A Nigerian lawyer, Timipa Jenkins Okponipere, has called on President Paul Kagame of Rwanda to cancel his proposed trip to Port Harcourt as the special guest at the Annual Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) conference.
The request to Kagame was made through an open letter in which he stated that, despite initially looking forward to seeing Kagame in Port Harcourt, he would want the Rwandan President not to attend the conference in the interest of human rights and the rule of law.
The lawyer also told Kagame that he was sending copies of the letter to US President Barak Obama, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, the European Union, the African Union, the International Bar Association and Nigeria bar Assocation.
Specifically, Okponipere told Kagame that the NBA is perhaps the most corrupt professional body on the continent. He also described the NBA as a serial abuser of the fundamental rights of its members. His allegations were based on the use of the NBA as a battle axe against Okponipere, who had filed a suit at a Federal High Court, seeking the removal of Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili from the Supreme Court Bench. He described Justice Odili as Africa’s most corrupt judicial officer.
On 10 May, 2013, the NBA Disciplinary Committee, headed by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), struck out one Timipa Okponipere from the country’s roll of legal practitioners, he said in the letter.
Curiously, no such name was ever listed as a legal practitioner with the Supreme Court of Nigeria. The removal followed an invented complaint and mock disciplinary proceeding.
The committee proceeded to make the announcement on National Television as well as publish its decision on all media platforms, including the country’s premier law journal, the Nigerian Weekly Law Report (NWLR). “The name under reference is Timipa Okponipere,” the lawyer said.
However, he explained that his own name is Timipa Jenkins Okponipere Esq., which is similar to the name the NBA Disciplinary Committee said it had struck out.
“The entire world erroneously believed or assumed that I was the legal practitioner, Timipa Okponipere, whose name was struck off the roll of legal practitioners in Nigeria on May 10, 2013,” wrote the disaffected lawyer.
Subsequently, the lawyer informed Kagame, he wrote many letters to the NBA, drawing the association’s attention to flaw in what it had done. The NBA, he said, refused to reply any of the letters. But the letters, he explained, had the unintended consequence of confirming to him that there is no Nigerian lawyer known to the roll of legal practitioners as Timipa Okponipere.
The NBA, Okponipere further informed Kagame, pushed on with its agenda against him. This saw the NBA General Secretary, Mazi Afam Osigwe, writing a series of damaging correspondences to various highly placed Nigerian clients of Okponipere that he was the lawyer disbarred on May 10, 2013.
One of such clients is Attahiru Jega, former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). On Jega’s receipt of the letter, on March 4, 2015, he had Okponipere arrested for impersonation, a charge for which he was detained at Kuje Prison, Abuja, on March 10, 2015. Okponipere would spend nine months, awaiting trial.
“On December 9, 2015, I regained my freedom when the Chief Magistrate Court at Wuse Zone 6 in Abuja discharged me on the strength of a letter dated July 9, 2015 written and signed by the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court of Nigeria affirming my status as a bona fide lawyer whose name was never, or at all, struck off the Roll of Legal Practitioners in Nigeria. The Supreme Court letter was the drug that saved me from the rampaging, mad-cow antics of the NBA! The Honourable Court went further to issue an Order stating that I was not to be re-arrested on the same charge of impersonation without the leave of the Court,” wrote Okponipere.
The lawyer further alleged that sometime around January or February 2016 Osigwe demanded from him a bribe of N5 million on behalf of Osigwe, the NBA President Augustine Alegeh (SAN) and Disciplinary Committee Chair, Mr. Joseph Bodunrin Daudu (SAN). Osigwe, wrote Okponipere, threatened that if he failed to make the bribe available, his right to practice law in the country would be revoked.
The demand for bribe, Okponipere recalled, coincided with the time he had filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking among other things the removal of Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili on the sole ground that she violated the code of conduct for judicial officers.
“Following service of the suit on her and realizing the impact the suit would have on her controversial judicial career, the embattled Supreme Court Judge had hired the NBA to throw mud at me so as to dissuade me from legitimate pursuit of the suit,” he informed Kagame.
