Olanipekun: There was no Nigerian that Jonathan feared more than Tinubu
Wole Olanipekun, former pro-chancellor of the University of Ibadan and former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), says there was no Nigerian that Goodluck Jonathan, former president, and his government feared more than Bola Tinubu, national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Olanipekun said this when asked by Punch in an interview to explain how he managed to represent clients from opposing camps, such such as defending Tinubu at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on a certain morning and then defending former Jonathan at another court in the afternoon of the same day.
“What I give my clients is my knowledge, I don’t sell my conscience,” he said.
“I retain my conscience and independence. I cherish my liberty. I keep it. No client will tell me not to represent others; I will tell that client to go.
“Let me give you an example. Tinubu is not just my client, he is also my friend. I respect him and he respects me but he cannot say he wants to control me. He does not even discuss my professional jobs with me.
“The day you just referred to, I was at the CCT in the morning in a suit. Jonathan’s election petition was stood down till about 2 pm and immediately I finished addressing the CCT on Tinubu’s matter, I had to go and change for Jonathan’s matter. Jonathan would dare not ask me why I was defending his foe. But one thing I knew then was that there was no Nigerian that Jonathan’s government feared more than Tinubu.”
Asked why he thought so, he replied: “I know. In fact, his camp believed they were contesting election against him, that he was the arrowhead of the opposition but they dared not ask me anything about his case.
“One thing I also noticed was that Jonathan’s team started withdrawing from me gradually because of the Tinubu factor. And I won’t go to anybody to beg for briefs. A lady, whose name I don’t want to mention, called me one day and said these people are in trouble, why are they running away from you?
“Who cares? I can be very committed to my clients. Former President Umaru Yar’Adua is dead; I was his lawyer since his days as Governor of Katsina State. He was a gentleman per excellence; he would have been the best president Nigeria ever had but he was overwhelmed by his illness. He was so humble, intelligent, honest and frugal.
“He was the one who appointed me as Pro Chancellor of the University of Ibadan and he told me, Wole, I know you are going to help me revive and revamp that place. Thank God we did that eventually. We changed the entire face of the university. Anytime Tinubu wants to make jest of me, he will say ‘when it comes to law, nobody talks to you’. I will say ‘thank God you know that’.
“He knows that when it comes to his case, I will not compromise his interest. Also, I defended Tinubu when the late Funsho Williams took him to the tribunal. He has been my client over the years.”
Olanipekun also responded to persistent lamentations by Ibrahim Magu, acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), that lawyers were employing legal technicalities to frustrate the agency’s anti-corruption work.
“If you are talking of technicality, we had a plan when we handled Tinubu’s CCT case,” Olanipekun said.
“We had even planned against the ruling and ahead of the ruling. I had already prepared notice of appeal. I had prepared a notice of appeal, a motion for stay of proceedings, and that if the ruling went against us, we would say okay, let’s take a short adjournment, argue that motion for stay of proceedings.
“Would you say that is technicality? Is that not allowed in law? Today, if I do it for somebody else, would you now want to shoot me down? When people are in government, they appropriate all knowledge to themselves. And it is only they that are patriotic; that can’t be right. It is only God that is always right. I see a lot of us now, who believe that government is always right, that can’t be right. We must objectively critique the government, not to bring it down but to make it perform.
“Nobody has the divine right to govern over me, you do so through democratic means, therefore, you owe me a duty to do well and listen to me and my complaints. When government says 2 plus 2 equals 10, we clap. We don’t take the government up any longer; we must not be like robots. It is not in the interest of the government, it is not in our own interest and it is not in the interest of our children.”
He also spoke about how technicalities helped Buhari become the president, explaining that the 2015 election would not have held if they hadn’t acted fast.
“Nowadays, you see people talking about lawyers defending some people. A lawyer is at liberty to defend any person that briefs him. So you should not condemn the lawyers because it is Mr. A; it might be you tomorrow….
“They talk of technicalities and say that lawyers delay cases. Look, without being immodest, I have been involved in a lot of cases in this country. I have defended a lot of people. During the run-up to the 2015 elections, I was one of the lawyers hired on pro bono to defend the All Progressives Congress and its candidate, Muhammadu Buhari.
“We employed all the tactics available, employable and allowable in the legal profession; why didn’t they blame us then? If we didn’t, the election would not have held. If you do that today, some people, even within the profession, will blame you. I know what I’m talking about.
“The election was to hold on a Saturday and Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, said he was going to deliver his judgement on whether or not card readers should be used by the Independent National Electoral Commission on Thursday, two days to the election. We filed preliminary objection, he overruled it. I was in court with Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), Akin Olujinmi (SAN), and Kola Awodein, (when) Asiwaju Bola Tinubu sent an aircraft to pick me in Akure, saying that if we were not in court, the election would not hold.
“There are things that need to be unveiled in this country. Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola, the vice-president (Yemi Osibajo), Lai Mohammed, the AGF (Abubakar Malami) were in the know. And Kolawole overruled us. Then he called the plaintiff and said, can you go ahead with originating summons? I will deliver my judgement tomorrow.
“Like someone who was possessed, I rose up and said I was applying for stay of proceedings. Then the other lawyer interjected and asked for my formal application. I gave him two authorities offhand that I could apply orally. That was two days to the election. Kolawole said well, whatever it is; I would want to listen to you. He listened to me. We did it pro bono in the sense that the APC hadn’t paid us. Nobody even wrote a letter to say thank you. Then thereafter, he wrote a ruling and granted stay of proceedings 48 hours to the election.
“The Supreme Court later held that, though the card reader was a good innovation, it was not yet in the law. Would Buhari have been president if we had not done that? What could be more technical than that? They filed action against Buhari, we looked at it; we raised objections and we were dragging that. Is that not technicality? And some people will now accuse me when I do it for other people that I’m defending looters. But when you do it for them, it is right; that is double standard.”