The induction of 4,691 new lawyers into the legal profession on Tuesday was boycotted by Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), which head, Yakubu Maikyau SAN, cited the refusal of the Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Chief Wole Olanipekun, to recuse himself from his position, as reason for keeping away.
The long-drawn face-off between Olanipekun and the NBA reached a head last July when the lawyer’s association, through its former chairman, Olumide Akpata, asked the BoB chairman to recuse himself from office following a leaked email by his law firm, allegedly, unethically soliciting a brief
Maikyau, in another letter dated December 4, addressed to Olanipekun, advised him to step down for the BoB Vice Chair, Justice Mary Odili, a retired Supreme Court justice.
The NBA chief also advised Olanipekun not to preside over the call to bar ceremony scheduled for Tuesday.
“In that letter, I requested the chairman of the BoB to recuse himself from presiding over the call to bar ceremony scheduled for 6 and 7 December 2022, for reasons clearly articulated therein.
“I sent the letter to the chairman and all benchers by email on 4 December 2022. I also submitted a hard copy of the letter on 5 December 2022 to the Secretary of the BoB along with one hundred and fifty (150) copies of the letter for circulation to all benchers.
“It would be recalled that my predecessor-in-office had, on 22 July 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 5 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 5 December 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 this was not 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 bar ceremony.
“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.
“The NBA under my leadership remains committed to the protection of the integrity of the bench and the bar and will not shirk that responsibility.
“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 Adekunbi Ogunde, a Partner in the law firm of the chairman of the BoB.
“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.”
Meanwhile, the Body of Benchers (BoB) has cautioned the National Assembly against giving effect to its proposal to regulate the establishment of Law Schools in the country.
Olanipekun (SAN), at the induction of the new lawyers, said: “May we plead with the National Assembly to stop toying with the idea of promulgating laws or amending the Legal Practitioners Act, to pave way for the proliferation of Law School campuses, particularly, around the neighbourhoods of some lawmakers.
“It is within the exclusive prerogative of the Council of Legal Education, in consultation with the Body of Benchers to establish new Law School campuses.
“While I do not question the jurisdiction of the National Assembly to make laws as appropriate, Law School campuses cannot be established without clearance from the Council of Legal Education.
“What we need now is the improvement and upgrading of the existing Law School campuses, using the newly commissioned Graham Douglas Law School Campus, Port Harcourt, built and equipped by the Rivers State Government as a model. I dare say that it is the best in the country for now.”
He advised the new lawyers to always uphold the ethics of the profession and desist from act that could portray the profession in bad light.
“It behoves me at this point to forthrightly prepare your minds for the inevitability of bumpy rides, aspersions, tirades, general vicissitudes, and such other contingencies to which all humans are susceptible.
“These eventualities are of universal character, sparing no one, irrespective of illustriousness or nobility of pedigree, tribal or ethnic affiliation, religious inclinations, affluence eminence or dexterity. Yours faithfully is, of course, a living example.
“Our profession boasts of, and parades three key words: noble, honourable and learned. Covet these flagship words in your endeavours, understanding and relationship with others.
“Do not engage in strife, blackmail, mudslinging, campaign of calumny, treachery or any attempt to run or pull anyone down,“ Olanipekun added.
He urged senior lawyers to improve on the welfare of junior lawyers, and spoke of plans to mentor new lawyers nationwide through a mentoring committee of the BoB headed by J. K. Gadzama (SAN).
Olanipekun urged judges to be lenient with young lawyers, saying: “To our noble judges, before whom these young ones will start appearing, please be patient with them and exercise your awesome owners to commit for sparingly.”
Dwelling on the activities of the BoB, Olanipekun noted that the body is not an appendage of the Federal Government, or any government, institution or agency, howsoever.
He added: “It is an independent and autonomous body, and its meetings, affairs and decisions are not influenced by any power or authority whatsoever.”
Olanipekun noted that although the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC), the body responsible for the discipline of lawyers, is a committee of the BoB, the LPDC is a juristic personality on its own, independent of the BoB and is not controlled in any way or manner by either the body or its Chairman.
He cautioned 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.”
Earlier, Director General of the Nigerian Law School, Professor Isa Chiroma (SAN) disclosed that the new lawyers successfully completed the vocational training at the Nigerian Law School as prescribed by the Legal Education Act of 1962.
Chiroma disclosed that the new lawyers are those who emerged successful at the August/September 2022 Bar Final Examination. He said out of a total of 5,802 students who participated in the exams, 4691 emerged successful representing 80.81%.
A break-down of the results showed that 119 students came out with 1st Class; 789 with 2nd Class Upper; 2, 460, 2nd Class Lower; and 1, 323 came out with Pass; while students were from the last exam.