Walking in mine Integrity
Being the Valedictory address by the outgoing chairman, Body of Benchers, Chief (Prof) Wole Olanipekun SAN on March 30, 2023
By Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN
2.1 It is written that: “there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the Heaven…”; “a time to speak, and a time to be silent…, a time to embrace…”. Drawing inspiration and analogy from the Holy Writ, I dare say that there is always a time to assume office, and a specific period to exit a particular office. Assumption of office might draw and attract a barrage of congratulatory wishes and the likes, but it is one thing for one to assume an office, with all the confetti of this world showered on him, it is another thing for him to discharge meaningfully and creditably the functions of the office and fulfil the mandate and goals, which he either sets for himself or is expected of him. A time like this doubles as a season for stock-taking and appraisal; and if one has any meaningful report card to give, he should, first and foremost, give glory to God for the enablement. Thus, I enthuse that: “this is the day the Lord has made, and I particularly will rejoice in it.”3
3.0 ASSUMPTION OF OFFICE
3.1 I assumed office as the 50th Chairman of the Body of Benchers on 31st March, 2022. To me, it was a day of great honour, and like the Psalmist as well, I proclaimed it as the day of the Lord, calling for my great rejoicing. I came in directly on the heels of a most distinguished Justice of the Supreme Court, Honourable Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, CFR, JSC (Rtd), who was the 49th Chairman, and under whom I served as the traditional Vice-Chairman for one year, from March 2021 to March 2022. It was a pleasant coincidence assuming office after a respected friend and brother of over five decades.
In my acceptance speech, I paid glowing tributes to all my predecessors-inoffice, who laid the very solid foundation upon which I basked and built, to the glory of God, in the past one year. This is how it should be in any civilised environment, particularly in the Body of Benchers, constituted by statutory fiat and made up of legal practitioners of the highest distinction in the legal profession in Nigeria. Without them, I would not have been; without their individual and collective achievements, I would not have been able to build on anything. In fact, I would have been operating from within a void. Therefore,
whatever success I have achieved as the 50th Chairman of this august Body in the past one year should be taken as a shared success. Even as I will soon step aside as the Chairman of the Body today, I pray that God should give me the grace and humility to always appreciate all my predecessors-in-office. For the records, I did it on my assumption of office as the then President of the Nigerian Bar Association and re-echoed it while leaving office, and still reemphasize it till today.
4.0 THE VISION FROM THE GET – GO
4.1 In the address I delivered at our first Statutory Meeting on 21st June, 2022, I set some goals for myself, working closely with the Body as its Chairman for the year. They include: reconstituting and resuscitating the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee and also isolating it from any control from the Body, since appeals from the directions of the Committee go directly to the Supreme Court, and not to the Body of Benchers; combatting the menace of forum shopping in the legal profession and the need for the Body to make regulations to stem the threatening tide, falling on the jurisdiction vested in the Body by Section 10 of the Legal Practitioners Act; setting up of Judiciary Advisory Committee saddled with the responsibility, amongst others, to always and constantly interface with members of the Bench at any level, and at anywhere, whether at the Federal or State level in order to earnestly address all concerns and complaints and, where necessary, take such concerns and complaints to the appropriate authorities; ensuring that the long-shelved Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Bill which has now perpetually positioned itself as the ‘elephant in the room’ was fine-tuned and transmitted to the National Assembly for its prompt passage into an Act; ensuring that the access road to the Complex were tarred; completion and formal commissioning of the Body of Benchers Complex; setting up of a Body of Benchers Prayers Drafting Committee to work out unified and acceptable prayers for commencing and closing our meetings; holding the regular Statutory Meetings, with a plea that in view of the exigencies we were in, I would be invoking my powers under paragraph 5 (2) of the Body of Benchers Regulations to call for emergency meetings, as occasions demanded.
5.1 In all, and excluding the meeting of 31st March, 2022, when I took over as Chairman, we held six meetings, that is, 21st June, 2022, 26th July, 2022, 10th November, 2022, 5th December, 2022, 24th January, 2023 and 30th March, 2023. Needless repeating or emphasizing the obvious that all our meetings were well attended by distinguished members, while the contributions and deliberations therein were very robust and extensive, leading to purposeful resolutions.
5.2 Immediately after our meeting of 21st June, 2022, I led a high power delegation of members consisting of the Vice – Chairman of the Body, Honourable Justice Mary Peter-Odili, JSC, CFR, Life Bencher, Honourable Justice Mahmud Mohammed, GCON (Former Chief Justice of Nigeria), Honourable Justice Umaru F. Abdullahi, CON (Former President of the Court of Appeal), Chief A. S. Awomolo, SAN (Life Bencher), Mr. Lawal – Rabana (Life Bencher), Chief John Ochoga (Life Bencher), Honourable Justice Dr. Ishaq Bello (Life Bencher), Mr. M. A. Abubakar (Bencher), and Daniel M. Tela Esq (Secretary of the Body) to the Honourable Minister of FCT. The Minister, Mallam Muhammadu Musa Bello, and his Management Team received us warmly and accorded us generous courtesies. The meeting afforded us the opportunity to inform him in advance that our Complex was nearing completion and that Mr. President would be invited to come and formally commission it in the third quarter of the year. To this end, we appealed to the Honourable Minister to ensure that the access roads leading to the Complex were fully tarred and rehabilitated, not only to pave way for seamless access to the Complex by staff and members alike, but also to honour Mr. President who would access the Complex through the tarred roads during the official commissioning ceremony. Thereafter, I wrote three reminder letters to the Honourable Minister of FCT on our request, and all of us can now appreciate more, the beauty of the Complex since the access roads have been tarred. This was achieved between two to three days before Mr. President came to commission the Complex on 29th September 2022. Once again, I seize this opportunity to express our collective appreciation to the Honourable Minister of the FCT.
