Thursday, May 26, 2011
DISBARRED: THE END OF THE ROAD FOR JIDE ALADEJOBI?
DISBARRED: THE END OF THE ROAD FOR JIDE ALADEJOBI?
IN THE LEGAL PRACTITIONERS DISCIPLINARYCOMMITTEE OF THE
BODY OF BENCHERS
ON TUESDAY THE 22ND DAY OF FEBRUARY, 2011.
COMPLAINT NO: BB/LPDC/057
1. HON. JUSTICE UMARU ERI OFR CHAIRMAN
2. HON. JUSTICE Z.A. BULKACHUWA OFR MEMBER
3. HON. JUSTICE ABDU ABOKI JCA MEMBER
4. HON. JUSTICE A.S. DAHIRU CJ, SOKOTO MEMBER
5. HON. JUSTICE KULU ALIYU, CJ, ZAMFARA MEMBER
6. CHIEF A.S. AWOMOLO, SAN MEMBER
7. CHIEF N. NWANODI, SAN MEMBER
8. CHIEF R.A. LAWAL RABANA SAN MEMBER
9. CHIEF M.O.O. NWAMU MEMBER
10. NIYI OWOLADE ESQ. AG OSUN MEMBER
11. CHIVE I. KAAVE AG BENUE MEMBER
12. EDWARD G. PWAJOK AG PLATEAU MEMBER
NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION- COMPLAINANT
JIDE ALADEJOBI- RESPONDENT
On the 23rd April 2008, this committee delivered its direction concerning the respondent. On 5th June 2008, the respondent caused the said directions to be set aside on the grounds that he was not given every opportunity to defend himself as preserved in section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.`
Rehearing of the complaint against the respondent began on 26th July 2010. The complaint read to the respondent reads as follows:
"Jide Aladejobi as Counsel to Alhaji Salin Gbolagade, on or about the Year 2001, conspired with the said Alhaji Salin Gbolagade to draft and execute a 10 Year Lease Agreement purportedly 'On behalf of Mrs. Victoria Akniyele Aliu (the Petitioner) in respect of the Petitioner's Property situate at No 52 Western Avenue. Surulere, Lagos with the intent to interfere with the Petitioner's ownership rights over the Property, all contrary to Rules 24, 28 and 49(a) & (b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct in the Legal Profession and Section J2 of the Legal Practitioners Act 1990as amended."
The respondent denied any liability.
The lead senior counsel for the complainant Sunday Ameh Esq indicated that he had two witnesses and was ready to proceed with the hearing of the matter.
The first witness gave his evidence as follows:-
"My name is Abubakar Ibrahirn Maude. I am the Secretary of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee of the Body of Benchers. I live at No. 36 T.O.S- Benson Crescent Utako District Abuja. As the Secretary I receive Petition from the NBA wherein a prima facie case of Professional Misconduct has been shown against a Legal Practitioner. In respect of the Respondent I received a Petition against the Respondent dated 16th March, 2005 1 will be able to identify it because it has been in my custody. This is the complaint of 46 pages which I received from the NBA.
I seek to tender the complaint in evidence."
Agabi SAN: No objection.
Committee: Admitted in evidence as exhibit Al- A46.
PW 1: Exhibit A8 is a letter from Mike Omonnan & Co dated 1st December, 2003 titled forging of lease agreement by Mr. Jide Aladejobi- On receipt of exhibit A1-A46, I made copies for the Chairman and Members of this Committee. I also served
copy on the Respondent. Exhibit A2 is a letter dated is" June, 2.004 addressed to the Respondent titled Complaint of Professional Misconduct. The letter is Signed by Dele Adeshina General Secretary of the NBA.
Cross examination-Agabi SAN: None.
PW2: My name is Mike Omonnan. I live in Lagos. I practice at No. 11 Olowo Street Ikeja. I am a Legal Practitioner. I know Dr. Mrs. Victoria Akinyele Aliu. Mrs. Victoria Aliu contacted me sometimes in 2003 to write a Petition against the Respondent. Mrs. Victoria Aliu is about 86 years old and when she realized she could not come to give evidences she gave me Power of Attorney to come on her behalf, I can identify the Power of Attorney this is the Power of Attorney.
