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Saturday, March 10, 2018

HONEYWELL vs KUNLE OGUNBA – NBA’S TRANSPARENCY AND FAIRNESS QUESTIONED


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The battle between Honeywell and Ecobank still rages on. While the 2 brands are in court on the matter over a business relationship gone sour, another dimension came up in the case, which led to another battle on the side which is also going on simultaneously, as the main battle is also ongoing. That battle is what brought about the title of this particular write-up above.

Mr. Kunle Ogunba, until not too long ago an S.A.N (Senior Advocate of Nigeria) a very privileged title given to lawyers who have excelled greatly in their profession and have gotten to the pinnacle and are supposed to be exemplary, is the very influential counsel for the other party, that is Ecobank and in the course of fighting on behalf of his client, some rather very unfortunate things came up, which led to petitions filed by the Honeywell Group at both the LPPC (Legal Practitioners Privileges Council and the NBA seeking some sort of redresses for some professional conducts that are thought not to be as exemplary as expected from someone as learned as Mr. Ogunba.

While the LPPC gave its own response not too long after, to the petition instituted by the Honeywell group, by withdrawing the highly revered title of 'SAN' given Mr. Ogunba, an unprecedented decision at that, nothing in the past close to 2 years, has been heard "officially" from the NBA the other body so petitioned, which is the umbrella body for all legal practitioners in Nigeria, who are also the statutory body that normally should seek to regulate the activities and excesses of all legal practitioners (lawyers) in Nigeria, if the need arises at anytime.

NBA and Self-Regulation.

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is one of the leading professional bodies in Nigeria. As the umbrella association of lawyers, the NBA is also a major stakeholder in the Nigerian judicial system. But more importantly, NBA, similar to leading professional bodies in the world, harbours a self-regulatory mechanism to promote ethics among practitioners.
According to the sixth core objective of the association, the body is responsible for: “Maintenance of the highest standards of professional conduct, etiquette and discipline among lawyers”. One will even be justified to conclude that the NBA is very particular about standards and integrity as it is clearly stated on its website that: “The NBA offers a unique National platform that is not available to any other Civil or professional organization in Nigeria.”
However, a recent development is threathening the NBA’s famed strict adherence to high standards. At least, this is the direction that the unfolding drama of the reported clearance of Lagos lawyer, Mr. Kunle Ogunba by the NBA seems to be taking.

MORE AFTER THE BREAK!



The Confounding Clearance.
Lagos-based company, Honeywell Group, is in an ongoing legal battle with Ecobank Nigeria Limited, with Kunle Ogunba representing Ecobank as lead counsel. In the course of the matter, Honeywell wrote two (2) separate petitions against Mr. Kunle Ogunba to the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee (LPPC) and the NBA respectively. In the petitions, Honeywell accused Mr. Ogunba of professional misconduct by virtue of his “institution of multiplicity of proceedings before different judges of the Federal High Court on the same subject-matter, with the deliberate aim of abusing the process of court and derailing the course of justice.” 
At the end of its review, the LPPC found Mr. Ogunba culpable and subsequently stripped him of the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). While LPPC’s notification (issued 11th January, 2018) conveying the withdrawal of Mr. Ogunba’s SAN rank was officially issued publicly, the purported clearance by the NBA according to the Honeywell Group has remained elusive since the alleged conclusion was reached by the professional body. In fact, as the petitioner, Honeywell Group has said it is yet to receive a copy of the purported NBA letter (or letters) conveying Mr. Ogunba’s clearance.

Honeywell Challenges the NBA.

Subsequent to media reports on the NBA’s clearance of Mr. Ogunba, Honeywell has demanded that there is the need for the NBA to set the records straight by addressing the identified anomalies in the whole petition review process.
In a letter to the NBA President which was received at the Abuja headquarters of the NBA on the 7th of March, 2018, Honeywell stated that: “We write with respect to a recent publication in the ThisDay Newspaper of 2nd March, 2018 (Page 51) titled ‘Again, NBA clears Kunle Ogunba of alleged
professional misconduct.’ We are indeed perplexed at the allegation and the contents of the publication as till date, Honeywell has not received any ruling from the NBA with respect to the said petition.”
According to the letter, Honeywell asked the NBA President to “recall that by a letter dated 17th January, 2018, Honeywell wrote to the NBA requesting for a status update on the petition. In the said letter, they clearly stated that it had come to their attention that the NBA had allegedly issued a ruling in response to their petition. They further stated that the alleged ruling dated August 5, 2016 and purportedly signed by Mr. Afam Osigwe was never sent to or received by Honeywell. They are yet to receive a response from the NBA to their letter.”
In concluding the letter, Honeywell questioned the fairness and transparency of the NBA when it wrote that: “Should the content of the news report in ThisDay Newspaper (as indicated above) be true, it is disappointing that the petitioner would only be made aware of a response to its petition on the pages of a newspaper. Honeywell does not want to believe that a revered institution like the NBA, which should be the standard-bearer and ultimate advocate for due process, would curiously be found exhibiting flagrant disregard for it.”
Why the NBA Must Demonstrate Transparency and Fairness
A popular legal maxim says that: “justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.” This aphorism is indeed a guiding principle for the legal system globally and specifically in Nigeria. Without transparency, it is impossible to demonstrate fairness.
Clearly, there are ensuing questions for the NBA to answer in this matter if it must maintain its status as a foremost stakeholder in the Nigerian Legal System. The myriad of questions includes: why the NBA would have supposedly responded to a petitioner without sending a formal copy of the response to the petitioner? Did the NBA actually clear Mr. Ogunba twice (as can be inferred from media reports of two letters to that effect respectively dated the 5th of August 2016 and the 20th of February 2018)? If it can be said that the NBA cleared Mr. Ogunba on two occasions, would it be safe to assume that the NBA conducted a review of one single petition twice? If we assume that the first clearance did not find him guilty why was there a need for a second clearance recently reported in the news media? After all, Honeywell never wrote two petitions.
This leads to another discrepancy as noticed in the sequence of events heralding the reported clearance. According to our investigations, Honeywell submitted the petition against Ogunba to the NBA on the 8th of April 2016. On the 26th of October, 2016, Honeywell received a letter from the NBA forwarding Mr. Ogunba’s response to Honeywell’s petition to which Honeywell issued a rejoinder via a letter dated 23rd November, 2016.  The rejoinder and a further affidavit in support of the response were received by the NBA on the 2nd of December, 2016. So if exchange of correspondences was still ongoing between NBA, Mr. Ogunba and Honeywell as at December 2016, how could the NBA have possibly cleared Mr. Ogunba in August 2016 as reported?

Indeed, the current dilemma does not bode well for the NBA. As a leading professional body, the NBA must project transparency, fairness, equity and justice in its dealings with  "all" stakeholders. While one is not admitting the merits of Honeywell’s petition, it must be stated however that the NBA must be seen to have objectively reviewed Honeywell’s petition against Mr. Ogunba before reaching a conclusion. For instance, one cannot explain why NBA has failed to send official copies of its decision(s), if there actually exists any, to Honeywell, which is the petitioner in the first place. Such opaqueness may be interpreted to mean the NBA is ‘hiding something’.
NBA is the professional body of lawyers but it has a higher responsibility to external stakeholders, the judicial system and the larger society. It is for this reason that the leadership of the NBA must hurriedly clear the air on this Honeywell vs Ogunba matter in the interest of transparency and fairness.

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