An investigation by SaharaReporters has revealed that Joseph Daudu, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, shielded rogue lawyer, Ajibola Aribisala, from grave disciplinary action stemming from professional misconduct. Last week, Nigeria’s Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee stripped Mr. Aribisala of his rank as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), among other disciplinary measures.

Several sources within the judiciary told SaharaReporters that Mr. Aribisala had long had a reputation for professional misconduct that should have earned him severe punishment before now. “He enjoyed the protection of the NBA leadership, especially that of Joseph Daudu,” one senior lawyer told SaharaReporters two days ago.

Other lawyers who spoke on the issue agreed that the recent sanctions against Mr. Aribisala became possible only because of the emergence of Maryam Aloma Mukthar as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) in July 2012. As CJN, Ms. Mukthar is statutorily the chairperson of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee. One of our sources credited the chief justice with pushing for the recent disciplinary action that suspended Mr. Aribisala from enjoying the privileges of a SAN.

The decision to suspend Mr. Aribisala arose from acts bordering on professional misconduct. SaharaReporters learnt that, as far back as October 2011, the legal department of Fidelity Bank Plc had written a petition to the Nigerian Bar Association (then headed by Mr. Daudu) complaining that Aribisala withheld and illicitly used all or part of more than N500 million he had recovered on the bank’s behalf from a debtor, Rahamaniya Global Resources Ltd. In addition, Mr. Aribisala was accused of sending a spurious bill of N25 million for another brief requiring a procedure as simple as a change of name on a title as well as the stamping and registration of land documents in respect of three landed properties at Oniru Estate in the Lekki area of Lagos.

Fidelity Bank’s complaint was sent to the NBA secretariat and was duly acknowledged on October 17, 2011. When no response was received from the NBA, the bank engaged the services of a lawyer, Seyi Sowemimo, also a SAN. Mr. Sowemimo wrote another petition on November 30, 2011. Again, the Daudu-led NBA failed to act on that complaint.

 A source told SaharaReporters that Fidelity Bank then decided to take its case before the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) then under the leadership of Nigeria’s former Chief Justice, Dahiru Musdapher. Again the petition was not attended to until Justice Mukthar was elevated to position of CJN.

Two sources at the NBA national secretariat disclosed that Mr. Daudu was in the habit of ignoring numerous petitions written against legal practitioners, particularly those close to him. “However serious the alleged professional malpractice, Joseph Daudu notoriously suppressed any petition that pertained to lawyers who were in his good books,” said a Port Harcourt-based SAN. Several sources also pointed accusing fingers at Muyiwa Akinboro, the NBA’s General Secretary during Mr. Daudu’s tenure. “The duo of Daudu and Akinboro shielded several lawyers who were accused of one misconduct or another,” said one lawyer. He added: “And they did so for less than altruistic reasons.”

Several sources remarked that the only petitions that were addressed at all were those written against lawyers without any ties to the NBA’s former top leaders.

To worsen matters, the NBA appointed a notoriously shady lawyer named Dele Oye as the lead prosecutor at the disciplinary panel. Mr Oye, who has been removed from the role, was indicted and subsequently convicted in a case of bank fraud that surfaced during the trial of Cecilia Ibru, a former chief executive of Oceanic Bank International Plc who was also convicted on money laundering and other charges. Ms. Ibru served a jail sentence, albeit in a hospital.  

SaharaReporters found out that Mr. Daudu ignored protestations by concerned lawyers that Mr. Oye was unfit for the role of prosecutor. Mr. Oye, who at one time fled Nigeria and later returned, was retained as lead prosecutor in the disciplinary panel. He was not the only actor in the disciplinary panel with a tainted history. Now retired Justice Umaru Eri, who was the chairman of the Body of Benchers Disciplinary Panel, was also indicted by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) for embezzlement of funds running into billions of naira at the National Judicial Institute. The charges against Mr. Eri were later dropped after Aloysius Katsina-Alu, a former CJN known for his corrupt ways, intervened on his behalf. Sources told SaharaReporters that Mr. Katsina-Alu, who was the institute’s chairman, was seen as a likely beneficiary of the massive embezzlement. At the time, Mr. Katsina-Alu’s protégé, Michael Aondoakaa, was Nigeria’s Attorney-General.  

In an ironic twist, the disciplinary panel is currently headed by the discredited Joseph Daudu. In addition to shielding rogue lawyers during his tenure as NBA leader, Mr. Daudu was also scolded by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2009 for acting unprofessionally in filing a questionable application on behalf Andy Uba. In the application, Mr. Uba pleaded with the apex court to overturn its earlier decision to the effect that Governor Peter Obi of Anambra had not served out his term in office.

The Daudu-led disciplinary panel will soon hear a petition by Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State against Kunle Kalejaiye, a SAN, for engaging in illicit telephone conversations and text exchanges with Justice Thomas Naron when the judge was heading the Osun governorship election tribunal. Justice Naron has been found guilty of judicial misconduct and recommended for compulsory retirement by National Judicial Council. The recommendation is awaiting the approval of the Governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang.

SaharaReporters also learnt that Justice Charles Archibong of the Federal High Court, who was also removed last week by NJC, was found guilty of judicial misconduct following a petition by Joseph Daudu alleging that the judge insulted him in the course of hearing the criminal charges against Erastus Akingbola, a former executive of Intercontinental Bank.

“It is ironic,” said a Kaduna-based senior lawyer, “that while Archibong is being removed on the basis of a petition written by Daudu, the same Daudu was suppressed petitions against some jankara lawyers like Aribisala.”

The full text of the 2011 petition written by Fidelity Bank Plc against Mr. Aribisala is reproduced below:

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