Alex Enumah in Abuja
Two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Afe Babalola and Chief Wole Olanipekun, have protested the N60 million penalty imposed on them by the Supreme Court for daring to ask for a review of the apex court’s judgment on the Bayelsa State governorship election dispute.
The SANs, in their separate letters to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), also protested what they described as harsh words used on them during the delivery of the ruling in the application they filed on behalf of the All Progressives Congresses (APC) and its candidates in the last governorship election in Bayelsa State, Mr. David Lyon and Mr. Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo.
Babalola and Olanipekun had appeared before the Supreme Court to persuade it to set aside its judgment, voiding APC’s victory in the election.
A seven-man panel of the apex court on February 26, 2020, had dismissed the application for lacking in merit.
In the ruling delivered by Justice Amina Augie, the apex court rebuked both lawyers and awarded N30 million punitive cost against each of them.
However, the senior lawyers in their letters addressed to the National Executive Council (NEC) of the NBA, said they did no wrong by asking the court to take a second look at its earlier judgment.
According to them, their actions could not be said to be unlawful and unprofessional as to warrant the harsh words used on them and the unprecedented cost awarded against them for merely carrying out their professional responsibilities as lawyers.
Babalola and Olanipekun warned that the decision of the Supreme Court, as it relates to them, was capable of laying the wrong precedence that lawyers could be penalised for merely seeking to explore the justice administration process for the benefit of their clients.
Olanipekun’s letter was dated March 10, 2020, while Babalola’s letter dated March 11, 2020, was signed by the Managing Partner of his law firm, Mr. Adebayo Adenipekun (SAN).
Both letters were addressed to the NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN).
In his letter, to which he attached all processes in respect of the case, Olanipekun said: “I and the team of lawyers that I led in the matter did no wrong, either in terms of our presentation through the filling of the application or during the oral adumbration in court.
“I repeat again, with every emphasis at my disposal and all sense of responsibility that I/we did no wrong, committed no error and did/do not deserve the harsh comments (to put it mildly) in the leading ruling of the Honourable Justice Amina Augie.
“It might interest you to note that there is no nexus or proximity or even bearing between the processes filed by us and the most unfair and least expected stern expressions of her lordship, Amina Augie.”
Part of Babalola’s letter reads: “I write to bring to the formal attention of the National Executive of the Nigerian Bar Association, the unfortunate events, which occurred that day, but more importantly, to protest and draw the attention of the NBA to the danger posed to the due administration of justice by the disparaging remarks made in the ruling of the court concerning our principal, Afe Babalola, and the imposition on him of the unprecedented cost of N30 million.
“The action of the court, aside from being unfair and totally unwarranted, is, if not urgently addressed, capable of sending a wrong signal to judges of courts, lower in the hierarchy to the Supreme Court, about how they can and should relate with lawyers, who appear before them to plead the case of their clients.
“This, in the long run, will be inimical to the development of trust and respect between the bar and the bench and will ultimately hamper the smooth operation of the justice delivery sector in Nigeria.
“It is with respect to their Lordships of the Supreme Court, who sat on February 26, 2020, that we state that the award of cost of N30 million against Afe Babalola failed to meet the standard set by that very court concerning the award of costs.
“Costs have never been imposed to intimidate counsel as is apparent in the cost orders made by the Supreme Court in this instance.
“The cost order lost sight of the fact that Afe Babalola like every other lawyer has a duty under the rules of professional conduct to devote his attention, energy and expertise and subject to any rule of law, to act in a manner consistent with the best interest of his client.
“It is in the light of the above that we most respectfully request the ‘Nigerian Bar Association, through the National Executive Council, to look into this matter with a view to preventing a situation where the courts would seek to intimidate counsel and prevent them from either adequately presenting the cases of their clients or punishing them for doing so in a manner required of them under the rules of professional conduct.
“This situation, at the risk of repetition, if allowed to persist and gain footing, will do incalculable damage to the administration of justice in Nigeria.”