5.3 On 28th June, 2022, I led members of the Judiciary Advisory Committee on a visit and discussion with the Justices of the Supreme Court in the aftermath of media reports of disconcert within the ranks of Justices of the apex Court. Prior to the meeting, I had written letters to each of the Justices of the Supreme Court, including the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, GCON, appealing to each of them to exercise patience and restraint, pending the time members of the Judiciary Advisory Committee of the Body would meet and interact with them. I sent a reminder letter to each of them before our meeting of 28th June, 2022. Representing the Judiciary Advisory Committee were myself, Honourable Justice Mary Peter-Odili, JSC, CFR, Life Bencher (Vice-Chairman of the Body of Benchers), Honourable Justice Mahmud Mohammed, GCON (Former Chief Justice of Nigeria), Mr. Solomon Umoh, SAN, and Daniel M. Tela ( Secretary of the Body), while the Honourable Justice Kayode Ariwoola, GCON, JSC, the then Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (now substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria), led the meeting and the team of Justices of the Supreme Court. The meeting which was characterised by conviviality and esprit de corps among the top echelon of the legal profession, was also quite revealing as the Justices bore
their minds on both financial and infrastructural deficiencies militating against the smooth performance of their duties. Some of the takeaways from the meeting facilitated the terms of reference which the Committee later gave to Messrs Ernst & Young (E&Y), a Firm of Accounting and Financial Consultants engaged by the Body to work out a peer review of the conditions of service of Judicial Officers in Nigeria with other countries and jurisdictions, within and outside Africa, I will come to the Report anon.
5.4 On 28th July, 2022, I led a team of members comprising Honourable Justice Mary Peter-Odili, JSC, CFR, Life Bencher, (Vice-Chairman), Chief Albert Akpomuje, SAN (Life Bencher), Chief Ofodile Okafor, OON, SAN (Life Bencher), Mr. A.B Mahmud, OON, SAN (Life Bencher), Chief Adeniyi Akintola, SAN (Life Bencher), Mrs. Fatima Kwakwu, MFR (Life Bencher), Honourable Justice Kate Abiri, CON (Life Bencher), Chief John A.A Ochoga (Life Bencher), Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN (Life Bencher), Mrs. H.A Turaki (Life Bencher), Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN (Chairman, Council of Legal Education), Mr. M.A Abubakar (Bencher) and Mr. Daniel M. Tela (Secretary), to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, essentially to apprise him of the near completion (as at then) of the Body of Benchers Complex, invite him to come and formally commission it in September, 2022, and to also call his attention to the uninspiring state and conditions under which Judges of superior courts in Nigeria operate. Mr. President graciously welcomed us, and listened to our presentation, as made by me, including bringing to his attention the unimplemented 2018 Report of the Committee on the Review of Judicial Salaries and Conditions of Service. At the end of our presentation, Mr. President agreed with us that a democracy like ours, that is sustained by three arms of government, cannot afford not to pay careful attention to the welfare of members of the Judiciary, and he immediately directed that the 2018 Report should be fetched out for immediate implementation in the interim, pending the outcome of the Report of the Firm to be engaged by the Body to work out a peer review of packages of the judicial personnel of the superior courts in Nigeria. Mr. President also promised to come and personally commission our Complex, come September, 2022.
6.0 ATTENDANCE AT MEETINGS
6.1 Notwithstanding the fact that we had held six meetings in the last one year, attendance at each of the meetings has been very gratifying and impressive, even when short notices were given as a result of changes in programmes. My appreciation goes to all members for taking the affairs of the Body seriously and attaching perceptible significance to them.
7.0 CONSTITUTION OF A PRAYER COMMITTEE
7.1 Amongst the Committees constituted by us was the Prayers Drafting Committee made up of myself, Chief A.S. Awomolo, SAN (Life Bencher), Honourable Justice Uwani Musa Abba Aji, JSC (Life Bencher), Chief John A. A Ochoga (Life Bencher), Hajia Asmau Muktar (Honourable Attorney-General of Katsina State) and Daniel M. Tela Esq. (Secretary). The main term of reference was to work out acceptable prayers for the Body, for both opening and closing sessions of our meetings. The reason behind it was, and still remains, that whatever might be one’s religious inclination or belief, we all believe in one sovereign God who is omnipotent. The Committee came up with draft prayers, which, as usual, were presented to the Body, and which the Body deliberated upon, modified and finally ratified. Since then, the prayers have become part of our traditions.
