Ace Nigerian lawyers, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) and Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) have protested against the N60m fine which was handed to them by the Supreme Court during an appearance for a review of the judgement which sacked David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress (APC), as the Governor-Elect of Bayelsa State.
Recall that Justice Amina Augie who delivered the lead judgement on February 26 dismissed the applications by the APC and its candidates, before rebuking the lawyers and awarding N30 million punitive cost against each of them for reportedly misleading their clients.
Babalola and Olanipekun who protested against the fine in a letter addressed to the National Executive Council (NEC) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), insisted that they did nothing unlawful and unprofessional to warrant the “harsh words” used on them and the unprecedented cost awarded against them for merely carrying out their professional responsibilities as lawyers.
They also argued that the Supreme Court’s decision might lay a wrong precedence of lawyers being penalised for simply representing their clients. Olanipekun personally authored his letter dated March 10, 2020, while Babalola’s letter dated March 11, 2020 was written by the Managing Partner of his law firm, Adebayo Adenipekun.
Olanipekun’s letter read in parts;
“I and the team of lawyers that I lead in the matter did no wrong, either in terms of our presentation through the filing 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 Hon. 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.”
Babalola’s letter on the hand reads;
“I write to protest and draw the attention of 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 SAN, CON and the imposition on him of the unprecedented costs 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 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 the 26th of February 2020 that we state that the award of cost of N30 million against Aare Afe Babalola SAN, CON 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 loses sight of the fact that Aare Afe Babaloia SAN, CON, 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 manner consistent with the best interest of his client.
“It is in the light of the above that we most respectfully request the NBA, though the NEC, 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.”