Ameh SAN: I seek to tender the Power of Attorney in evidence.
Agabi SAN: No objection.
COMMITTEE: Admitted as exhibit B.
PW1: I can identify the Petition because it has my signature and is dated 1st December, 2003. I see exhibit A8-A46: Exhibit A8 - All read. Annexure 1 is exhibit A 12 annexure 2 is exhibit A 14, annexure 3 is exhibit A 14, annexure 4 is exhibit A23, annexure 5 is exhibit A24, annexure 6 is exhibit A29, annexure 7 is exhibit A31, annexure 8 is exhibit A37, annexure 9 is exhibit A44. When the matter came up before the direction that was set aside was given, the Respondent approached the Petitioner and apologized. He wrote a letter to that effect. The Petitioner directed me to write an application for withdrawal of the matter but our application was refused.
Cross examination-Agabi SAN: All I did was to write the Petition that I tendered. All I wrote was that I was consulted and I wrote what I was told by my client.
Re-Exam-Ameh SAN: Nil.
The respondent gave evidence and he was cross examined as follows:-
RW1: My name is Babajide Aladejobi. I live at No 18 kogberegbe Street, Isolo, Lagos. I am a Legal Practitioner. I have been a Legal Practitioner since 22/10/1987. I know the Complainant. I know the Petitioner to the Complainant I got to know him when he Petitioned against me. He is PW2. He wrote the Petition on behalf of one Victoria Akinyele. Victoria Akinyele is not before this Committee. She has never been before this Committee. I was reported by Victoria Akinyele to the police. The report against me to the Police was that of Conspiracy to forge a lease: Following the Complainant the Police insisted that. I drop the representation. The Police Police insisted that I drop the representation. The Police charged me to Court for Conspiracy and forgery of the lease. It is the same charge as the one I am standing trial. The charge went on trial before the Hon Justice O. GbajaBiamila of the Lagos High Court. The trial has been concluded. The Court discharged and acquitted me. I have a certified copy of the Judgment.
We seek to tender it in evidence.
Ameh SAN: No objection.
Committee: Admitted and marked as Exhibit Rl.
RW1: The Complaint against me was that I conspired with Alhaji Gbolagade to forge the Lease. I know Alh. Gbolagade. He was my Client. I did not conspire with Alh. Gbolagade to forge the Lease. I have never been charged with any Professional Misconduct before now. I have been in practice since Oct. 1987 I did not drive any profit from what was alleged to have been done.
Cross examination Ameh SAN-: I was before the Committee when PW1 and PW2 testified PW1 tendered many documents which were admitted as exhibits. I see exhibit A 12-A 18. I have seen the exhibit before now. I see exhibit Rl, last paragraph of exhibit Rl read.
Learned counsel for the respondent Kanu Agabi SAN filed his written address on 20th July 2010 but the learned counsel for the complainant did not file any address.
The facts of the complaint against the respondent as laid before the committee are as follows:-
The petitioner, Mrs. Victoria Akinyele Aliu, an 86 year old lady is the owner of property situate and lying at No 52, Western Avenue, Surulere, Lagos, Lagos State. Between 1996 and 1997, a part of the said property w-as let to one Alhaji Saliu Gbolagade for a sum of600.000.00 per annum by her niece while she was in America. Later on her return on 14th December 1997, the petitioner entered an agreement with the said Alhaji Gbolagade appointing the latter as caretaker of the property7 to collect rents and eject tenants currently owing arrears of rents.
The agreement also let to Alhaji Gbolagade the first floor of the building consisting of seven rooms for office A13-14. Alhaji Gbolagade engaged the services of the respondent for the purpose of filing court processes at the rent tribunal to eject the debtor tenants. The tenants were ejected. Alhaji Gbolagade remained a tenant in the said property.