8.0 INAUGURATION OF THE JUDICIARY ADVISORY COMMITTEE
8.1 As stated earlier, the Judiciary Advisory Committee was approved by this Body on my humble recommendation, and it has now become one of the Standing Committees of the Body. It is headed by no other person than the highly venerated Honourable Justice Mahmud Mohammad, GCON, former Chief Justice of Nigeria. In view of the critical roles the Committee has played so far, and is expected to play henceforth, the membership of the Committee has been enlarged. Immediately upon inauguration, the Committee swung into action, and among the initial steps taken by us were the two meetings earlier highlighted, that is, the meeting with the Justices of the Supreme Court held on 28th June, 2022 and the one with Mr. President on 28th July, 2022. With the approval of the Body, the Committee commissioned the Firm of Messrs. Ernst & Young (E&Y), a Firm of Accounting and Financial Consultants, to carry out:
Comprehensive review of the conditions of service and emoluments of
Judicial Officers across all cadres of superior courts of record in Nigeria;
Peer review of the conditions of service of the said Judicial Officers in Nigeria with other African jurisdictions such as Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, and Rwanda, as well as Common Law jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom and Australia; and
Professionally and objectively recommend satisfactory models for conditions of service and emoluments for Judicial Officers across different layers of courts in Nigeria;
Retirement, gratuity and post-service welfare packages for Judicial Officers, including housing, transportation, health, etc.
Any other matter ancillary or connected to (i)-(iv) above.
The Firm submitted an Interim Report, and later yielded in a Final Report which was made available to members for consideration at the Emergency Meeting held on 24th January, 2023. After a very exhaustive and informative discussion on the Report, it was also unanimously agreed that an Ad hoc Committee be set up to harmonise the recommendations of the Report with other recommendations and inputs from Judges/Justices of our superior courts and views of the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, as well as those of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission. The Committee dutifully and timeously completed its assignment and forwarded a reviewed Report to me. The Report was further modified and expanded, after which a Final Report titled – “Presentation of the Body of Benchers to the President and Commander–in–Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR; on the Review of Salaries, Allowances, Emoluments and Conditions of Service of Judicial Officers in Nigeria”, was forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR with a covering letter signed by me, titled: “Re: Enhanced Packages for Judicial Officers of our Superior Courts of Record”. We were to meet Mr. President for a follow-up and formal presentation of the letter before the end of my tenure, but for the general elections across the country. The fact remains that the Report has been submitted and what is needed is a follow-up for implementation.
For emphasis, may I recall that during Mr. President’s speech at the official commissioning of the Body of Benchers Complex on 29th September, 2022, he enthused, pertaining to the then anticipated Report, as follows:
“I am not unaware of the passion and commitment of Chief Olanipekun in championing the cause of the welfare of Judicial Officers in Nigeria, as well as the commitment of the Body of this goal. May I restate my commitment towards this ideal and to reiterate our administration’s willingness to implement the 2018 Report of the Committee on the Review of Judicial Salaries and Conditions of Service. In similar vein, I have been intimated on the engagement of Consultants by the Body, through its Advisory Judicial Committee, to amongst other things, come up with a peer review of the conditions of service of Judicial Officers in Nigeria with other countries and jurisdictions, within and outside Africa. I earnestly look forward to the completion of this peer review and the submission of recommendation, as this will assist us in no small measure, in our review of the welfare packages.”
On behalf of all of us, I hereby express our profound appreciation to Prince L.O
Fagbemi, SAN, Life Bencher, who contributed a whooping sum of N5,000,000 (Five Million Naira) in settling the invoice of Messrs. Ernst & Young (E&Y), while I made a contribution of N10,000,000 (Ten Million Naira). I repeat that this is what leadership entails in the real sense of it.
COMMISSIONING OF THE BODY OF BENCHERS COMPLEX
The official commissioning of the Body of Benchers Complex was performed by President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR on 29th September, 2022. It was a very glorious and successful event, which signposted a significant milestone in the annals and history of the Body of Benchers. It was a dream come true, an ambition fulfilled. The President himself was very much excited when he sighted the magnificent edifice, and took a brief tour of it. He commended our humble efforts, both in his address and remarks in our Visitors’ Book. Members turned out in good numbers and enjoyed themselves in the midst of the fanfare, pomp and pageantry that enveloped the entire ceremony. Once again, I pay tribute to all the founding members of the Body, the brains and minds behind the conception of the Complex, the contributors to the funding, members of the Building Committee, and all members of the Body for the realisation of our grand vision. As the serving Chairman, I consider it as one of God’s benevolence in my life that it was during my tenure that the Complex was completed and formally commissioned. To Mr. President and his team, including the Chief of Staff, Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, I say a big thank you. I was virtually becoming importunate by reason of my numerous letters of reminder, and persistent telephone calls, to which they all reacted with equanimity.
The basic components, structures, adjoining roads and driveways within the Complex have been named after some of our very distinguished members, both living and deceased. The Main Auditorium is named after Mrs. H.A Balogun, OON, a former Chairman of the Body, and also a former Chairman of the Building Committee. The Meeting Room is named after Honourable Justice M. Umaru F. Abdullahi, CON, former Chairman of the Body, Former President of the Court of Appeal, and presently, Chairman of the Appointment Committee. The Banquet Hall is named after Mrs. H. A Turaki, Life Bencher, who served as the Pioneer Secretary of the Body. The Large Open Hall directly above the Banquet Hall is named the Rivers State Hall, in appreciation of the immense financial contributions of that State to the completion of the Hall. The LPDC Block is named after Sir Clement Akpangbo, SAN, former Chairman of the Body, and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, while the E – Library is named after Chief T.J.O. Okpoko, OON, SAN, Life Bencher, past Chairman of the Body, and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association. The Pavilion is named after the late Honourable Justice Adetokunbo Ademola, GCON, pioneer Chairman of the Body of Benchers and the first indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria. The Benchers Recess is named after Honourable Justice M.L. Uwais, GCON, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, and past Chairman of the Body of Benchers, while the Committee Meeting Room is named after Honourable Justice S.M.A Belgore, GCON, past Chairman of the Body and former Chief Justice of Nigeria. The Reference Library has been named after Honourable Justice Mahmud Mohammad, GCON, past Chairman of the Body of Benchers and former Chief Justice of Nigeria, while the Lounge is named after Honourable Justice W.S.N Onnoghen, GCON, past Chairman of the Body of Benchers, and former Chief Justice of Nigeria. The Main Crescent is named after Honourable Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, GCON, past Chairman of the Body of Benchers, and former Chief Justice of Nigeria, while the first Driveway has been named after Honourable Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, GCON, Life Bencher, and present Chief Justice of Nigeria. The second Driveway is named after Chief G.N Uwechue, SAN, Life Bencher, past Chairman of the Body of Benchers.
