Law News
Oyinlola’s lawyer takes expulsion battle to S’Court

The Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee on May 21, 2015 revoked the practising licence of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Kunle Kalejaiye, thereby barring him from practising as a lawyer anywhere in the country.

Kalejaiye, who was the counsel for Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola when the Okuku-born prince was dragged to the Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Osogbo, Osun State, by the then governorship candidate of the now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, was found guilty of unethical practice by the committee and without hesitation, the LPDC descended heavily on the lawyer.

True to the axiom that there are neither permanent friends nor permanent foes in politics but permanent interests, Aregbesola and Oyinlola have since come together on the same political platform, the All Progressives Congress, but the issues raised during the struggle for power between them are still raising dust long after the litigants had ceased fire.

The ACN had petitioned the Nigeria Bar Association while the tribunal was still on, alleging that Kalejaiye engaged in a “private and confidential telephone conversation” with the Chairman of the Osun State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal, Justice Thomas Naron, without the knowledge of the other parties in the case.

Naron, whose panel heard the petition filed against Oyinlola following the April 14, 2007 governorship poll in Osun State, had been retired compulsorily as a judge since February 20, 2013 by the National Judicial Council. So, some people are of the opinion that the LPDC direction, which also sacked Kalejaiye about 26 months after Naron was punished, is deserving.

Naron was accused of being in communication with Kalejaiye, who was the lead counsel for Oyinlola. The Naron-led panel subsequently dismissed Aregbesola’s petition and held that Oyinlola was the lawfully elected governor of the state. However, Oyinlola was eventually sacked by the Court of Appeal in Ibadan on November 26, 2010 and the ACN candidate was declared the validly elected governor of Osun State.

Jolted by the directive of the LPDC, Kalejaiye did not wait for the 28- day grace he had to appeal before rushing to the Supreme Court to appeal the verdict which is threatening to end his legal career abruptly and stop his means of livelihood.

The lawyer has filed his notice of appeal against the verdict in order to enable him continue to practise and he is free to carry on as a lawyer except the apex court rules otherwise. But lawyers and politicians hold divergent views concerning the punishment meted out to the Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

A lawyer told our correspondent in confidence that the judgement of the LPDC was too much for the offence Kalejaiye allegedly committed. He said nobody told the committee what Kalejaiye and Naron allegedly discussed in their telephone conversations.

Apart from this, he said Kalejaiye denied the allegations against him and called an expert witness, a ‘hacker’ who successfully demonstrated before the committee that it was possible to clone a telephone line and use the same to call other lines.

He said, “When the expert was called, he demanded to used NBA counsel’s phone to prove this but the counsel refused. In fact, he was hostile. The panel asked two of the court registrars to give out their telephones for the purpose and the witness proved to the amazement of the members of the LPDC that it was possible for somebody else’s phone numbers to be cloned and used to call others.

“He demonstrated it by using a Glo line and an Etisalat line he was given. He did not use his lines so they would not say he had programmed something in it but he used the telephone lines provided for him there and he demonstrated it.”

But the respondent did not show that it is possible to clone an MTN line and use it to call another line on the same network.

However, the Secretary of the NBA, Ilesa branch, Mr. Yinka Sokoya, said the verdict against Kulejaiye was a welcome one. According to him, the punishment would make lawyers and judges who are involved in a similar conduct or those who may want to engage in such think twice.

He said, “Ours is a noble profession. It is a profession that adheres strictly to ethics and rules; we are seen as a symbol of law and justice and we must always be above board. If you look at the facts presented and argued by the NBA, you will see that the allegation of gross misconduct levelled against him was proven.

“Although that committee is not the final court, I don’t see the Supreme Court ruling otherwise. I doubt if the Supreme Court would give a contrary verdict but they may reduce the punishment by saying he should not practice for a certain period of time if he is found to be remorseful.

“Everybody expects lawyers to show example of good behaviour and we must not be found wanting in adherence to the law. Like Governor Adams Oshiomhole said some time ago, ‘Physician, heal thyself,’ we must heal ourselves first.

“Justice Naron that was involved has been compulsorily retired. There is no way you can ask Chief Kunle Kalejaiye to carry on. There are two parties involved and there is no way you will punish one and ask the other party to go unpunished. I think that will send a signal to every lawyer in town that you cannot just do anyhow. We must all adhere strictly to the tenets of the profession. It will send a clear signal that there is still order in the NBA and legal profession; you can’t do the way you like.

“You don’t have any duty to call the judge who you have a case before. If you must see that judge, you must see the judge together with the other parties in the case. You must not go and see him behind, it is a sharp practice.

“I want to commend the NBA for this. We are bringing in lawyers every year and those coming in must know that this is not a profession where you can misbehave. There are rules to be followed and we must all follow the rules.”

One of the counsel to the appellant, Mr. Niyi Owolade, who is a former Attorney General in Osun State, said that he was confident that the apex court would set aside the verdict of the LPDC.

Owolade, who is a former member of the LPDC, said the punishment meted out to Kalejaiye was more severe than the alleged offence.

He said, “There is an intrigue unknown to many people and this is difficult to say now because of the pending appeal. I can’t go to the nitty-gritty of it, suffice to say that it is very unfortunate.

“I was a member of the LPDC and we had worse cases but this kind of punishment was not meted out to any of them. I am confident that the Supreme Court will vindicate him at the end.”

The Secretary of the PDP in Osun State, Mr. Bola Ajao, described the revocation of Kalejaiye’s licence as a sad development. He said, “It is unfortunate but since he has said he would appeal the revocation, let us wait for the outcome of his appeal pending at the Supreme Court.”

A chieftain of the APC, who is also the immediate past Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Osun State, Mr. Wale Afolabi, declined to make any comment on the issue when contacted. He said, “The matter is in court and as a lawyer and a former Attorney General, I will not pass comment on it. The Supreme Court will rule on it and after that I will be able to pass my comment on it.”

The Chairman of the APC in Osun State, Mr. Gboyega Famodun, also declined to comment on the matter. Explaining that the issue did not involve politics, Famodun explained that the issue bordered on professionalism. He, however, added that his comment would not be complimentary, stressing that he would not want to add to Kalejaiye’s problem.

He said, “I read it in the newspapers that the man has appealed to the Supreme Court. My comment will not be complimentary and the man is my friend so, I don’t want to add to his problem.”

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