Sometime in May 2002, the petitioner was informed that the tenant/caretaker Alhaji Gbolagade was making arrangement to sell the property to some Lebanese. She called the firm of Abimbola Isikalu & co, Legal Practitioners, to write and warn Alhaji Gbolagade from selling her property.
The respondent by a letter dated 8th May 2002 in response wrote to Abimbola Isikalu & co wherein he said:
“Yours dated 3rd May 2002 and titled as same addressed to our client has been referred to us for necessary action. Permit us to say with respect that your client did not reveal facts very material to the transaction between herself and our client to you.
The brief gist of the matter is that our chambers undertook a couple of years back the recovery of the premises in question from tenants and in consideration of the renovation/repairs carried out by our client, a ten year lease (copy enclosed) was executed in his favour with the expiration being 28th February 2011.
We are therefore to assume that our client has no intention whatsoever of alienating your clients as to do this would be illegal."
The petitioner knew and saw the attached lease agreement for the first time. The agreement dated 1st day of March 2001 shows the owner as Mrs. V.A Aliu of 20 Adeniyi Jones Ikeja, Lagos, the home address of the petitioner: She was described as the owner and Alhaji Saliu Gbolagade as the developer. The agreement demised the property for a term of 10 years beginning from 1st day March 2001 and terminating un 28th February 2011. The respondent was me maker of the said leasehold between the petitioner and Alhaji Gbolagade. He received his instructions from his client Alhaji Gbolagade only.
The matter was reported to the police and the petitioner denied entering into the said agreement with Alhaji Gbolagade. She denied the signature on the agreement, all these to the knowledge of the respondent. Indeed, the police arrested the respondent, conducted signature analysis by forensic science laboratory of the Nigerian police and found that the signature on the leasehold agreement prepared by the respondent, allegedly that of the petitioner was not that of the petitioner.
The respondent as counsel to Alhaji Gbolagade instituted a civil suit at the Lagos High Court in suit No ID/ 1603/2002 between Alhaji Saliu Abolade Gbolagade and Mrs Victoria Adun Akinycle (aka Mrs. Adun Aliu). In the affidavit in support of a motion for Interlocutory injunction dated 25th September 2002, one Mrs. Layamadi deposed 10 facts as follows:
4. That the plaintiff proceeded to give effect to the defendants instruction and instituted several court actions at the Surulere bank Tribunal for recovery of possession of the premises whereas the defendant in fact appeared in some of the actions as witness on the invitation of the plaintiffs solicitors.
5. that the upon due conclusion of the assignment the defendant in consideration of the sum shall be expected by the plaintiff to carry out substantial renovation on the premises granted to the plaintiff a ten year lease in ond over the said premises on 1st day of March 2001. Now shown to me and marked EXHIBIT is a copy of the lease."
In the respondent's statement to the police dated 08/01/03.agreed that he prepared the agreement in original and counterpart. That the petitioner signed the agreement as she had many signatures as the same signature had been used on other documents. The respondent admits that he caused her former office clerk to witness the signature of the petitioner. He was unable to submit to the police the said clerk.
The respondent admitted that he instructed, his wife, who is a lawyer in chambers, to sign the document as the maker. Her name is M.T. Aladejobi (Mrs.) Alhaji Gbola.gade in his statement to the police dated 06/01/03 wrote "The purported agreement was made by my lawyer Banister Jide Aladejobi" From the common evidence before the committee, the respondent and his client were charged to Magistrate court of Lagos state on 9 counts charge ranging from forgery, stealing, conspiracy, fraudulently forging a lease agreement, attempted murder, forgery of receipts, willful and unlawful damages to properties etc.
Before this committee, the respondent admitted the report of the criminal allegations to the police. That he was charged to court and tried by Hon. Justice Gbajabamila of Lagos High court. He was discharged and acquitted. He tendered the CTC of the judgment.
He denied being the Legal Practitioner to Mrs. Victoria Adun Aliu, the petitioner.