CONSTITUTION OF THE BODY OF BENCHERS COMPLEX MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE
At our meeting of 24th January, 2023, a Management Committee under the Chairmanship of Honourable Justice Kate Abiri, CFR, Life Bencher, immediate past Chief Judge of Bayelsa State, was inaugurated with the main purpose of putting in place a pragmatic maintenance structure for the Complex, and also ensuring how the sprawling structure should be put into use for the maximum advantage of the Body itself, particularly, in terms of revenue generation. I have no doubt in my mind that the Committee, which is now a Standing Committee of the Body will live up to its bidding.
MENTORING COMMITTEE PROGRAMME
There is no doubt that it is the exclusive responsibility of the Body of Benchers to call qualified aspirants to the Bar. It is also common knowledge that thousands of newly qualified lawyers are being called to the Bar by the Body on yearly basis. It then behoves the Body to ensure that young lawyers are properly mentored in order to give them adequate orientation and guidance. The Mentoring Committee of the Body of Benchers has been in existence for years, and most humbly, I was the pioneer Chairman, while Chief J. K. Gadzama, OFR, SAN, was my Vice-Chairman. In the last couple of years, Chief J. K. Gadzama has assumed office as the Chairman of the Mentoring Committee, and I want to place it on record that he has been doing marvellously well. At our last meeting of 24th January, 2023, he presented an elaborate roadmap of how his Committee wants to kickstart mentoring programmes for young lawyers across each of the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria and the FCT. We applauded and approved the programme. I am happy to report that at a meeting of the Mentoring Committee held on 16th February, 2023, the final programme of the Committee was placed before members (with my humble self in attendance as an observer), and after much deliberation, the final programme was adopted. The first Mentoring Session will take place in the 2nd quarter of this year, hopefully.
12.0 PROFESSIONAL LECTURES AND DINNERS FOR GRADUATES OF THE NATIONAL OPEN UNIVERSITY OF NIGERIA (NOUN)
12.1 1,883 law graduates of the National Open University of Nigeria completed their remedial courses at the Nigerian Law School in May/June, 2022. Between 11th – 18th May, 2022, the Body of Benchers organised two lectures as well as two law dinners for them. Two leading lights of our profession, Chief Akin Olujinmi, CON, SAN, and Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, OON, SAN, delivered sumptuous lectures at the sessions. Many Benchers, including myself, were present at the event. As a Body, we have committed ourselves to admitting this particular set of graduates of the NOUN to the Bar, and we have demonstrated this commitment by allowing them to attend and partake in the remedial courses organised by the Nigerian Law School. While it is not being suggested that subsequent law graduates of NOUN should automatically be admitted or encouraged to come to the Nigerian Law School, my humble advice is that we are under a duty to allow those who have completed the remedial courses to proceed to the Bar Final Programme. I do not think we can continue to justify our refusal to allow them proceed to the final programme.
13.0 CALL TO BAR CEREMONIES
13.1 Two Call to Bar Ceremonies were held in the course of the year, that is on 27th July, 2022 and 6th and 7th December, 2022. The good news was/is that all the Calls took place within our own Body of Benchers Complex, for the first time in the history of the Body. Without being immodest, the Calls have been adjudged as some of the best we have ever had. The attendance on each occasion was enormous and encouraging, while the support from members was much reassuring of the oneness and indivisibility of the Body as an institution. In July, 2022, we admitted 1,504 new entrants to the profession, while in December, 2022, 4,711 new wigs were called to the Bar. In all, 6,215 new entrants were admitted to the Bar in the course of the year. Statutorily, I signed all their certificates and also presided over all the sessions of the Calls, to God be the glory.
14.0 TRADITIONAL LAW DINNERS
14.1 As stated earlier, Law Dinners were held for the NOUN students at the Abuja Campus of the Nigerian Law School on 17th and 18th May, 2022. The attendance of Benchers was encouraging, and I presided over the two dinners. For all the campuses of the Law School, 2nd Term Traditional Law School Dinners were held between 14th – 16th June, 2022, while the 3rd Term Traditional Law School Dinner were held between 28th – 30th June, 2022. For the Lagos and Abuja campuses where I participated, the attendance was much encouraging. The 1st Term Traditional Law School Dinner at the various campuses were also held between 13th – 15th February, 2023, and I presided over the three dinners in Lagos. News reaching me is to the effect that in some of the Law School campuses, attendance of Benchers at the various dinners has not been encouraging. In some instances, Benchers are not proximate to some of the campuses. My plea to the Body, as well as the Benchers Appointment Committee is to take these complaints into consideration when admitting new Benchers to our fold, whether as Benchers or Honourary Benchers.
