Two national officers of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) have petitioned the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) over the recent assault visited on a security guard at an Abuja plaza by the chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Umar.
The LPDC is the body established by law to handle disciplinary cases involving a breach of profession conduct for lawyers called to the Nigerian bar.
The 1st Vice-President of NBA, John Aikpokpo-Martins, and the association’s Welfare Secretary, Kunle Edun, in their petition filed on April 8, 2021, urged the committee to initiate a disciplinary process against Mr Umar and prosecute him for his “unbecoming conduct” which, according to them, violates the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners.
The petitioners said Mr Umar’s “unlawyerly and ungentlemanly conduct” triggered social media frenzy” that brought the legal profession into “public odium, ridicule and disrespect”.
“We respectfully urge the committee (LPDC) to immediately commence the disciplinary process and prosecute Mr Danladi Umar for the violation of the sacred provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) Rules, particularly Rule 1 thereof,” the petition signed by the petitioners’ lawyers read in part.
Although the NBA, as a body, had announced a plan to probe the incident, Mr Edun, told our reporter that he and Mr Aikpokpo-Martins filed the petition against Mr Umar in their individual capacities as “NBA leaders”.
Messrs Edun and Aikpokpo-Martins engaged Clement Chukwuemeka, who is also the Chairman of Bwari, F.C.T branch of NBA, and Bulus Atsen, also the Chairman of Abuja, F.C.T branch of the association, as their lawyers to lodge the petition, which was assigned the number, BB/LPDC/489/2021, by the LPDC.
Background, fresh petition
A viral video clip, which sparked public outrage, had shown Mr Umar slapping and kicking Mr Sagwark, a security guard at Banex Plaza, Wuse 2, Abuja, on March 29.
The security guard told PREMIUM TIMES that the CCT chairman turned violent in a squabble they had over Mr Umar’s wrong parking on the premises.
The fresh petition adds to a stack of probes Mr Umar is likely to face over his widely condemned conduct.
PREMIUM TIMES earlier reported Saturday that the assaulted security guard had, through his lawyer, Samuel Ihensekhien, petitioned the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) similarly asking for a probe of Mr Umar’s action.
The police are also handling the case, although they have been lackadaisical about bringing Mr Umar to justice and have rather shown preference to harass tenants of the plaza, Mr Ihensekhien said in the petition to the NHRC.
‘Compelling, revealing evidence of misconduct’
The two NBA officers seeking Mr Umar’s prosecution by the LPDC, stated in their petition to the committee that the CCT chairman, by his action, violated Rule 1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for legal practitioners.
They noted that Mr Umar “is a legal practitioner duly called to the Nigerian bar with his name on the roll of lawyers kept at the Supreme Court” and the chairman of CCT who “presides over complaints bordering on acts of misconduct by civil and public servants.”
They added that by virtue of the positions, Mr Umar “is expected to exhibit a higher standard of conduct, civility, temperance and decency when conducting his affairs particularly with members of the public”.
But they stated that, with what they referred to as ‘a Compact Disk of visual recording of the very sad and unfortunate event”, they had “very compelling and revealing evidence” of how Mr Umar attacked the 22-year-old security guard on the premises.
In the ‘statement of facts’ contained in the petition, the petitioners lawyers narrated to the LPDC how the assault incident happened.
They noted that Mr Umar arrived the Banex Plaza, Abuja on March 29 and parked his vehicle (an SUV) wrongly, “which compelled Mr Clement Sargwak to politely approach him and requested that he should park his vehicle properly because it was obstructing traffic.”
“The simple and polite request of Mr Clement Sargwak surprisingly infuriated Mr Danladi Umar who suddenly attacked and kicked the security guard despite being held back by his security aides.
“It was also a fact that Mr Danladi Umar watched with great pleasure how one of his aides gave a ‘thunderous’ slap across the same security guard’s face and subsequent engagement in physical combat and inhumane treatment against the security guard in the public glare,” the petitioner reads in part.
The petitioners also accused Mr Umar of violating Rule 1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners.
The provision reads, “A lawyer shall uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and Foster the cause of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and Shall not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner.”
When asked by PREMIUM TIMES, the chairman of Bwari branch of NBA, Mr Chukwuemeka, who is one of the lawyers engaged to file the petition, said the punishment of any lawyer convicted for such a violation is “striking the name of such person from the roll of lawyers kept at the Supreme Court”.
“His name is on the roll and we are now asking the LPDC to remove his name from the roll,” he added.
On the controversy about which body has the power to discipline the CCT chairman and two other members, Mr Chukwuemeka said the LPDC has the power to discipline any lawyer no matter the position they hold.
“LPDC does not even call you a lawyer, the LPDC recognises those whose names are on the roll. And you cannot be a lawyer without your name being on the roll,” he said.
The lawyer who also explained that Mr Umar is not “a judicial officer” that can be disciplined by the National Judicial Council (NJC), said, “When the cloak of a lawyer is removed by the LPDC, even when he is a judicial officer, that person cannot occupy any seat that requires him or her to be a lawyer.”
‘CCT chair, members not judicial officers’
A former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Mahmud Mohammed, had in a letter dated May 18, 2015, with reference number, NJC/CIR/HOC/1/74, asked the CCT chairman and members to stop pre-fixing their names with the title, “Justice”, on the grounds that they were not judges.
According to then CJN, neither the tribunal chair nor any of its two other members is a judicial officer as defined in Section 318 (1) of the 1999 Constitution.
Mr Umar himself subtly agreed with this point in his reply to a petition sent to the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) asking for a sanction against him for the controversial ex parte he issued in January 2019 suspending a former CJN, Walter Onnoghen, from office.
The CCT chairman, in his reply to the petition, cited the ex-CJN Muhammad’s letter, arguing that his office was under the presidency and that the FJSC lacked disciplinary power over him.
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