The respondents address is anchored on three main issues;
1. That he, having been tried discharged and acquitted, he cannot be charged and tried by this committee for the same offence. He relied on the principle of double jeopardy in criminal proceedings and section 36 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and the decision of the Supreme Court in N1GRE1AN ARMY v. MAUDE AM1NU KANO (2010) unreported. A copy of the judgment was not made available neither was the full case number and the date of the decision disclosed.
2. That the offence charged was not proved at all or not proved beyond reasonable doubt as required by law. He laid emphasis on the two words "conspiracy" and "forgery”. He relied on the principle of hearsay to ask this committee to disregard the evidence of the second complainant's witness.
3. He finally addressed on the intendments of Rules 24 and 49 of the Rules of Professional Conduct in the legal Profession and stated that none of the rules is relevant and if relevant, none was proved against him.
The committee in consideration of this matter is of the opinion that this is a case where the various documentary evidence admitted in evidence speak on and for all matters in controversy. However, the parties are agreed on these important facts.
1. That the petitioner Mrs. Victoria Adun Akinyele Aliu was and is still the lawful owner of the property situate and lying at No 52 Western Avenue, Surulere Lagos.
2. That on or about the 14/01/1997, Mrs Aliu entered into an agreement with one AlhaJi Chief Saliu Abolade Gbolagade to act as caretaker of her property at No 52, Western Avenue, Surulere, Lagos.
3. That Alhaji Gbolagade employed the services of the respondent to repossess from tenants occupying the above properties vacancies through litigation instituted at Rent Tribunal in Lagos.
4. That the respondent as counsel for Alhaji Gbolagade was aware of the agreement between the petitioner and Alhaji Gbolagade.
5. That the respondent prepared a 10 year lease agreement between 'the petitioner and Alhaji Gbolagade on the said property situate at No 52 Western Avenue, Surulere Lagos.
6. The petitioner did not instruct the respondent neither did she append her signature to the said lease hold agreement in the office or presence of the respondent.
7. The respondent caused his law clerk to witness the purported signature of the petitioner who was claimed to have signed as lessor.
8. The respondent caused and authorized his wife, a legal practitioner in his chambers to sign the franking column on the said leasehold agreement as if she was the maker of the agreement.
9. That when the petitioner became aware of plans by Alhaji Gbolagade to sell the properties, she caused a law firm of lsekalu to write a warning letter to Alhaji Gbolagade.
10. The respondent acting as Legal Practitioner to Alhaji Gbolagade replied to state that a 10 year lease hold agreement was executed between the petitioner and his client Alhaji Gbolagade, he forwarded a copy of the lease agreement.
11. The petitioner disputed the leasehold agreement and reported the matter to the police.
12. The police investigated the matter and charged the respondent and Alhaji Gbolagade to Magistrate Court for various criminal offences.
13. While the matter was on, the respondent instituted a suit- on behalf of his client against the petitioner and sought to restrain the petitioner from disturbing his client from peaceful occupation and enjoyment of the premises.
14. The respondent was later arraigned before a Lagos High Court for various crimes relating to the leasehold agreement.
15. The respondent was later discharged and acquitted.
The first issue to be settled in this matter is the jurisdiction and competence of this committee to hear the complaint against the respondent. It has become trite that this committee is not and should not be equaled and regarded as one of the courts established under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. No it is not. It is not a Tribunal established under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. No it is not. It is indeed a fact finding committee established by the Legal Practitioners Act to inquire into and deal with all complaints or allegations of professional misconduct against any Legal Practitioner in the performance of his duties and responsibilities as a legal practitioner.
Rule 1 of the Legal Practitioners Act 2007 gives the general guide line to the duties of the committee- It says:
"A lawyer shall uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and foster the cause of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct and. shall not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner. So where a legal practitioner acts contrary to any of the rules his conduct may be inquired into because such conduct is unprofessional or unbecoming of a legal practitioner”.
The committee has no competence or jurisdiction to try any criminal' offence; it is the function of Courts established under the law. The committee cannot therefore retry any matter or criminal allegation already decided upon by any court of law.
