ACCEPTANCE SPEECH BY CHIEF WOLE OLANIPEKUN, OFR, SAN, LL.D., D.LITT., FCIArb., FNIALS, AS CHAIRMAN, BODY OF BENCHERS, AT THE MEETING OF THE BODY OF BENCHERS HELD ON 31ST MARCH, 2022
- The immediate past Chairman, Body of Benchers,
Honourable Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, CON, JSC (Rtd.), Life Bencher
- Former Chairmen of the Body of Benchers
- Life Benchers
- Distinguished Benchers
2.1 Today is another day the Lord has made, and we rejoice in it. My stepping in as the 50th Chairman of the Body of Benchers this day is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in my eyes. Today marks the first time in the illustrious history of the august Body of Benchers that both the incoming Chairman, as well as the incoming Vice-Chairman will make their acceptance speeches at this magnificent Body of Benchers’ edifice. Hitherto, past Chairmen and Vice- Chairmen had assumed leadership of this Body and rendered their acceptance speeches at the Supreme Court Chambers (both in Lagos and Abuja), where our meetings were held before our final relocation to this beautiful and befitting building. What a wonderful and exhilarating coincidence!
2.2 To me, it will be an understatement to posit that 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. I am more reflective and inspired when I consider that my predecessors-in-office include the forebears and pathfinders of our noble profession, starting from the first indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Adetokunbo Ademola, GCFR; who was immediately succeeded by that sage Jurist and scholar, Honourable Justice Taslim Olawale Elias, GCON; followed by another exceptional and outstanding Jurist in the person of Sir Danley Alexander, KBE; who was succeeded by the cerebral advocate and consummate Jurist, Honourable Justice Augustine Nnamani, SAN, JSC, who, after his turn, handed over to the legendary and venerable Jurist, who later served as Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Mohammed Bello, GCON. This linear ambit of excellence continued all the way through to my five most recent predecessors-in-office amongst who are the irrepressible former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, GCON, who passed the baton to that astute leader of the Bar, Alhaji Bashir M. Dalhatu; who in turn relinquished the helm of the Body to the highly revered Honourable Justice Dr. I.T. Muhammad, CON, now Chief Justice of Nigeria; who yielded the mantle of the Body to that Bar leader per excellence and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in the person of O.C.J. Okocha, MFR, SAN, who, at the end of his incumbency, entrusted the affairs of the Body to the distinguished and amiable Honourable Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, CON, JSC (Rtd.), a personal friend and brother. I pay my profound respect and homage to all my forty-nine predecessors-in-office, both dead and living, and, on behalf of the Body of Benchers, appreciate them for their noteworthy contributions to the foundation, growth, nourishing, maintenance and sustenance of this great Body.
3.0 THE OFFICE OF CHAIRMAN OF THE BODY OF BENCHERS – HIERARCHY AND SUCCESSION
3.1 Paragraphs 3(1), (2) and (3) of the Body of Benchers Regulations provide thus:
(1) Subject to paragraphs (2) and (3) of this regulation, there shall be the offices of Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Body.
(2) The Chairman and Vice-Chairman shall each hold office for only one year beginning in April of the one year and ending in March of the next; and upon the Chairman ceasing to be Chairman the Vice-Chairman shall succeed him as Chairman for the next following year.
(3) Upon the Vice-Chairman becoming Chairman of the Body as stated in the preceding paragraph, the office of Vice-Chairman shall become vacant and shall be filled by election by the members present and voting at a meeting of the Body called for that purpose:
Provided that any election to the office of the Vice-Chairman shall be made in such a manner that in any year in which the Chairman is a member of the Bench the Vice-Chairman shall be a member of the Bar; and where the Chairman is a member of the Bar the Vice-Chairman shall be a member of the Bench.
