.
Lenu said instilling a sense of responsibility in politicians and elected leaders would further entrench democratic tenets in the country.
The ODD convener called on the people of Ogoni to come forward and sign the petition, to end political “jamboree and illicit godfatherism” in the state.
The Tide reports that 26 lawmakers on Oct. 30 proceeded to impeach Fubara but were stopped by four pro-Fubara lawmakers led by Ehie Edison (PDP-Ahoada East II).
Mr Martins Amaewhule (Obio Akpor constituency), a close ally of a former governor, was later ousted as Speaker and Ehie sworn in as the new Speaker.
However, Amaewhule insists that he is still the Speaker of the House of Assembly, resulting in some form of confusion over the office of the Speaker.
FRSC Commander Faces Sanction Over Unauthorised Comments
The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), yesterday, disowned the Unit Commander, Central Business District Unit Command, Assistant Corps Commander IL Ibrahim, over his recent statement on Vehicle Inspection Officers, otherwise known as Directorate of Road Traffic Services.
Ibrahim was quoted to have said that VIO officials did not have the right to arrest road traffic violators, including overloaded vehicles and motorists caught using phones while driving.
But Deputy Corps Marshal, Bisi Kazeem, in a statement, yesterday, said Ibrahim’s comment was not the position of the Corps.
Kazeem added that the concerned official had been recalled to the national headquarters for necessary disciplinary action.
The statement read, “The Federal Road Safety Corps wishes to make a pertinent clarification regarding the pronouncement by the Unit Commander, Central Business District Unit Command, Assistant Corps Commander IL Ibrahim, that Vehicle Inspection Officers, otherwise known as Directorate of Road Traffic Services, do not have the right to arrest road traffic violators, including overloaded vehicles and motorists caught using phones while driving.
“The general public is advised to disregard the statement as it had no approval of the Corps Marshal, Dauda Ali Biu, and does not in anyway reflect the corporate or general position of the Corps.
“It is important for the public know that the laws establishing VIOs/State Traffic Management Agencies give them the statutory mandate to make arrests on different offences depending on the state within which they operate. As such, the agencies should be given the maximum cooperation for the enhancement of safety on our roads.
“On this note and in line with sustaining the Corps’ resolve that road safety is a collective responsibility, and in acknowledgement of the roles the State Traffic Management Agencies like the Vehicle Inspection Officers play in complementing the statutory responsibilities of the FRSC through enforcement of traffic laws, the Corps Marshal has ordered the immediate withdrawal of the Unit Commander to the national headquarters for necessary administrative and disciplinary actions.
“The public is admonished to always comply with all established traffic regulations and cooperate with security agencies deployed to maintain law and order on the highways, irrespective of their corporate mandate.”
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