The Body of Benchers (BoB) explained on Friday why it did not deliberate on the letter by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) calling for the suspension of its chairperson, Wole Olanipekun.
Mr Olanipekun has been caught in a controversy threatening his position as the BoB chair, following allegation of professional misconduct levelled against him and his law firm.
In the scandal that broke out in June, Mr Olanipekun’s law firm was accused of “influence peddling”.
The NBA insisted Mr Olanipekun, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and former President of the NBA, must resign his chairmanship of the body.
The association, in the letter by its president, Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), requested Mr Olanipekun not to preside over Tuesday’s call-to-bar ceremonies during which 4711 new lawyers were admitted into the profession.
But despite the call by the NBA, Mr Olanipekun presided over the call-to-bar ceremony.
‘Why NBA’s letter was not debated’
The BoB explained in a statement by its Secretary, Daniel Tela, that the NBA’s letter was not debated at the body’s 5 December meeting meant to finalise arrangements for the call-to-bar ceremony of the new lawyers because it was delivered late at its headquarters in Abuja.
“The said letter was received at the Body of Benchers Secretariat at 9:32am on Monday, 5th December, 2022.”
It added that members did not consider the issue, when it was raised by Mr Maikyau because they were not in receipt of the letter and Mr Olanipekun to whom it was addressed to, was not afforded the opportunity to respond to the letter before the NBA president brought it up.
Mr Tela further said, apart from the fact that the NBA’s letter was addressed to Mr Olanipekun, it was not an item on the agenda of the body’s meeting which had been scheduled since 14 November.
He added that the letter had been published on the social media before it was received at the BoB headquarters at exactly 9:32 a.m. on 5 December, the day of the meeting, hence, it was not ripe for discussion.
It will recalled that Adekunbi Ogunde, a partner in Mr Olanipekun’s chambers, was caught soliciting for briefs for the law firm in alleged violation of the professional code of conduct for lawyers in June.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that Ms Ogunde informed the prospective client, Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited, that the presence of Mr Olanipekun in a case “will significantly switch things in favour of Sapiem”.
Fuller version of BoB letter
“It is on record that the media, (print and social media) has been agog with the reports regarding the call by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for the Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) not to preside over the Call to Bar ceremonies.
“This widely circulated call has saturated the media space from Sunday, 4th December, 2022 till now.
“At the meeting of the Body of Benchers held on Monday 5th December, 2022, which notice was given on 14th November, 2022, the sole item for discussion was the consideration of the report of the screening committee of the Body, preparatory to the Call to Bar ceremonies.
“The report was duly considered and approved.
“Under the AOB, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association informed members that he had written a letter to the Chairman of the Body to which the Chairman stated that although, he had not read the letter as it was not yet brought to his attention, he was aware of the fact that it had already been circulated in the media, particularly the social media.
“And despite the fact that the letter was personally addressed to him and not to the Body, he was prepared to waive his rights as he would want it discussed one way or the other in view of the contents of the letter which centred on his personality and integrity.
“The NBA President then stated that he sent the letter to members mails in the evening of Sunday, December 4, 2022 and also made copies of the said letter and brought to the meeting but majority of the members responded that they were yet receive such mails.
“Some members were of the view that the the letter was definitely not ripe for consideration, assuming it was meant or addressed to the Body.
“In spite of all the comments and contributions of members, the Chairman still passionately pleaded that the matter be taken, and made reference to a previous letter written in July 2022 on the eve of Call to Bar ceremonies.
“Majority of the members were of the view that the Chairman drop his insistence that the matter be conclusively decided, bearing in mind, several factors including the fact that majority of the members did not receive the email, coupled with the fact that the Call to Bar subject was too important and central to the Body and the content of the letter was not such that could be taken under the AOB.
“Furthermore, the letter was addressed to the Chairman, Body of Benchers, therefore, there is the need for the Chairman’s response to be received for proper consideration.
“It was therefore, resolved that the matter be taken at the emergency meeting of the Body scheduled to take place in January 2023 at a date to be communicated to members.
“Thereafter, the motion for adjournment of the meeting was moved.
“The Body frowned at the use of the social media platform in forwarding sensitive official documents communication.
” I have been directed to issue the above statement following the repeated calls made seeking information on the conduct of the Call to Bar ceremonies and the position of the Body of Benchers on the call by the NBA for the Chairman, Body of Benchers to recuse himself from presiding over the ceremonies.
“To the glory of God, the Call to Bar ceremonies were successful.”
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