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Monday, November 17, 2008

WHEN WILL THE TRIAL OF THE SQUIB EDITOR BEGIN?

Beginning from October 2001, a bitter fight raged between two forces in the Lagos State Judiciary. The first force was led by no other than the prime leadership of the Judiciary Ibitola Sotuminu J. the then 63 year old Honourable Chief Judge of the State.
The other force was led by then a little known, lawyer Adesina Ogunlana. The big dispute was over-Ogunlana's magazine, a shoe-string budget but fiery publication, meaningfully called The Squib with a ringing war cry-“The Heavens Will Not Fall! for motto.
In setting up the Squib, Ogunlana's singular objective was to frontally challenge and expose widespread corruption and misconduct in the bar and the bench in Lagos State, via the journalistic platform of the Squib and thus force a change in attitude.
Interestingly, the Squib was already in existence before Ibitola Sotuminu became the Chief Judge. When the Squib was 'born', the Chief Judge of Lagos State was a certain Christopher Segun J. who kept well away from the Squib, until he left office.
Within two months of being in office, Sotuminu C.J had become uncomfortable with the presence of the Squib. The Chief Judge's first reaction at containing the Squib was to approach some elders and leaders in the legal profession to “talk to the Squib man to mellow down”
The approach failed because only a few elders agreed with the aggrieved Chief Judge that the Squib was bad and should be checked. In fact the late Chief Debo Akande S.A.N shocked the chief judge with his enthusiastic defence and justification of the Squib when both met over the issue. Said Akande “if only for helping us tame Olugbani (then a Lagos State high court judge notorious for perennial late coming to work). I will continue to support the Squib. What we the elders of the bar collectively failed to achieve, that small boy has done it. If you like call me a board member of the Squib magazine, no problem”. In November 2001, the Chief Judge ordered a crack-down on the Squib. The Chief Judge placed a ban on the sale of the magazines in the premises of the courts of Lagos State and instructed the Chief Registrar Mrs. Oluwatoyin Taiwo, now Oluwatoyin Taiwo J. to enforce the clearly illegal ban.
The Chief Registrar did her best to ensure that the Squib was chased out of the courts. To that end, private security men and armed mobile police-men were deployed into the court premises to achieve the illegality.
Despite repeated invasions of the court premises by police-men and repeated arrests of the Squib vendors, the effort failed as waves upon waves of activist cadres came to the support of the Squib's publisher and ensured that the sale of the Squib continued.
Upset and frustrated by the surprising resilience of the publisher of the magazine, Justice Sotuminu in her capacity as the Chief Judge of Lagos State sent in a petition dated 2nd January 2003 to the Chairman of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee Nigerian Bar Association, against Ogunlana asking for his disbarment and the cessation of the publication of the Squib. The Nigerian Bar Association's Disciplinary Committee headed by Chief Bamidele Adedeji Aiku without hearing from Ogunlana considered the petition and by a split 4-3 votes decided that a prima facie case of professional misconduct was disclosed by the petition against Ogunlana.
The Committee by its letter of 21st July 2003 to the Secretary of the Legal Practitioners' Disciplinary Committee formulated a complaint of professional misconduct against Ogunlana thus:
“Adesina Ogunlana as a legal practitioner in various editions of 'The Squib' between year 2001 and year 2003 published of Judges of the Lagos State Judiciary words that have negative impact on the administration of justice in Lagos State.”
On October 23 2003 the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee of the Body of Benchers summoned the Editor to appear before it.
The editor obeyed the summons in company of his lawyers led by the foremost legal practitioner G.O.K Ajayi SAN. The trial did not take place as the complainant Sotuminu C.J (as she then was) did not turn up. It took another three and half years before the LPDC met again to consider the complaint. That was on May 7 2007. Again the complainant did not show up.
On October 23 2007, the matter came up for hearing and was stalled on the two occasions in part because there was no complainant in “court” against the ever-present editor-in-chief. In all these occasions did the LPDC consider throwing out the complaint.
In fact at the sitting of the LPDC on 22 April 2008, when Adesina Ogunlana, in the absence of his counsel Chief G.O.K Ajayi S.A.N respectfully sought to draw the attention of the LPDC to the fact that the complainant was, as usual, was absent, the presiding chairman Umaru Eri, Chief Judge of Kogi State sternly hushed down the editor with these unforgetable words.
“YOU CAN'T ADDRESS US. IT IS BECAUSE OF CHIEF AJAYI THAT WE ARE DOING ALL THIS. IF NOT FOR CHIEF AJAYI WE WOULD HAVE FINISHED YOUR MATTER A LONG TIME AGO.”
Ogunlana was not to hear from the LPDC again until September 25 2008 when the LPDC caused an advertisement to be put up in the Punch Newspaper that his matter would be coming up for hearing on the 27th October 2008.
Curiously the matter was listed for defence. Baffled at this, the editor enquired from Abubakar Maude Esq, the Secretary of the LPDC what warranted the listing of the case for defence. Maude's explained it away as “a mistake” that would be rectified. Then on Thursday October 16 2008, the LPDC placed another advertisement that the case no longer coming up on the 27th October 2008 but on 10th November 2008.Again it was listed for defence.
On the 3rd November 2008 Mr. Dele Oye, as counsel to the Nigerian Bar Association forwarded to Ogunlana's counsel, Chief G.O.K Ajayi S.A.N among other things, a copy of a two count complaint against Ogunlana which read thus:

From all indications then, it seemed that a definite hearing of the matter against the editor would take place on the adjourned date (10th November 2008). This moreso, as the incumbent Chief Judge of Lagos State Adetula Alabi J. despite the hectic schedules of his office and his own personal burdens was positioning himself strongly to inherit former Chief Judge Sotiminu's petition against Ogunlana. However the hopes of any hearing in the C.J Lagos Vs Adesina Ogunlana case before the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee on the 10th November 2008 as scheduled crashed late afternoon of Friday 7th November 2008 when messages arrived from the LPDC to Ogunlana and his counsel that the hearing date has been vacated. According to the LPDC Secretary, Abubakar Maude, the body would not be able to form a quorum on the 10th Novemeber 2008 Explained Maude in a telephone chat with Ogunlana
“Many members of the Committee are involved in Election Petition Tribunal matters and so won't be available on the 10th November to hear the matter.”
From all indications, whenever and wherever the dispute between the contending forces are judicially resolved, the SQUIB EDITOR CASE will end a locus classicus. The reason is simple the decision, if ever the case comes to be tried on the merits, will determine the limits of the meaning(s) of a professional misconduct in a practitioner where the practitioners wears two or three hats on one head at the same time, as the respondent in the present case does.

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