A growing scandal has enveloped the latest list of nominees to receive the coveted title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, as some lawyers and anti-corruption activists describe some lawyers on the list as unworthy.
Among the controversial nominees is John Olusegun Odubela. When officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested top lawyer, Ricky Tarfa, on charges of bribing judges and obstructing justice, Mr. Odubela swore to affidavits claiming that the EFCC had framed Mr. Tarfa.
A source in the legal community also told our correspondent that Mr. Odubela was the person who mobilized all the senior lawyers who came to court to defend Mr. Tarfa. Mr. Odubela is the head of Mr. Tarfa’s law firm, Messrs Rickey Tarfa & Co and was reportedly responsible for approaching judges to fix cases in which the Tarfa firm represented clients.
Another lawyer told SaharaReporters that Mr. Odubela could not realize an ambition to be elevated as a judge in Lagos State during Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s term as Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice. “Odubela failed [to become a judge] due to allegations of his involvement in corrupt acts,” said the source. The lawyer later became a Commissioner of Education in Ogun state where he lived a lavish life that attracted constant media scrutiny.
Another controversial SAN nominee is Oluwatoyin Ajoke Bashorun. A lawyer told our correspondent that the Nigeria Bar Association in Lagos had in 2014 sanctioned Ms. Bashorun “following a petition that she had gamed a client. Said the lawyer: “In 2013, one Mrs. Chinwe Adelekan petitioned the Chief Justice of Nigeria, alleging several instances of professional misconduct against Ms. Toyin Bashorun who was then practicing under the name of her legal firm, Churchfields Solicitors. The petition was referred to the Nigerian Bar Association disciplinary panel in Lagos, and the NBA panel found that Bashorun had engaged in misconduct and referred the case to the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee.”
SaharaReporters learned that the NBA panel’s report stated, “In the final analysis and against the backdrop of the conclusion reached in all the allegations above, we hold the view that there is a prima facie case of serious professional misconduct/ infamous conduct against the Respondent, which should be forthwith referred to the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee.” However, the LPDC never acted on the recommendation of the NBA panel that indicted Ms. Bashorun.
Earlier this year, Ms. Adelakun, the petitioner against Ms. Bashorun, took out an advert in a Nigerian newspaper to remind the Chief Justice of Nigeria that there was lack of action on her complaint. One source told SaharaReporters that Ms. Bashorun’s name has been dropped from the list of persons to be sworn in on Monday as Senior Advocate of Nigeria, but our correspondent could not independently confirm the information.
One of the worst cases among the newly appointed SANs is Enefiok Essien, an erstwhile professor at the University of Uyo (UNIUYO) who was accused of sexual harassment. According to a Premium Times report, Mr. Essien, who was then a Vice Chancellor-designate of the University of Uyo, was in 2005 indicted by the Court of Appeal for forgery and sexual assault.
The Court of Appeal in Calabar, capital of Cross River State, handed down the indictment on July 14, 2005 in a verdict that affirmed the judgment of the Federal High Court, Calabar, which nullified Uniuyo’s expulsion of a female student, Linda Onyebuchi Essell, from the university. The student had been expelled ostensibly over her alleged involvement in examination malpractice. Uniuyo did not appeal the judgment, and Ms. Essell went on to complete her first degree in law and graduate from the university.
An official of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC) told our correspondent that his group wrote a petition to the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee not to grant SAN to Mr. Essien. “Unfortunately, our petition against Professor Essien was not acknowledged or acted upon,” said the official.
A lawyer told SaharaReporters perhaps the CSNAC petition was ignored because the indicted professor and Nigeria’s current Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen, are close friends.
Anti-corruption watchdogs and lawyers who spoke about these scandalous nominations said the legal community owe it to Nigerians to drop these three nominees before the swearing-in event on Monday.