The Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee (LPPC) in a press release dated the 11th of January 2018 and signed by its Secretary announced the decision of the Committee to withdraw the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) from Mr. Kunle Ogunba along with all the privileges attached with the prestigious rank based on a petition written by Honeywell Group.
Mr. Ogunba who has earned a reputation for himself as an outstanding receivership and debt recovery practitioner was the subject of a petition written by Honeywell Group against whom he is seeking to recover debts on behalf of Ecobank Limited. He was accused by the Group of instituting multiple actions on the same subject matter before different judges of the Federal High Court with the aim of abusing the process of court and derailing the course of justice.
What has now come to light is that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) had investigated the same petition with the exact same allegations against Mr. Ogunba and had found the petition to be unmeritorious, refusing to commence disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Ogunba. In its response to Honeywell Group signed by the General Secretary, the NBA giving much more details and the reasoning behind its decision than the LPPC, stated that Mr. Ogunba’s actions, in its view, were “in line with the duty of a counsel to do everything which in the exercise of his discretion he thinks best for the general interest of his client, which cannot be fettered by subjecting him to disciplinary proceedings.”
The NBA giving details of the cases alleged to have constituted an abuse of court process stated thus in its response: “(a) FHC/L/BK/19/2015 Mr. Oba Otudeko Vs Ecobank Nigeria Limited and FHC/L/CS/1219/2015 Anchorage Lesiures Ltd & 2 Ors Vs Ecobank were filed by the Plaintiffs seeking a declaration that you are no longer indebted to the bank and that the bank should be restrained from publishing your company’s name on its list of bad debtors under the directives of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
(b) FHC/L/CP/1569/2015 Ecobank Plc Vs Honeywell Flour Mills Plc and FHC/L/CP/1571/2015 Ecobank Nigeria Limited Vs Honeywell Group Limited are petitions filed consecutively for winding-up proceedings against the companies which were later discontinued by the petitioner in order to correct anomalies in the suit.
(c) FHC/L/CP/1572/2015 Ecobank Nigeria Limited Vs Siloam Global Services Limited and FHC/L/CP/1570/2015 Ecobank Nigeria Limited Vs Anchorage Leisures Limited involve petition for winding up against the two different companies.”
In the opinion of the NBA, based on the principle of law that companies are separate legal entities from its subscribers capable of suing and being sued, the cases were not between the same parties or in respect of the same facts or even seeking the same reliefs. The NBA noted that “the fact that the companies may have common ownership or directors does not make them the same entity or preclude the presentation of petitions against them, if counsel believes grounds exist for doing so.”
The NBA stated that Mr. Ogunba “owed his client a duty to take all lawful steps directly or indirectly represent his client and or get the best in the circumstance for his client in reliance on the best of his professional ability” and found that his actions in the course of representing his client were “justified by his duty to get the best for his client and do not impugn the integrity of the legal profession.”
With such a detailed dismissal of the petition by the NBA, the withdrawal of the title of SAN from Mr. Ogunba by the LPPC based on the same allegations are now been looked upon with suspicious eyes. While the position of a number of lawyers upon the release of the LPPC press release had been that the punishment meted out for the alleged infraction was too grievous, with the further release of the NBA letter dismissing the petition on social media, many are wondering at the obvious power play going on. The lack of detailed explanation by the LPPC on the matter, in sharp contrast of its detailed decision on Oluwatoyin Ajoke Bashorun in the same press release covers Mr. Ogunba’s case with a lot of misgivings.