The overarching responsibility of a lawyer in Nigeria is to uphold the Rule of Law, maintain an impeccable standard of professional conduct, champion the cause of justice, and abstain from engaging in conduct unbecoming of a legal practitioner. This is eloquently enshrined as Rule 1 in the Rules of Professional Conduct, RPC, within the Nigerian Legal System.

Ethics of professional conduct vehemently opposes legal practitioners engaging in the instigation of controversy or litigation. A lawyer should not incite strife or provoke litigation without due consultation; instead, they should offer prudent advice or initiate legal proceedings, as delineated in R. 47 RPC. Rule 47(2) unambiguously stipulates that a lawyer must refrain from any action amounting to the instigation of controversy or litigation with the intent of being retained as counsel for the matters instigated.

Section 12(2) of the Legal Practitioner Act also cautions legal practitioners against any conduct incongruous with the esteemed status of a legal practitioner. Lack of professional decorum, courtroom etiquette, and involvement in affray are among the transgressions that could render lawyers unsuitable to serve as officers of the Court.
Rigorous compliance and steadfast adherence to these and other ethical principles of professional conduct elevate the legal profession as a ‘Noble Profession’ globally, esteemed among practitioners today.

Just as in any assembly of individuals, there is invariably a risk of a ‘bad apple,’ and the legal profession is not immune to being tainted by some of its members. Driven by self-interest, unchecked ethnic biases, and personal motives, they continue to undermine the noble profession. There is no denying that the conduct of such practitioners is tarnishing the esteemed position of the legal profession today.
This underscores the imperative for regulatory bodies of the Legal Professional in Nigeria, such as the Nigerian Bar Association, the General Council of the Bar, the Body of Benchers, Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, etc., to wield the authority vested in them to ensure the sanctity of the legal system is preserved, upholding its noble status at all times.

The actions and demeanor of Jibrin Sam Okutepa, SAN, masquerading as an unbiased legal practitioner since 2015 when power transitioned from his compatriots in Kogi East to other senatorial districts of the state, have cast a shadow over the pristine image of the legal profession. Created 33 years ago and since the advent of democracy in 1999, Okutepa’s compatriots from the Igala ethnic group have governed the state uninterrupted for 19 years. J.S. Okutepa was conspicuously silent across all forms of communication channels, including print and electronic media, failing to hold the state leadership accountable, even during the tumultuous, profligate, and inept 9-year tenure of one of his compatriots as governor. Okutepa was among the leading counsel to the PDP administration in Kogi State during the party’s thirteen-year reign over the Confluence State.

Also Read This:  I'll positively turnaround representation in Kogi East - Prince Yahaya Audu Ohidi Assures

Despite widespread public perception of the PDP’s administration as the worst in the state’s history, Okutepa saw no wrongdoing. While Okutepa profited from the government’s largesse during the PDP’s misrule, other senatorial districts of the state were not deprived of competent legal practitioners with impeccable legal acumen. During this period, luminaries like Bayo Ojo, SAN, and Bello Mohammed Adoke, SAN, held prestigious positions such as Attorney General of the Federation and Ministers of Justice. Christopher Adebayo Ojo (Kogi West), a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, served under Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration as AGF, while Mohammed Bello Adoke (Kogi Central) served under Goodluck Jonathan’s administration as AGF. Despite their positions of influence, they refrained from using their authority to undermine the leadership of Kogi State for personal or ethnic gain even though their senatorial districts never had opportunity to produce governor of the state.

Okutepa’s endeavors to besmirch the reputation of Kogi State government since power divinely shifted from the East to the Central have been brazen and unchecked. Misguidedly considering himself as the only legal practitioner in the country whose voice must be heard in his usual ultracrepidarian believe, Okutepa has orchestrated acts aimed at plunging the state into chaos and turmoil through his social media presence, television appearances, and clandestine orchestrations of protests against the government over the years.

At numerous town hall meetings across the Kogi East Senatorial District especially since the 2019 governorship election in the Confluence State, Okutepa persistently incited the populace against the government, urging them to resort to arms and any other means capable of destabilizing the government, with assurances of legal protection. During every election in Kogi State since his compatriots lost power, Okutepa has venomously stoked the flames of political crisis in the state.

The decisions of our Courts, arrived at through meticulous deliberation, wisdom, and integrity, carry immense weight. When the Court makes a pronouncement on any matter, it is akin to “Roma locuta, est causa finita est,” signifying finality.
The actions of legal practitioners like J.S. Okutepa, who incessantly engage in trial publicity and influence the course of justice mala fide, cast a profound shadow of doubt on the nation’s legal profession and the entire judicial system, undermining the authority of the Court.