Okponipere said he refused to comply with Osigwe’s demand for bribe. The consequences, expectedly, were grim.
“ On February 24, 2016 I was arrested at the premises of the Federal High Court in Abuja shortly after I had appeared before Justice Anwuri Chikere to prosecute the suit against Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili. His arrest was as a result of a letter written by Osigwe on the instruction of the NBA President, alleging that his name was struck off the Roll of Legal Practitioners on September 14, 2015. The new date contrasted with the first one of May 10, 2013.
Okponipere said this was shameful on the part of the NBA, as lawyers are not secretly debarred. The scheme, added the lawyer, was to atone for the “error” of May 10, 2013 and “more importantly, to rescue the corrupt Justice Mary Odili from the suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja which sought her removal from the Supreme Court bench”.
The lawyer said as at September 14, 2015, he was still remanded at Kuje Prison for the charge orchestrated by Alegeh, Osigwe, and Daudu.
Following his arrest on February 24, 2016, he was arraigned before Mr. Usman Shuaibu of the Chief Magistrate Court at Wuse Zone 2 in Abuja on February 26, 2016, who also remanded him at Kuje Prison. This was less than three months after his initial release in December, 2015 on the same charge of impersonation brought against him by the same NBA.
“I spent five months on the second missionary journey to Kuje Prison. On July 20, 2016 Chief Magistrate Shuaibu discharged me from the charge of impersonation, thereby freeing me to return to my legitimate practice as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria,” he informed Kagame.
The Magistrate also held that there was a valid and subsisting Court Order of the Chief Magistrate Court at Wuse Zone 6 barring Okponipere’s arrest on the same charge and that the charge against him was vindictive and malicious.
The lawyer said in 2006, that his law firm, First Solicitors, conducted a referendum on corruption and politically-motivated killings in Rivers State, where Justice Odili was first lady to Dr. Peter Odili, who was governor over a state brimming with unresolved murders and a wave of human rights violations.
At about the same time Okponipere said he criticized Justice Odili and her husband being corrupt and violating people’s rights. This was at a time Justice Odili’s husband was planning to contest the presidency. Okponipere said they got him arrested and charged before a Port Harcourt High Court.
The matter, he added, subsequently progressed from the Rivers State High Court to the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt and eventually to the Supreme Court.
By the time the matter court to the Supreme Court, Justice Odili had also been elevated to the apex Court.
“On February 8, 2013, she was among the five Justices of the apex Court who heard and determined the Criminal Appeal which I had brought before the Court, praying it to discharge and acquit me from the wicked criminal charge hung on my neck in the last 10 years by the same Justice Odili (who was now my accuser, prosecutor and judge and the spouse, Dr. Peter Odili,” he wrote.
Predictably, he told Kagame, his appeal was thrown out by the Supreme Court because of the presence of Justice Odili on the panel of Judges.
“Clearly, she violated the legal principle of Nemo Judex In Causa Sua (No man should be a judge in his own cause),” wrote Okponipere.
In December 2015, Okponipere petitioned the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, complaining about Justice Odili’s judicial misconduct of sitting as a judge in her own case. The petition was ignored.
Subsequently, Okponipere filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja to compel Justice Odili’s compulsory retirement from the Supreme Court bench. On February 24, 2016, when the suit came up for hearing, Justice Odili hired the firm of Alegeh, Osigwe, Daudu & Company, run by the three men who masterminded his arrest and imprisonment at Kuje for five months.
“Your Excellency, lawyers and judicial officers are the gate-keepers of the nation’s conscience. That accounts for the reason why the Judiciary is widely regarded as the ‘last hope of the common man.’ The nation is therefore in deep trouble if lawyers, judges and magistrates were found to be corrupt. However, the nation is in deeper trouble if political leaders such as you did nothing to isolate or ostracize those institutions, lawyers and judicial officers, including but not limited to Alegeh, Osigwe, Daudu & Company, the NBA and Justice Odili,” he wrote.
Okponipere warned that if Kagame should come to Port Harcourt, he would meet the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the NBA as an institution, a development that would amount to giving recognition to tarnished people and bodies.