WHY IS THE PDP NATIONAL LEGAL ADVISER DOING EVERYTHING TO PULL DOWN PDP IN THE SOUTHWEST?
RE: SUIT NO. FHC/L/CS/63/2021 HON. DAYO OGUN GBENRO & 11 ORS V. PRINCE UCHE SECONDUS & 2 ORS. MATTER ARISING.
By virtue of S. 31 (1) (o) of the Constitution of Peoples Democratic Party, the office of the National Legal Adviser was created. However, S. 42 (1) of the same constitution states the functions of the National Legal Adviser to include, advising the party in all legal matters; conducts all litigation on behalf of the party and finally to interpret the laws, regulations and constitution of the party in event of any ambiguities/controversy arising therefrom.
By the above provisions, the PDP constitution places on the National Legal Adviser a fiduciary duty, that must be performed with good faith at all time and in all circumstance in the discharge of the duties of his office.
The position of the National Legal Adviser is apposite or synonymous with relationship/position of client/lawyer relationship. This is so, as the position can only be occupied by a legal practitioner who has qualified to practice Law in Nigeria by enabling law and regulation. The National Legal Adviser is therefore bound to uphold the principles and stipulations of his professional in the discharge of his duties in office.
The Courts have over the years emphasized that there is a fiduciary relationship between a Counsel and his client which should ensure that a client’s rights are fully advanced and protected. There is a duty on Counsel to present his client’s case with utmost devotion, sincerity and honesty. Please see Per Alagoa JSC in the case of CHIEF GREAT OVEDJE OGBORU & ANOR V. DR. EMMANUEL EWETAN UDUAGHAN & ORS (2013) LPELR-20805(SC).
To this extent, the National Legal Adviser, being the touch bearer of the party in legal matters must at all the time be seen to be a person of unbiased mind neither must he put himself in a precarious position against the interest of the party nor a position that may engender conflict of interest. The Court of Appeal while reiterating what conduct may amount to conflict of interest, held in the case of NJOKU & ORS v. ONWUNELEGA (2017) LPELR-43384(CA) thus:
“The Rules of Professional conduct in the Legal Profession provides inter alia against exertion of adverse influences and conflict of interests. Thus, within the ambit of the rules, a lawyer represents conflicting interests when in respect of the client for whom he presently contends, the interest of that client touches or concerns confidences of another client to whom the lawyer at the same time owes a duty of service and or fidelity.” Per OREDOLA, J.C.A. (P. 30, Paras. C-E).
Let us now consider the case in review.
This brings us to the case Dayo Ogungbenro and 11 ORS allegedly instituted at the Federal High Court in Lagos against The National Chairman, National Legal Adviser of the Party and one other. The faction of the party in the South-West that instituted the matter are Chief Ladi Adebutu’s faction, who are contesting amongst other thing that the court should change the National Executive Committee (NEC) Southwest’s approved venue from Oyo State to Abeokuta.
Upon being served with the Court processes, the National Legal Adviser, who is a 2nd Defendant in the matter instructed Adeyinka Adeyemi Esq of Adeyemi & Partners to represent all the Defendants, that is, the National Chairman, National Legal Adviser and PDP. He further stated that Adeyemi Adeyinka Esq.’s professional fees would be negotiated with and paid for by the Chief Ladi Adebutu (whose faction instituted the matter). What a preposterous situation? Please refer to the letter of instruction dated 29th January, 2021 and signed by the National Legal Adviser of PDP.
Meanwhile while the action got to the notice of the Acting Caretaker Committee Chairman and 4 others whose name were listed as Plaintiffs in the matter, they quickly approached the Court by filing processes disassociating themselves from the Suit and also by the processes seeking the striking out of their names as a party in the matter on the ground that they did not authorized any lawyer to file the matter.
The Committee also prayed the court to strike the entire case, as there was no resolution from the Caretaker Committee in a validly conveyed meeting to institute the case in reference.
Suffice to say that the National Legal Adviser created a conflict of interest of inordinate proportions. This is so as the National Legal Adviser cannot maintain the expected standard because there is no way he can maintain the expected standard of defending the party. How? The factional head who sponsored the institution of the action is the one footing the bill of the lawyer of the Defendants persons. The scenario playing out here could be likened to the same person being the Plaintiffs and Defendants. In ALOYSIUS & ANOR V. OKIKE & ANOR [2018), the Court of Appeal in considering whether the same person can be a plaintiff and a defendant in the same action held
“that it is improper for a party to be both Plaintiff and Defendant in the same suit”.
Now the role of National Legal Adviser in defending an action instituted against himself and two others, whether by the letter dated 29th January, 2021 has he not breached the constitution of PDP and Rules of Professional Conduct?
It is indisputable that as the Legal Adviser, he has the power to assign matters to external solicitors for obvious reasons. But one may now ask what is the role of all the State Legal Advisers in the Party? Can we validly argue that the National Legal Adviser has rendered the State Legal Adviser redundant, when he refuses to engage them in appropriate circumstances or can we conclude that the State Legal Advisers are incompetent?
These questions are left for us to draw the necessary logical conclusions. What is the legal and political implications of the conduct of the National Legal Adviser of PDP? Has he run foul of the Rules of Professional Conduct as a Legal Practitioner. The Court while interpreting Rules 24 and 29 of Rules of Professional Conduct held in the case of NBA V. ITEOGU as follows:
” Above all, a lawyer finds his highest honour in a deserved reputation for fidelity to private trust and to public duty, as an honest man and as a patriotic and loyal citizen.” Rule 49 provides thus: “(a) The lawyer should refrain from any action whereby for his personal benefit or gain the abuses or takes advantage of the confidences reposed in him by his client. (b) Money of the client or collected for the client of other trust property coming to the possession of the lawyer should be reported and accounted for promptly, and should not under any circumstances be commingled with his own or be used by him.” A combined reading of these rules gives clear indication that a Legal Practitioner has responsibilities towards his clients to uphold the law and should not render any service or advice to any client involving disrespect to holders of any judicial office or involving corruption of any holder of any public office. Above all, a Legal Practitioner should strive to the highest honour in a deserved reputation for fidelity to private trust and public duty as an honest man and a patriotic, loyal citizen. Any conduct or service by a Legal Practitioner that has the colouration of corruption of any holder of public office or breach of fidelity to private trust is inconsistent with rules of professional conduct. Similarly, any lawyer who in the dealing with his client’s instruction for his personal gain or benefit abuses or takes advantage of the confidence reposed in him by the client is liable of professional misconduct or any Legal Practitioner who fails or neglects to report and account promptly to his client any money, properties of the clients that comes into his possession is guilty of professional misconduct.” Per IBRAHIM, C.O.N. (Pp.40-42, Paras. F-F.
In other words, any conduct of a legal practitioner with the colouration of corruption or breach of fidelity to a private trust is inconsistent with the Rules of professional conduct.
More so by S. 58 (1) (d), (h), (j) and (l) of the Constitution of Peoples Democratic Party, any person who engages in dishonest practices, in conduct likely to cause disaffection among the members of the party, or promote factions or result to court action without first availing himself of remedies provided by the party has committed offense, and may be sanctioned.
Is the National Legal Adviser an exception to these provisions? We shudder to say NO. It is therefore worrisome that that the National Legal Adviser, No. 1 law officer of PDP, could get himself enmeshed in such situation we have provided above. We leave you to be the judge and say that posterity will not forget in a haste this act of disservice to our collective integrity and stewardship.