In the legal profession, it is a fundamental rule that a Lawyer or a Law Firm engaged in or associated with the prosecution or defense of any anticipated or pending trial in a Court must refrain from making any statement or participating in making extrajudicial statements calculated to prejudice or interfere with the fair trial of a matter, judgment, or sentence. This principle is explicitly stated in Rule 33.

Also Read This:  Kogi Govt mulls request to extend payment of WAEC, other examination fees to private Schools - Education Commissioner, Wemi Jones

JS Okutepa has gained notoriety as a lawyer who engages in media trials, aiming to dissuade the court and incite the public against the judiciary.
It was deeply troubling, utterly distasteful, and a serious affront to the legal profession to witness JS Okutepa granting an interview to Channels television regarding the ongoing Kogi State election tribunal, in a manner that flagrantly undermined the integrity of the court. Okutepa is not alone in this trial publicity or the sub judice rule, as his protégé Rilwan Okpanachi was heard passing judgment on a matter that is still under the purview of the court.

In his interview with Channels television on the 30th of March, 2024, Senior Advocate JS Okutepa stated, “the step we have taken so far is to bring those B-VAS machines for Okene, Adavi, Okehi, Ajaokuta, and Lokoja local governments. Witness from INEC has come, he started yesterday, the B-VAS machines have been identified. They have counted them and we are about to tender them to do what we called scheduling so that each of the B-VAS machines will have a distinct identity code in the schedule of documents, then it will be tendered before we go to the next stage of powering it and opening it for the world to see the authentic figure of accreditation for each polling unit because every document stored in a machine cannot lie, that is the stage we are now.”

In the same vein, Barrister Rilwan Okpanachi on the platform of trial publicity established by Okutepa further granted interview to channels television stating, “the matter has been adjourned to Monday, 1st day of April. The PW1 is an INEC staff in charge of the B-VAS machines used in the conduct of the election in the five local government areas we are challenging: Okene, Adavi, Okehi, Ajaokuta, and Lokoja local government areas. All the B-VAS machines have been identified and by Monday, we shall be tendering them formally in the schedule as directed by the court so we are making progress. And the essence of the B-VAS machines as ordered by the tribunal is for INEC to demonstrate to the court and the entire world the number of accredited voters from each polling unit that we are challenging because the results as generated do not comply with the accreditation records and it behooves on INEC to bring the B-VAS machine which is the primary document, power it on, and show to the court and the entire world each polling unit’s accredited voters. We will then be able to match the result generated from that polling unit to determine overvoting that we alleged and to the glory of God, INEC has produced the entire B-VAS machines used in those polling units and by the time it is demonstrated, we will be able to show to the whole world how the election was rigged by the respondent in favor of the purported governor.”

Also Read This:  COVID-19: Edo vaccinates 33,700 persons, urges compliance with guidelines to contain pandemic

These statements not only undermine the sanctity of ongoing legal proceedings but also constitute a violation of all regulatory bodies of the legal practitioners in Nigeria. Such conduct not only risks prejudicing the outcome of the trial but also erodes public confidence in the judiciary. It is imperative for legal practitioners to uphold the principles of fair trial and refrain from engaging in trial publicity that undermines the integrity of the legal system. I hereby plea to the Nigerian Bar Association, The General Council of Bar, the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee and the Body of Benchers to watch Okutepa’s interview on Channels television of the 30th of March, 2024 for proper guide.

Ethics of Professional Conduct views Contempt of Court as a serious transgression by any legal practitioner in the country. It defines contempt of Court as any deliberate act or omission capable of tarnishing judicial authority, obstructing the administration of justice, or disobeying a court order. J.S. Okutepa stands as a notorious offender of Court Contempt, both in facie and ex facie.

It is on record that on April 28, 2022, J.S. Okutepa was served with contempt Proceedings by the Federal High Court in Abuja for Court disobedience. As a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who should have been well-versed in the rules of the Court and the repercussions of flouting them, he evaded service of the Contempt Proceedings until Justice Inyang Ekwo ordered substituted service following complaints that J.S. Okutepa and four other senior lawyers had allegedly refused to personally receive the charge, as required by law. Rule 32(2)(k) of RPC unequivocally states that a lawyer shall not engage in any act that may obviously constitute an abuse of the court process or which is dishonorable and unworthy of an officer of the law charged with the duty of aiding in the administration of justice. How long will the legal profession and the entire judicial system tolerate J.S. Okutepa’s recklessness, abuse, and disregard for the legal system?

Jibrin Sam Okutepa has conducted himself in a manner incongruous with the dignity and honor befitting a legal practitioner, especially one of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Urgent action must be taken by the General Council of the Bar, the Nigerian Bar Association, the Body of Benchers, and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee to rein in members like Jibrin Sam Okutepa before his actions precipitate the collapse of the nation’s legal system.

Adebayo Temitope Isaac, Ph.D

Writes From Maitama District
FCT, Abuja

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *