From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The face-off between the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olumide Akpata, and the Chairman of Body of Benchers (BoB), Wole Olanikpekun, played out, yesterday, with the absence of Akpata at the meeting in Abuja.
The meeting held at BoB complex in Jabi, Abuja was attended by key stakeholders in the legal profession, including the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Kayode Ariwoola, past chief justices of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed and Walter Onnoghen as well as Mary Odili (retd.), who doubles as the vice chairman of the BoB.
Past presidents of the NBA, including Paul Usoro, O. C. J. Okocha, Joseph Daudu, Okey Wali and Abubakar Mahmud, as well as other leaders who participated virtually.
Akpata, who, by virtue of his office, is a member of the BOB, failed to attend the meeting, the first since he requested the BOB Chairman, Wole Olanipekun, to step down over a petition against a lawyer in Olanipekun’s firm.
As at press time, no reason was given for his absence. Calls to his number were ignored.
Spokesman of the NBA, Rapuluchukwu Nduka, also did not respond to calls.
The meeting was held in furtherance of its traditional preparations for the Call to Bar ceremonies scheduled for Wednesday, among other important issues bordering on the security of the nation particularly as it affects the legal profession.
It was learnt that the BoB meeting did not discuss Akpata’s attack on Olanipekun and his social media tirade.
The NBA president had, in a letter, requested Olanikpekun to step down as the chairman of BOB, following an allegation of misconduct which affected a female lawyer, Adekunbi Ogunde, a partner at Wole Olanipekun and Co. Chambers.
Ogunde had sent an email to Saipem Contracting Nigeria Ltd., soliciting a brief after the Rivers State government preferred charges against the company over allegations of $130 million fraud. Though the firm of Henry Ajumogobia is defending Saipem, Ogunde told the management to consider hiring Olanipekun and Co. The partner informed the 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. Olanipekun will significantly switch things in favour of SAIPEM,” she wrote.
Ogunde included that Olanipekun chairs the B0B comprising, “Supreme Court judges, presiding justices of the Court of Appeal and chief judges of all states’ 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..
It was on this basis that the NBA president had asked Olanikpekun to step down as the chairman of Body of Benchers.