By Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN
1.1 Your Excellency, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, my noble Lords here present, Life Benchers, Honourable Benchers, distinguished audience, ladies and gentlemen: today’s event represents our onward journey to a society that centralises the power and privileges inherent in the Rule of Law, and a re-affirmation of our cooperative steadfastness to the ever-abiding credence of institutional continuity and sustainability.
1.2 I stand here on behalf of the Body of Benchers to applaud the tenaciousness of purpose, the potency of a mutual allegiance, and an unswerving audacity which dates back to several decades. The Benchers Complex, which has just been commissioned by Mr. President, is but part of a unique blend of aspirations which took roots exactly 30 years ago. The idea of a Benchers Complex was mooted in 1992 when Chief Bankole Oki, SAN, was Chairman of the Body of Benchers; and immediately, a Building Committee, comprising Hon. Justice L. M. Uwais, GCON, Mr. B.A. Ibironke, SAN, Mrs. H. A. Balogun, OON and Chief Debo Akande, SAN, was constituted to map out modalities for the concretisation of the idea. Following President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua’s approval of the application of the Body for a parcel of land at the Institution and Research District, Jabi, Abuja, the turning of the sod/ground-breaking ceremony was performed on 28th November, 2008. Construction work commenced in earnest, and the ultimate result is this magnificent and befitting project. So much time, talents and treasures have been invested into this edifice! And, when I recall the varied stretch of sacrifices made to the realisation of this unique facility, my reaction is best captured in the words of the world-acclaimed bard, Williams Shakespeare, when he said: “I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks.”
1.3 This Benchers Complex consists of a 3,000-sitting capacity auditorium, a 240-sitting capacity meeting room, a 1,000-sitting capacity banquet hall, a 1,000-sitting capacity multipurpose hall, committee meeting room, offices for secretariat staff, library, and a courtroom for the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, amongst others. To God be the glory!
1.4 This Complex is a vigorous expression of the foresightedness of a tripod: the founding fathers (sixteen in number) of the Body, our passionate leaders and the peerless members through the years. May I state, most modestly, that this Body parades the elders of our nation’s legal profession. It is an amalgam of the critical stakeholders of the nation’s polity, comprising the Executive, Legislature, Judiciary and the Bar. Let me illustrate this further. On this august Body, we have, as members, the Chief Justice of Nigeria and all Justices of the Supreme Court, the President of the Court of Appeal and all the presiding Justices of the Court in the various Divisions, all the Chief Judges of the High Court of Nigeria, the Attorney-General of the Federation and all the Attorneys-General of the States, the Chief Judges of the Federal High Court and all the State High Courts, the Chairmen of the Judiciary Committees in both chambers of the National Assembly, Life Benchers who are drawn from both the Bar and the Bench, all past Chief Justices of Nigeria who are living, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association and representatives of the Bar.
1.5 Mr. President Sir, this unique occasion affords me a golden privilege to reiterate our earlier calls for a more virile and independent Judiciary. There is no gainsaying the fact that our constitution thrives on the doctrine of separation of powers ably propounded by the French political philosopher, Baron de Montesquieu, since 1748. Mr. President would recall that during the Body of Benchers’ meeting with you on 28th July, 2022, I stated that following pressing and incessant complaints of poor conditions of service by Judicial Officers across the country, the Body of Benchers was compelled to set up a Standing Committee known as the Body of Benchers Judiciary Advisory Committee. The fundamental function of this Committee is to constantly interface with members of the Bench in order to take their concerns and frustrations up with the appropriate authorities. Also critical to its mandate is the task of comparing packages made available to Judicial Officers in other jurisdictions. May I publicly commend Mr. President’s immediate response to our plea on behalf of the Judiciary on 28th July, 2022, more particularly, Mr. President’s apt response to my address when he enthused thus: that a democratic government like the one we operate, “standing on a tripod comprising the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, cannot stand where one of its three pillars, the Judiciary, is not properly nurtured, maintained and sustained to deliver on its very pivotal constitutional duties.” Mr. President further promised and/or directed that in the interim, the report and recommendations of the 2018 Committee on the Review of Judicial Salaries and Conditions of Service will be implemented. We eagerly anticipate the implementation of the said directive.
1.6 Meanwhile, the Body of Benchers has formally engaged the services of a leading consulting firm to undertake a peer review of the conditions of service of our Judicial Officers against what obtain in some other jurisdictions globally. When their report and recommendations are submitted, we will make same available to Mr. President and other stakeholders; with a plea that the anticipated recommendations should, among other compelling factors, be used for a more enduring package for Judicial Officers across the country.
1.7 It behoves me at this juncture to congratulate all members of the Body of Benchers on this auspicious occasion. The completion of this project is a manifestation of our consistent and collective efforts over the years. In particular, may I, on behalf of all of us, publicly appreciate and commend members of the Building Committee: Mrs. Hairat Balogun, OON (Chairman), Hon. Justice Umaru Abdullahi, CON, Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu, Hon. Justice J.O. Ogebe, Hon. Justice Sulaiman Galadima, CFR, Mr. R.A. Lawal-Rabana, SAN and Mrs. H. A. Turaki, for their untiring contributions and sacrifices at ensuring the realisation of this monument. To all those who have contributed in cash and kind to this project, we say a big thank you. I must not forget to appreciate the Secretary of the Body of Benchers, Mr. Daniel Tela and all members of staff, for their unflinching support in the course of the construction of this Complex.
1.8 Mr. President Sir, the significance of according us the honour of your presence here today is not lost on us. We are not unmindful of your competing schedules; however, the fact that you have prioritised this engagement demonstrates the esteem with which you hold the Body of Benchers and, by extension, the legal profession. As recently as 28th July, 2022, Your Excellency played host to the representatives of the Body of Benchers at the Presidential Villa; and today, you have honoured us with your presence. We deeply appreciate all these courtesies. Thank you, Mr. President.
1.9 God bless the Body of Benchers.
God bless the legal profession.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Being an address delivered by Chief Wole Olanipekun, OFR, SAN, Chairman, Body of Benchers at the official commissioning of the Body of Benchers Complex, Abuja, on September 29, 2022.
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