In the case of CHARLES OKIKE v. THE LEGAL PRACTITIONERS DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE (2005) NWLR 471, the Supreme Court at pages 518 and 520 laid to rest any misgivings as to the jurisdiction of this committee. The Court per Uwais C.J.N. said
"The legal Practitioners Disciplinary tribunal is not a tribunal but a fact finding and house cleaning body to maintain, discipline and decorum in the legal profession. It is a committee to investigate and make recommendations. It is not a tribunal or court of law. It is a quasi- administrative body and because of the strategic importance of the legal profession to administration of justice, it must maintain the highest standard discipline."
The submission of the respondent that this committee has no power to try or retry' him on criminal allegations on which the High court of Lagos State had tried and acquitted him is correct. There is no charge before the committee. The committee in the circumstances discountenanced all the submissions on competence and jurisdiction to try crimes under the Criminal Code Act or the principle of double jeopardy in criminal proceedings and section 36 of the 1999 Constitution. Members of the committee are Legal Practitioners like the respondent.
The committee believes that the respondent acted as a Legal Practitioner in all the transactions in question. He as counsel is deemed to know the rights and limits of authority and obligations of his client Alhajl Gbolagade arising from the agreement of 14 /12/97. He did not at any time deny knowledge of the content of the agreement. He admitted the making of the leasehold agreement allegedly between the petitioner and Alhaji Gbolagade, his client, dated 12/02/2001. He at no time told the committee he ever took instruction from the owner of the property the petitioner. He never met the petitioner the owner of the property upon which he created encumbrances. He had no letter of authority instructing him as counsel to prepare the lease agreement.
The respondent never produced any written instruction from the petitioner. He followed only the instructions of his client. Even when the petitioner disowned the purported lease agreement, he maintained a strong resistance. When the matter was reported to the police, he asserted in his statement to the police that the petitioner signed the lease agreement. He did not for once think twice rather he continued to assert and defend the rights of his client. He caused a civil action to be filed against the petitioner- He made his law clerk swore to an affidavit in support of the motion for injunction against the petitioner, the owner of the property.
This committee is strongly of the view that in the absence of written instructions from the petitioner, or written agreement between Alhaji Gbolagade and the petitioner on the 10 year lease, the respondent ought to have personally investigated or queried his client's instruction. He had a duty to take instruction from the owner of the property to be demised. He failed to do this.
Before this committee, the respondent did not make any efforts to prove the truth of his instruction on the 10 year leasehold agreement he prepared. The signing of the agreement by the petitioner is very crucial on the evidence before us concerning the validity of the lease agreement.
The respondent did not produce Alhaji Gbolagade to appear before the committee. Indeed, the presence of Alhaji Gbolagade would have proved whether or not the lease was executed by the petitioner or not. The respondent had a duty as a legal practitioner to uphold the law, property guide his client and deal prudently with properties of persons, as improper advice or services is unethical and merit strong condemnation as unprofessional conduct.
The respondent had the primary duty to decipher where an instruction is founded upon deception, improper motive or fraud. In this case, the petitioner was not interviewed, she was not made, to write instructions, and the agreement was not executed in the presence of the respondent or any of his counsel. Rather, the agreement w-as allegedly signed by the petitioner and the respondent in the absence of the respondent and the respondent caused his clerk to sign as witness to the signature of the owner, while his wife, a Legal Practitioner was directed to sign the franking column. There is every reason to hold the respondent liable for improper conduct in the transaction. The committee expects the respondent to know his obligations in conveyancing matters. Particularly, when he was purportedly acting as counsel for both parties, one of whom is his close client.
The committee holds the view that the respondent took advantage of the old age of the petitioner to assist Alhaji Gbolagade in perpetrating conduct bordering on fraud on her because there was no instruction from the petitioner.
The committee believed that the respondent knew that Alhaji Gbolagade played fraud and deception on the petitioner and when he was discovered, he was, in our view, peeved by her audacity to report him to the police, here he resolved to swim through or sink with his client.