15.0 REGULATIONS COMMITTEE
15.1 The Regulations Committee under the chairmanship of Yusuf O. Ali, SAN, was set up for the main purpose of preparing and presenting for the Body’s approval, Regulations on important subjects from time to time. It is on record that the first draft Regulations presented by the Committee was in respect of the notorious practice of forum shopping among lawyers across the country. The presentation was well debated and considered at our meeting of 10th November, 2022, and after a very thorough and balanced deliberation, it was resolved that the draft Regulations be passed to the General Council of the Bar. For now, the Committee is looking into updating and amending the Regulations of the Body itself. The Committee is also a Standing Committee of the Body.
16.0 LEGAL PRACTITIONERS DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE
16.1 As earlier mentioned in this address, the reconstitution of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) was approved by the Body, with the Honourable Justice Ishaq Bello, CON as the Chairman. May I reiterate that the LPDC is neither under the control of the Body nor the Chairman. I understand
that in the course of the year, the Committee attended to 143 Originating Applications showing the establishment of prima facie cases; 43 applications showing that there were no prima facie cases against the Respondents; 55 cases are ongoing, 404 petitions are awaiting assignment, and 31 Applications yet to be assigned for the Initial One Member Review. 9 cases were concluded between 30th March, 2022 to 13th March, 2023.
16.2 While I commend members of the Committee for sacrificing their time and energies on behalf of the entire profession, may I counsel that the LPDC should not be perceived as an instrument for witch-hunting or blackmailing counsel qua Legal Practitioners all over the country by litigants and mischievous clients. In this connection, I pray the Chief Justice of Nigeria to earnestly review the extant Regulations and take a cue from past practice where all frivolous and misguided petitions against Legal Practitioners are treated brevi manu, even without any recourse to the Legal Practitioners concerned, or without any reference to any Committee at all. We should bear in mind that the words ‘Legal Practitioner’ under the Legal Practitioners Act include all Nigerian lawyers called to the Nigerian Bar and enrolled as Barristers and Solicitors of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, including serving and retired Judges/Justices. Against the foregoing, we should not lose sight of the fact that a good number of our Judges/Justices practice as Solicitors (upon retirement), and this is legitimate. Therefore, they too, like the mainstream Legal Practitioners can be the victims of frivolous petitions from unscrupulous clients, and if the extant Regulations are not quickly reviewed, very soon, barrage of frivolous petitions will lie and fly against such retired judicial personnel. A stitch in time saves nine.
17.0 FUNDING OF THE BODY OF BENCHERS
17.1 The funding of the Body remains a source of concern, as required funds do not come in as at when due or at all. I have earlier made reference to two of us underwriting the invoice of the Accounting and Financial Consulting Firm of Messrs. Ernst & Young (E&Y), as the Body has no budget or budgetary provisions for such an important subject. The meagre resources available to the Body could not accommodate it as well. May I use this address as a wake-up call to the respective Judiciaries and Ministries of Justice all over the country, as well as the Nigerian Bar Association to always fulfil their financial obligations regularly to the Body. Let me quickly correct the wrong impression being disseminated from some quarters that because the Federal Government makes some financial contributions to the Body, the Body is under the control or supervision of the Federal Government. Nothing can be farther from the truth, as, from my experience as the Chairman in the past one year, I did not witness the slightest of any Federal Government interference.
18.0 AMENDMENT OF THE LEGAL PRACTITIONERS ACT
18.1 This subject has now become a recurring decimal, and I dare say a subject which, on yearly basis, is now being ‘bequeathed’ from one outgoing Chairman to his/her successor. I inherited it from my immediate predecessorin-office, while his own predecessor transferred it to him, and it has been like that, from one ’generation’ to another. The nearest we got at finalising it from our own end and forwarding it to the National Assembly was at our meeting of 24th February, 2022, where the Honourable Justice Abdu Aboki’s Report was extensively considered and was about being adopted, but for my intervention that we should allow the NBA a further opportunity to put its house in order, bearing in mind the charged atmosphere at that meeting. The minutes of our meeting of that day bears eloquent testimony of my altruistic intervention. Piqued by the appeal contained in my address at the meeting of this Body on 21st June, 2022 which was a follow up of the admonition of my immediate predecessor-in-office that the NBA should sheathe its sword and allow for the transfer of the Bill to the National Assembly for immediate consideration and passage, and calling on members that we should take the matter seriously, the then NBA President, Olumide Akpata Esq. sent me a lengthy letter dated 20th June, 2022 (but which I did not receive until after the proceedings of our meeting of 21st June, 2022), praying that I should not hand over the management of NBA to the BOB, ”a body funded and controlled by the Federal Government”. As usual, the letter was already being celebrated in the media space, long before I received it, with various captions, including:
“BREAKING: Don’t Allow FG take Over NBA or Regulation of Lawyers – NBA President begs BOB Chairman, Olanipekun SAN, in Explosive Letter”
18.2 I cautiously and courteously responded to the NBA letter by my letter of 27th June, 2022, assuring him that I would never, as a former President of the NBA, support the transfer of NBA management to the Federal Government, and that nothing of such was in the offing; except that the Body of Benchers was/is not under the control of the Federal Government. I also added that the Legal Practitioners Act as presently constituted needs urgent amendments, as it cannot cater for the practice of law in the present times. I pleaded for his cooperation and understanding, just as my predecessor-in-office did. Having said this, the Body further deliberated on the Honourable Justice Abdu Aboki’s
Report and set up another sub-committee, the Funke Adekoya Committee, to harmonise all the grey areas and submit a final report to the body. A Report was submitted at our meeting of 24th January, 2023, but, for exigencies, that Report has again been transferred to the next Chairman of the Body of Benchers for presentation. In effect, for upward of eight years now, this subject of amendment of the Legal Practitioners Act has been revolving, year in, year out, without any headway. Following the footsteps of my predecessors-inoffice, I plead that the NBA should sheathe its sword and allow for reconciliation of the only identified grey area, whether the Body of Benchers should continue to be in charge and supervise legal practice in Nigeria or the NBA, through the Legal Profession Regulation Council of Nigeria, being recommended by it.
19.0 ADHERENCE TO PRECEDENCE AND SENIORITY WITHIN THE BODY
19.1 At the meeting of 24th January, 2023, members complained that adherence to precedence and order of seniority was being regularly jettisoned by some members, particularly during our Call to Bar ceremonies. Let me appeal to all our members that within the Body of Benchers, we adhere to precedence and seniority, as to when each of us was/is admitted whether as a Bencher or Life Bencher, it is not a question of whether a particular Bencher is a Judge/Justice or Legal Practitioner/SAN, but simply on seniority as to the time of admission as a Bencher or Life Bencher. I elaborated on this cherished tradition of ours in my address/charge at the Call to Bar Ceremonies of 6th and 7th December, 2022, and went further to state that the names of our members, including Life Benchers have been arranged strictly in order of seniority; and that at this Body, we do not contest or struggle for positions, we do not jump the queue, as everyone takes his or her turn at the appropriate time, God sparing all our lives. Let me make myself a living example. While Alhaji Bashir M. Dalhatu, Life Bencher, past Chairman Body of Benchers, MR. O.C.J Okocha, OFR, SAN, Life Bencher, past Chairman Body of Benchers, and my humble self were appointed Life Benchers on the same day, and while I take precedence over each of them as Legal Practitioners simpliciter, having been called to the Inner Bar in July 1991, each of them takes precedence over me as Benchers, as both of them joined the Body of Benchers before me. Hence, each of them became Vice-Chairman, and subsequently Chairman before me, with Alhaji Bashir M. Dalhatu taking precedence over MR. O.C.J Okocha, MFR, SAN, and my humble self in that order. This order of seniority/precedence accords with our standard, decency, orderliness, reputation and distinction as legal practitioners of the highest distinction in the legal profession in Nigeria. Members of this Body do not carry placards, we do not print posters or handbills, we do not canvass for votes, we also do not lobby ourselves. Our successions have always been seamless and unrancorous. In my acceptance speech last year, I likened this orderly transition within the Body to the Olubadan of Ibadan Chieftaincy in Oyo State, South-West, Nigeria, where successors to any reigning Olubadan are always known and identified, but without anyone of them lobbying for the position or trying to out-smart one another. About this time last year, my predecessor-in-office, Honourable Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour CFR, JSC (Rtd) made this glowing tradition of ours very clear when a new Vice-Chairman was to be appointed.
19.2 I have been informed and advised by the Secretariat that the next six active Life Benchers, in order of seniority, are as follows:
Chief A.S Awomolowo, SAN
Chief Albert Akpomudje, SAN
Mrs. Funke Adekoya, SAN
Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, OON, SAN
Mr. J.B Daudu, SAN
Sir G. Ofodile Okafor, OON, SAN
The Secretariat has also listed the order of seniority of the above Life Benchers as appearing above. The latin maxim res ipsa loquitur cutely applies.
APPOINTMENT OF LIFE BENCHERS, BENCHERS AND HONOURARY BENCHERS
Appointment of Life Benchers, Benchers under section 3 (1) (I) of the Legal Practitioners Act and Honourary Benchers are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Body of Benchers, if and whenever there are vacancies. The Chairman activates the process(es) whenever the need arises. For Life Benchers, nine vacancies existed; for the appointment of Benchers under section 3 (1) (I) of the Legal Practitioners Act, we had two vacancies, while the need to appoint Honourary Benchers could not be overemphasised. I have taken the liberty of my position as the Chairman of the Body of Benchers to send nominations to the Appointment Committee to fill the vacancies under the three categories aforementioned. The Appointment Committee has also deliberated on the nominees and approved the following as Life Benchers:
Hon. Justice M. M. Saulawa Justice, Supreme Court
Hon. Justice Ali A. B. Gumel
Presiding Justice, Court of Appeal, Gombe
Ho n. Justice U. I. Ndukwe
Presiding Justice, Court of Appeal, Enugu
Dr. Abdulkarim Kana
Hon. Attorney – General, Nasarawa State
Mr. Obafemi Adewale, SAN
Mr. Yunus Ustaz Usman, SAN
Dr. Muiz Banire, OON, SAN
Mr. Olusina Sofola, SAN
Dr. Garba Usman Tetengi, SAN, mni Bencher
20.2 The Appointment Committee has also deliberated on and approved the appointment of Chief Akin Olujinmi CON, SAN and Chief Kanu Agabi, CON, SAN as Benchers under section 3(1)(l) of the Legal Practitioners Act. These two foremost members of our profession are known to us all; and at various times, each of them had served as the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice of Nigeria. Had all things been equal, both of them would have been Benchers a long time ago.
