A prominent member of the inner bar and former Attorney-General of Ogun State, Mr Oluwemimo Ogunde, SAN, has resigned his membership of Justice Reform Project, JRP, over a letter authored by the group to call for the resignation of Oluwole Olanipekun, SAN, as the Chairman of the Body of Benchers, BoB.

Ogunde resigned on a day another member of JRP, and former Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee Prosecutor, Mr Jibrin Okutepa, SAN, disowned the statement, even as a top lawyer and former President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Mr Olasupo Ojo, took a swipe at both the NBA and the JRP over their roles in the case, accusing them of being sponsored by some disgruntled people to tarnish the image of Olanipekun and bring him down.

‘It is obvious that this whole issue is being sponsored by a clique. They are opportunists stoking the matter beyond its scope and trying to use the Nigeria Bar Association to drag the BoB chair down with it at all cost,” Ojo said.

In the Saipem case, Rivers State government had filed a criminal information against the foreign firm of conspiring to cheat and with intent to defraud it the sum of $130 million, being advance payment for the construction of the OCGT power plant in Port Harcourt.

The matter was, however, settled out of court in April 2022 or thereabouts

But the NBA picked offence in the letter and filed a petition before its disciplinary committee against Adekunbi, even as it wrote Olanipekun to step down as Chairman of BoB to allow the committee try Adekunbi, who is a partner in Olanipekun’s Chambers.

But Ogunde, a former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Ogun State, had denied knowledge of the JRP letter.

JRP had, in the letter addressed to  Olanipekun, claimed to have met and agreed to demand for his (Olanipekun’s) recusal from BoB over her daughter’s letter, Adekunbi, to Saipem.

Wemimo Ogunde said as a member of the group, he was neither consulted nor aware of the decision of the group before it wrote such a letter to Olanipekun.

In another statement by Okutepa ((SAN), he also disowned the JRP statement, saying he left JRP long ago when he perceived the way things were being done without consultations.

JRP was set up in February 2019 with membership cutting across senior and junior lawyers. The group consists of not less than 20 Senior Advocates of Nigeria.

In his statement, Ogunde said: “Today, July 29, 2022, my attention was drawn to a publication by BarristerNG, an online law newspaper that 20 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (including me) who  are members of the JRP have called for the resignation of Olanipekun (SAN) on account of the email written by my daughter.

“I want to state categorically that I do not wish to be associated with that statement. At no time did I participate in any meeting or discussion where the content of the statement was tabled or my consent sought or obtained. The NBA has filed a complaint against my daughter before the LPDC and I think as lawyers, the sanctity and independence of that body should be respected.

“It must be noted that no complaint was filed against any other partner and Mr Odein Ajumogobia (SAN) has neither filed any complaint nor deposed to any statement in support of the NBA’s complaint. My focus as a father at this time is to assist my daughter prepare her defence.

“However, one thing that is clear is that the innocence of the other partners has been clearly expressed. Whether they are vicariously liable for the acts of Ms Adekunbi Ogunde is one of the questions already submitted before the LPDC. Until then, the presumption of innocence of everyone involved, a constitutional right, ought to be respected.

“In the circumstances, my membership of JRP has now become untenable. I believe and support my daughter’s solemn declaration expressed privately and publicly, that the email was written unilaterally, without the knowledge of any other partner in Wole Olanipekun & Co.

“Those who have a contrary view are also entitled to their opinion, but in the interest of justice, we all have to await the verdict of the LPDC.”

“Many members of the JRP already know my difficult situation in this matter. For that reason, I  expected that I should have been consulted so that I would have had the opportunity to have dissociated myself from it internally, and the statement could then have been framed in a way to make my stance very clear, rather than putting me in this clearly embarrassing and awkward situation.”

In a related development, top lawyer and former CDHR chief, Olasupo Ojo, in his  statement said: “I read a statement credited to a group called Justice Reform Project, (JRP), an NGO like the NBA, formed by some senior lawyers.

“I also had the benefit of reading the statement by Oluwemimo Ogunde SAN, a member of the JRP and father of the  lawyer who wrote the letter in issue;

“Based on the two statements, it is now obvious that this whole issue is being sponsored by a clique. They are opportunists stoking the matter beyond its scope and trying to use the NBA to drag the BOB Chair down with it at all cost.

“I find it difficult that I should be choked because of a letter written by a lawyer in my firm without my authorisation and who has claimed responsibility for the same.

“Those gunning for chairmanship of the BoB should come out openly and tell the truth about what transpired at a recent meeting of the BoB where the NBA President read out his memo on the proposed amendment to the LPA during which he spoke rudely to the BoB and he was roundly lambasted by members of the BoB.

“The next shot to be fired was to exploit the issue of the letter written by a lawyer in the office of the Chairman of the BoB to get at him in retaliation.”