It is clearly, from the facts before us that the respondent exhibited indiscretion and an abuse of the privilege position of a Legal Practitioner. It is indeed oppressive on the petitioner that the respondent took out a summons and injunctive application to restrain her from disturbing or displacing Alhaji Gbolagade from the property.
It is clear to the committee that the respondent was deeply involved with his client to deny the petitioner the possession and the fruits of her property for l0 years and this is unfortunate.
The respondent has argued that the complainant has not proved the allegations beyond reasonable doubt. The submission is without substance. All the documents made available to the committee spoke with a loud voice the inequities and shameful conducts of the respondent. The documents alone without oral evidence have conclusively proved the full liability of the respondent.
How could the respondent prepare a lease agreement when the lessor never instructed him? Why would the respondent not request execution of the agreement in his office to be witnessed by him and any of his legal practitioners including his wife? Why did the respondent ask his clerk to witness the petitioner's signature when it was false, untrue and unprofessional? Why did the respondent not at the time the matter became an issue under the police investigation not properly advice his client? Why did he pursue the innocent petitioner with a civil suit knowing the full implication?
Every legal practitioner has the duty to put right all matters which appear deceptive, fraudulent and unconscionable. The committee considers this matter as the height of irresponsibility, show of insensitivity, brute unconscionable conduct and a grave odium on the dignity honor and integrity of the legal profession.
Hon. Justice Chukwudifu Oputa CON, Justice of the Supreme Court, in the case of ATANO V. A.G. BENDEL STATE (1988) 1 NWLR (pt 71) 454 at 480, lamented the moral decay in our society. He said painfully...
That a Bank Manager, appointed to manage and entrusted with the Banks money, should steal the very money entrusted to him shows how deep the 'get rich quick' virus has eaten into our societal fabric. That an Accountant, appointed and paid to keep the books of his Bank, will bum those books to destroy all evidence of his theft looks grossly Machiavellian. And yet this is what one sees every day. It is the re-occurring decimal of theft followed by arson. This raises a social question-are we not now paying very dearly for the wrong emphasis we have placed on the mere acquisition of wealth not minding how it is acquired? After all, the view of criminology is that the society prepares the crime and the criminal merely commits it. Do we not need urgently a re-orientation and a irons valuation of our value system, especially our views on money? That is the question for our society.
What gave Oputa pains and agonies of the heart has crept into the Legal Profession. We now live in times where Bank Managing Directors admit to stealing several billions of Naira. Poor depositors money; agreed to forfeit to the state properties scattered all over the world valued at several billions of Naira. Here is a country where minimum wage is on1y N6,500,00 per month and recently increased to N18, 000.00 and per capital, one of the West in the world. The Legal Profession should be the guardian of the nation's conscience. Legal Practitioners by their training and privileged position stand as vanguard against corruption, fraud, oppression and be the epitome of all that is virtuous, honourable and worthy of emulation. The respondent represents the class that is completely different from this. He does not deserve to be a Legal Practitioner and member of the most honourable, learned and respected practice of Law.
The committee finds that the respondent willfully, recklessly and without due regards to the interest of the petitioner Mrs. Victoria Adun Akinyele Aliu prepared a 1 0 year lease without instruction, caused fake execution of the lease and acted in oppressive manner on the petitioner.
The committee finds the conduct of the respondent in the whole complaint as an infamous conduct in a professional respect proved.
The committee appreciates the maturity, industry and co-operation of Kanu Agabi S.A.N. and Sunday Ameh Esq. S.A.N who are honourable members of the Legal Profession. They conducted this proceeding diligently and acted manners worthy of emulation.
1. The committee hereby directs that the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court strike off the name of the respondent from the rolls.
2. That the direction be brought to the notice of all Chief Judges of the Federation, the Federal High Court and the Federal Capital Territory.
3. That this direction be brought to the notice and enforcement of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, and all the chairmen of all the branches of the Nigerian Bar Association.
Hon. Umaru Eri OFR