As for the Honourary Benchers, the Appointment Committee has also painstakingly considered and approved as Honourary Benchers, the following:
Chief A. B. Anachebe, SAN (South-East) Legal Practitioner
Chief Yomi Aliyu, SAN (South-West) Legal Practitioner
Mr. Kemasuode Wodu, SAN (South-South) Legal Practitioner
Chief Leonard Dan Nzadon (North-East)
Mr. J. S. Okutepa, SAN (North-Central) Legal Practitioner
Mrs. Becky Samuel (North-East) Legal Practitioner
Hon. Justice Hussaina Aliyu Ibrahim (North-West) Judge, Jigawa State High Court
Mr. Mohammed Babangida Umar (North-West) General Counsel of the F.C.T.A.
Hon. William Agwadza Atedze (North-Central)
Code of Conduct Tribunal
Mr. Tayo Oyetibo, SAN (South-West)
Mr. Kunle Uthman (South-West)
Chief Arthur Obi-Okafor, SAN (South-East)
Dr. Roland Otaru, SAN (South-South) Legal Practitioner
THE BODY AND THE NBA
As much as it was humanly possible, we tried to maintain a very cordial relationship with the NBA. Members would recall that at our meeting of 24th February, 2022 when tension was high, I took permission from the Chairman to confer with some leading members of the Bar within the Body so as to chart a way out from the unnecessary logjam arising from the discussion of the Legal Practitioners Amendment Bill. After conferring with some senior colleagues, including the then NBA President, we agreed that a meeting should be held amongst us to devise a way forward and report back to the Body. The then NBA President never got back to me thereafter. Before then, particularly at our meeting of 24th February, 2022 when the then NBA President was under intense criticism, I rose in his defence and stood in gap for him, as a former President of the NBA.
By a letter dated July 21, 2022 addressed to the Secretary of the Body of Benchers, for the attention of all Benchers, Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama, OFR, MFR, SAN, Life Bencher, attached his Press Release on the just concluded NBA National Election which brought Mr. Y. C. Maikyau, OON, SAN into office as President, complaining that the election was marred with serial irregularities. The Secretary of the Body, Mr. Daniel M. Tela Esq. brought the letter to my attention sometime in August, but I directed him not to list it on the agenda, as my intention was to call leaders of the Body with a plea to them to effect a reconciliation between the two contestants – Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama, OFR, MFR, SAN and Mr. Y. C. Maikyau, OON, SAN. By another letter dated October 24, 2022 addressed to the Chairman of the Body of Benchers, the Law Society of Nigeria gave notice of its existence and composition of its National Executive Committee. The Secretary, as usual, drew my attention to the letter and advised that it should be circulated and listed as an item on the agenda. This time around, I sternly warned the Secretary not to go that route as I was also planning a reconciliatory meeting among the parties. I put a former President of the NBA, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, OON, SAN, Life Bencher, in confidence of my plan, and I even showed him the message I sent to the Secretary of the Body. It was not until Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama, OFR, MFR, SAN sent a reminder to the Body on 19th January, 2023 that I was compelled to ask the Secretary to list and circulate these letters.
The foregoing notwithstanding, I still proposed at the meeting of 24th January, 2023, the setting up of a Reconciliatory Committee, under the leadership of a past Chairman of the Body, Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu to reconcile all parties, particularly, Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama, OFR, MFR, SAN and Mr. Y. C. Maikyau, OON, SAN on the one hand, and the NBA and the Law Society of Nigeria on the other hand. Surprisingly, Mr. Y. C. Maikyau, OON, SAN turned down the recommendation, querying the decision and jurisdiction of the Body to reconcile feuding parties, as it were. Most unfortunately as well, immediately after the meeting, uncomplimentary articles, write–ups and comments littered the mainstream and social media, accusing the Body of wanting to dabble into the NBA election imbroglio.
In case some younger elements in the legal profession do not know, let us all remind ourselves that but for the Body of Benchers that played the fatherly, statutory and leadership roles in the mid-90s, leading to the resurrection and resuscitation of the NBA after its descent into the valley of death at the Port-Harcourt Conference in 1992, there would not have been an NBA so-called or so-constituted today. For the records, as well as our remembrance, leading Benchers, including but not limited to Chief F. R. A. Williams, SAN, who was then the Chairman of the Body of Benchers Caretaker Committee of the NBA, Honourable Justice M.M.A Akanbi, CFR, former President of the Court of Appeal, Chief Andrew Anyamene, SAN, Mrs. Hairat Balogun, OON; Life Bencher, Honourable Justice S.M.A Belgore, Life Bencher, Dr. Mudiaga Odje, SAN, past Chairman, Body of Benchers and former President of the NBA, Honourable Justice A.B Wali, CON, Life Bencher, Sir Clement O. Akpangbo, SAN, Life Bencher, and past President of the NBA, Chief A.S Awomolo, SAN, Life Bencher, Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim, CON, SAN, Life Bencher, Chief Debo Akande, SAN, Life Bencher, my humble self, and other leaders of the Bar made far-reaching sacrificial efforts to resurrect the NBA. Several meetings were held at the Lagos office of Chief F. R. A. Williams, SAN and it was at the instance of the Body of Benchers that the 1997 Jos Reunion and Reconciliation Conference was held. Most of these Benchers were at the Jos Reunion and Reconciliation Conference organised and supervised by the Committee of Chairmen and Secretaries of the 44 branches of the NBA, ably led by the indefatigable and dogged Chief A.S Awomolo, SAN. For the records as well, the motion to constitute the Committee of Chairmen and Secretaries was moved and adopted at the Law Week programme of the NBA, Ikeja Branch held in 199_. Chief Dosu Ogunniyi, a foremost Bar leader was the then Chairman of the Ikeja Branch. Without being immodest, I was the Guest Speaker at that Law Week. I think I better stop here from further cataloguing the efforts of the Body of Benchers as of then, but let me quickly add that it is somehow strange that the NBA will now rebuff the reconciliatory efforts of the Body of Benchers.