3.2 I have deliberately referenced the above provisions of our Regulations so that all and sundry, particularly, Legal Practitioners, within and outside the fold of the Body of Benchers, as well as the uninitiated, will come to the understanding that since 27th November, 1971, when the Body of Benchers was inaugurated by our professional primogenitors (sixteen of them in number), the transition to either the office of the Vice-Chairman or Chairman has always been smooth, seamless, straightforward, rancour-free and unwrinkled. Here, we do not mount the soap box or campaign for elections. In fact, it is only the Vice-Chairman that is elected for a term of one year certain; after which, he or she automatically assumes the position of the Chairman at the expiration of the tenure of the incumbent Chairman. It is as predictable, set-in stone and well organised as the ascendency to the ancient Olubadan throne in Ibadan, Oyo State, South-West, Nigeria. But even at that, unlike the Olubadan title where the State Governor still has to give approval and present the staff of office to the next Chief in line to the departed Olubadan, here at the Body of Benchers, the Vice-Chairman automatically assumes office upon completion of the one-year term of the serving Chairman. By the grace of God, the Jurist who assumes office as my Vice-Chairman today, will succeed me as Chairman, come end of March, 2023. That is our tradition. That is our goodly heritage. I want to believe that I have made my point, loud and clear.
4.0 MY PLEDGE
4.1 Without being immodest, but for the sake of emphasis and record purposes, as well as the present exigencies, I have always given my all to the legal profession, whether as a practicing lawyer in court rooms across the length and breadth of the country; or as Secretary and later Chairman of a Branch of the NBA; or as Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in the old Ondo State; or as a Member of the General Council of the Bar; or as a Member of the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee; or as the President of the NBA; or as the Acting Chairman of the Council for Legal Education; or as a two-time Member of the National Judicial Council; or as a Member of the Stakeholders’ Committee for the Reform of the Judiciary set up by the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Dahiru Musdapher, GCON to address the daunting problems and challenges afflicting the nation’s Judiciary; or as a Member of the Body of Benchers since 1992; or as a Life Bencher since 2007; or as the pioneer Chairman of the Mentoring Committee of the Body of Benchers; or as the Vice-Chairman of the Body of Benchers, doubling as the Chairman of the Screening Committee. Even outside the profession’s noble precincts, I have been privileged to head and direct the affairs of established and enshrined institutions in various capacities, including (as): the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of Nigeria’s Premier University, the University of Ibadan (a University that, as at then, had over three hundred Professors), between 2009 – 2013; Chairman, Court of Governors, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, between 2009-2013; the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, Oyo State, from 2014 till date; and pioneer Chancellor of the Ekiti State owned Bamidele Olumilua University of Education, Science and Technology, Ikere (BOUESTI), from 2021 till date. 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. Dear august Members of the Body of Benchers, please pardon this snippet of my antecedents. Perhaps, I am talking in parables because of the times we are in.
4.2 Arising from the foregoing, 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.
4.3 In his acceptance speech as Chairman of this august Body on Thursday, 30th March, 2017, Honourable Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen, GCON, posited thus:
“Our country Nigeria is witnessing the worst cases of abuse of human integrity and non adherence to the Rule of Law. This is not only worrisome, but also beckons on all true and loyal citizens, particularly we in the legal profession, to rally round the leadership in finding lasting solutions to myriads of problems which confront us as a nation.” Although the above apt statement was made in 2017, it is more apposite in our present circumstance, both as a profession and a nation.
4.4 As leaders of the legal profession in our respective rights who, in the wisdom of the law, id est, the Legal Practitioners Act, has aggregated us from our different sectors of the profession, whether as Chief Judges of High Courts, Attorneys-General of all the States and the Federation, President of the Court of Appeal, as well as all the Presiding Justices of the various Divisions of the Appellate Court, serving Chief Justice of Nigeria and other Justices of the Supreme Court, past Presidents of the NBA, representatives of the NBA, drawn from all sections of the Association, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate and his counterpart in the House of Representatives et al, 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.
4.5 But let us be encouraged by the illuminating words of Criss Jami in his recently published book (2015) titled Killosophy, where he enthused that “To seek greatness is the righteous vengeance” (page 102). 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. While paragraph 5 (1) of the Body of Benchers Regulations provides for three statutory meetings in the dining year, the same paragraph empowers the Chairman to call for other meetings, as may be necessary and/or expedient. I hereby prepare the mind of the most distinguished members of this Body that in the next one year, I would be calling on you for such extra meetings, as we have much to do and accomplish. For this great sojourn, I commit to giving my all as the Chairman of the Body of Benchers.
5.1 In conclusion, I thank you all for the confidence reposed in me to serve as Vice-Charman for the past one year, and the opportunity to transit to the position of Chairman on this occasion. On behalf of the Body of Benchers, I express our heartfelt appreciation to the outgoing Chairman, Honourable Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, CON, JSC (Rtd.), who has ably piloted the affairs of the Body for the past year. It has been a pleasure working with him.