From Olalekan Awojodu, Abuja
The new Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Chief Wole Olanipekun at the weekend promised to reveal his plans for the reforms in the legal profession at the next meeting of the body which comes up in July. It will be his first meeting as the head of the body.
This is just as the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) expresses concern on the declining capacity of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LDPC) to effectively deal with cases of unethical conduct among lawyers in the country.
NBA blamed the ugly development on the ebbing standard of discipline and rising cases of misconduct among legal practitioners in Nigeria.
NBA President, Olumide Akpata, who made these observations charged the Body of Benchers, whose organ is the LPDC to ensure an urgent reform of the committee to enable it function effectively to restore public confidence in the legal profession.
Akpata spoke in Abuja at an event held to commemorate the change of leadership at the Body of Benchers, with Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) succeeding Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour (a retired Justice of the Supreme Court), as the Chairman, while Justice Mary Odili (of the Supreme Court) became the Vice Chairman.
“Akpata said: “I will charge the new Chairman to look closely at the issue of discipline; look closely at the issue of the LPDC.
“The public, right now have very little confidence in the LPDC and they believe that we are shielding many of our colleagues who have committed one infraction or the other.
“So, more work has to be done by the LPDC. First, more panels should be put in place to enable LPDC sits across the country. It cannot be the case that a man, who has a matter against a lawyer in Ugheli in Delta State will have to travel all the way to Abuja to have his matter heard.
“The way things are just shows that we are not really keen or at least, it makes us look as if we are not keen to see that our members are disciplined.
“So, it is the responsibility of the Body of Benchers to ensure that the LPDC has more panels and that the process is more efficient.
“Right now, we have cases/petitions piled up, waiting to be heard. As the President of the Bar, I get calls everyday from people who feel that they have been hard done by lawyers; who feel that some lawyers have misconducted themselves in cases involving them, and they think we are not doing enough in terms of disciplining erring lawyers.
“It is a one-year term, as the Chairman of the Body of Benchers. It is not a very long tenure. But, as the Chairman, I know if he puts his mind to it, I am sure he (Olanipekun) can totally revamp the LPDC to ensure that our citizens regain confidence in the legal profession, not only that we are competent and can service the public, but that we can discipline our own”.
Speaking earlier, Olanipekun,who is now BOB’s 50th Chairman, said he is humbled by his new assignment and assured of his commitment to lift the body and the profession by building on the enviable foundation laid by his predecessors in office.
“I am humbled, honoured and ecstatic at the matchless and remarkable opportunity afforded me to lead and pilot the affairs of the Body of Benchers for the next one year, having been elected as the Vice-Chairman on 25th March, 2021.
In whatever position I found myself, I have always striven to represent our noble profession as an ambassador and exemplar, displaying the learning, good character and virtues which the law profession is reputed for, to the admiration of the non-legal communities.
“I pledge to continue to give my all to the services of the Body of Benchers as Chairman for the next year and, in doing so, I will be calling upon you all for your cooperation, understanding, assistance, advice and counsel. Nobody knows it all, and no man born of woman can boast of monopoly of wisdom. I am not insular,” he said.
Olanipekun, who eulogised his predecessors in office and hailed their noble achievements, said he would work with other stakeholders to reform the legal profession to ensure it retains its noble status.
The new BOB Chairman, who promised to unveil his programmes at the meeting of the body in July, assured that he would sustain the independence of the LPDC and ensure that it functions effectively.
He added: ” It behoves us to rejig, redefine and reorientate our profession in order to restore its cherished nobility and glory. We must not lose sight of the unpleasant happenings around us, whether from the Bar and Bench.
“Succinctly surmised, our profession is under aggression and attack, both from within and without. These are not the best of times for the legal profession in Nigeria.
“Therefore, it is the bounden duty of the congregation of these great men and women of distinction, constituting the Body of Benchers, to work for the greatness and renaissance of our esteemed profession. In doing so as well, we may have to crack some glass ceilings.
“I will try to improve on what my predecessors in the office have done. I have a focus about the legal profession.
“We have to do something about it. And, what we have to do about the legal profession is very urgent. And I have my ideas, which I will present at the next meeting of the body.
“I will not, at this stage, say this is what I want to do. I will present my agenda to the body at the first meeting that I will chair in July. And at that time, I will roll out my programmes,” he said.
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