It started with a letter.Then other letters followed and like a letter opener, they have pried open a pandora
s box in Nigerias legal profession.
When in June 2022, Adekumbi Ogunde, a partner in Wole Olanipekun and co, one of Nigeria`s foremost law firms, wrote Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited, an Italian company, practically telling the company that her law firm had more resources than any other to obtain favourable legal outcomes, and touting the influence of the principal partner, Wole Olanipekun, in a matter between the Italian company and the Rivers State Government, she could not have foreseen that the letter would morph into one long epistle of embarrassment.
She did not even know that the brief she was soliciting was settle out of court two months earlier. The other law firm involved in the matter, Ajumogobia and Okeke, promptly complained to Wole Olanipekun and Co, and successfully drew a raft of apologies and retraction from the latter.
If Wole Olanipekun and Co thought the matter was at an end, for the Nigeria Bar Association, it was only the end of the beginning.
The Association has since commenced disciplinary proceedings against Ms. Ogunde before the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee for what it described as the ` most infamous letter ever written by a lawyer and/or a law firm in the history of the legal profession in Nigeria.’
The NBA has also sought to rope in the partners in the law firm of Wole Olanipekun and Co.
However, the bombshell came when in a letter to Wole Olanipekun, the principal partner of Wole Olanipekun, who also doubles as the chairman of the Body of Benchers of which the LPDC is a standing committee, the president of the NBA, Olumide Akpata asked him to step aside pending the determination of the petition against a partner in his law firm, as his continued presence as Chairman of the Body of Benchers would give the impression of undue influence on the proceedings of the LPDC.
The calving of sacred cows.
If keen observers of Nigeria`s legal firmament have been jolted to attention by the unfolding events, it is because they want to see whether sacred cows now abound in a profession whose members endlessly demand equality before the laws for others.
They want to see whether those who ask for equality for others before the law consider themselves equal before the law. Or whether the Nigerian bug of impunity has bitten many within the profession.
Olumide Akpata: an outsider and outlier
For many of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria who have faulted the NBA`s approach in contending with one of the most prominent and preeminent members of the Nigerian bar, it is the guts shown by Olumide Akpata, the 30th NBA president that they find most grating.
In 2020, many of those who form the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria opposed Akpata`s emergence, not for reason of qualification, but for the singular reason that he was not one of them. Some of them were open about their opposition to him especially as he beat two other Senior Advocates of Nigeria to clinch the prize.
If they were afraid that an outsider and outlier like him would ruffle prize feathers and step on royal toes , it appears that their worst fears are being realized.
Some of them have said that the Akpata should have privately broached the issue to Olanipekun before going public with it.
However, if the new standard is to discuss issues that border on propriety in the legal profession in private, then many lawyers and indeed many Nigerians are only just finding out.
A clan of legal hyenas.
If today, many Nigerians look at the legal profession and see only a cast of robed crooks, it is because of things like these and the unfortunate utterances of those who in sharing their opinions have only succeeded in splaying their hubris and hypocrisy under the sun for all to see.
Hyenas are known as the animal kingdoms premier scavengers. The lawyers who scavenge for briefs as well as those who support them no matter which rule of professional conduct is breached can be likened to hyenas for endlessly embarrassing the legal profession in this manner and making the things forbiddingly difficult for young lawyers who are trying to navigate what is a very harsh terrain
Quo custodiet Ipsos custodiet?
As the light in Nigeria`s premier profession continues to die at the hands of those who by reason of moral and professional leprosy are unfit to hold the lamp, the shadows that will come from the impending darkness will be long and lethal.
If within the ranks of the legal profession, accountability cannot be guaranteed as a step towards making it part of the national ethos, then the portents are indeed clear.