NBA President, Akpata absent as Body of Benchers meet in Abuja

The President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Olumide Akpata, was on Tuesday, absent at a meeting the Nigerian Body of Benchers held in Abuja.

The meeting was the first since Akpata requested the Chairman of the legal body, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, to step down over a petition against a lawyer in his chamber that was accused of engaging in an unprofessional conduct.

Akpata is by virtue of his position as President of the NBA, the umbrella body of legal practitioners in the country, a member of the Body of Benchers, BOB.

No reason was adduced for his absence, even as calls placed to his phone number were not answered.

Meanwhile, among those that attended the meeting on Tuesday, included the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Kayode Ariwoola and two past CJNs, Justice Mahmud Mohammed and Justice Walter Onnoghen.

Also in attendance was Justice Mary Odili, rtd, who doubles as the Vice-Chairman of the Body of Benchers.

Others at the meeting, were past Presidents of the NBA, Paul Usoro, SAN, O. C. J. Okocha, SAN, Joseph B. Daudu, SAN, Okey Wali, SAN, Abubakar  Mahmud, SAN, amongst several other leaders of the legal profession that participated virtually.

Vanguard learned that the issue Akpata raised against Olanipekun, SAN, who himself is a former President of the NBA, was not discussed at the meeting.

“The meeting focused on preparations for the Call to Bar ceremonies scheduled for Wednesday, as well as other important issues bordering on the security of the nation, particularly as it affects the legal profession”, a source at meeting who craved anonymity, told Vanguard.

The Nigerian Body of Benchers is a professional body concerned with the admission of prospective student into the Nigerian Law School.

Members of the body are called Benchers.

The body also regulate the call of graduate of law school to the Nigerian Bar as well as the regulation of the legal profession in Nigeria

Akpata had in his letter dated July 22, asked Olanipekun to resign as leader of the Body, following a petition against Ms. Adekunbi Ogunde, a partner in his law chamber.

Ogunde is accused of engaging in “conduct incompatible with her status and in flagrant disregard of rules of professional conduct”.

Akpata informed Olanipekun that the NBA had taken the matter to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, LPDC.

The LPDC is a panel under the BOB which Olanipekun heads.

Akpata argued that Olanipekun’s continued stay in the position would conflict with or influence LPDC processes.

“I am constrained to invite you to recuse yourself from the chairmanship of the BOB and to emplace an interim leadership.

He said the NBA believed that such action would ensure that the panel carried out its investigation of Ogunde without coming under the suspicion of impartiality.

“I am pained that I have to make this call, but in this circumstance, it is in the best interest of our Association and of the legal profession in Nigeria ”, Akpata added.

Specifically, it was alleged that Ogunde sent an email to Saipem Contracting Nigeria Ltd soliciting a brief after the Rivers state government preferred charges against the company over allegations of $130million fraud.

Though the firm of Henry Ajumogobia (SAN) is defending Saipem, Ogunde allegedly told the management to consider hiring Olanipekun & Co.

It was alleged that he informed CEO Francesco Caio that Olanipekun has more “influence” with judges across all courts.

“We are aware that another law firm is currently in the matter but you will agree that highly-sensitive and political matters require more influence.

“We are happy to work with the current lawyers to achieve the desired results. Chief Olanipekun SAN, OFR, will significantly switch things in favour of SAIPEM.”

Ogunde allegedly included that Olanipekun chairs the BOB comprising “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 a protest letter, Ajumogobia declared that the action was a breach of mandatory rule, especially the acknowledgement that Saipem had a counsel.

Ogunde had since apologized to Ajumogobia, even as her principal, Olanipekun, SAN, also distanced himself from her letter which he said caused his chamber “a lot of embarrassment as well”.




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