May I correct the wrong impression deliberately created that the Body of Benchers is setting up the Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu Committee to probe the last NBA elections. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Be that as it may, the Committee is already in place, headed by a respected past Chairman of the Body, Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu. Other members are Honourable Justice B. S. Bansi OFR, Life Bencher, Sir G. Ofodile Okafor, OON, SAN, Life Bencher, Honourable Justice A. N. Nwankwo, CON, Mr. Umeh Kalu, SAN, Life Bencher, Mr. Adetokunbo Kayode, SAN, Life Bencher, Chief John A. A. Ochoga, SAN, Life Bencher, Mr. Olumoyiwa Akinboro, SAN, Life Bencher, Prof. Ogugua, V.C Ikpeze, Life Bencher, Mrs. Olufunmi Oluyede, Life Bencher, Mr. Yunus Ustaz Usman, SAN, Life Bencher, Dr. Muiz Banire, OON, SAN and Lady Debbie N. Obodoukwu, Life Bencher.
You are not unaware of the several offensive publications (to put it mildly) that certain identified leaders of the NBA have orchestrated against me and my person in the past one year, all of which have been elaborately circulated in the prints, electronics and social media, (including paid advertorials in leading national dailies), and the deliberations on some of the publications at our last meeting of 24th January, 2023. I take the attacks with equanimity. It is part of the price I have to pay for who I am, through the grace of God. It is also expected that any leader of my status will go through unjust travails at one point or the other, but the important thing is for a leader not to quake, cave in or succumb to any unwholesome bait. I was always conscious of the fact that I occupy a very distinguished and eminent position in succession to worthy, noble, revered and venerated successors-in-office. Hence, my deliberate decision not to join issues, but let me boast in the Lord that I have my integrity before me, and it remains intact. Like the Psalmist of old, I can always say that: “But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity:”
Nevertheless, it is pertinent I repeat part of my charge during the Call to Bar Ceremonies on 6th and 7th December, 2022, where I admonished the young lawyers, as well as all of us thus:
“Do not engage in strife, blackmail, mudslinging, campaign of calumny, treachery or any attempt to run or pull anyone down. Flee from envy like a plague, for envy breeds hatred and unjustified contempt for others. Appreciate your colleagues and peers, as well as senior members of the profession who have received God’s benevolence, and pray that your own time will come.”
The past one year has witnessed a beehive of activities, and I am proud to say that all the activities have been most successful. We could not have achieved this level of success without a very robust, understanding, cooperating, efficient secretariat, headed by an equally cool, calm, humble, resourceful, hardworking, efficient, and very understanding Secretary, Daniel Manasseh Tela, Esq. As a person, I know that it is not that easy working and coping with me, and at times, moving at my pace. Within a couple of weeks, Mr. Tela studied and adapted to my style, including calling him at odd hours in the midnights, and giving him instructions through messages and mails, always demanding that he should treat them as very urgent. He and his team did not at any time complain about my idiosyncrasies, rather, they adapted to them cheerfully and unpretentiously. For the records, I pay tribute to this energetic and industrious Secretariat team, headed by a very promising and cheering leader, Mr. Daniel Manasseh Tela, Esq.
As I conclude this address, I hereby appreciate all Benchers for the massive and unflinching support I received across board in the last one year. But for you and your fidelity to my leadership and the Body itself, we would not have been able to record the achievements highlighted in this address. When the distractions were mounting and approaching a crescendo, you stood by me like the rock of Gibraltar. You did not only encourage me but also keep applauding my humble leadership.
Drawing such solidarity from the very best in the profession, statutorily defined as “a body of legal practitioners of the highest distinction in the legal profession in Nigeria” is not something I take for granted, but one that I will treasure and covet for life. I am a child of grace, and I always boast in that grace to the glory of God. I thank the Almighty God for preserving all our lives in the last one year.
I particularly thank and appreciate God that we did not rise to observe a minute of silence in memory of any one of us throughout the year. I plead that you extend more cooperation and solidarity to the incoming Chairman, Honourable Justice Mary Peter-Odili, JSC, CFR, Life Bencher, who I believe will not only take off from where we stopped, but also surpass our humble achievements. While I now leave the stage to join the Committee of Elders, I promise my loyalty to the Body of Benchers and my unalloyed support for my successor-in-office.
Thank you for listening.
Chief (Prof.) Wole Olanipekun, CFR, SAN, LL.D, D.LITT, FCIArb., FNIALS
Chairman, Body of Benchers
30th March, 2023
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