President Muhammadu Buhari Thursday in Abuja implored the judiciary to further sustain rule of law in Nigeria and ensure the integrity of participatory democracy by remaining honest arbiters in pre and post election matters.
The President, who commissioned the Body of Benchers Complex, noted that the judiciary had a major role to play in safeguarding fairness in the 2023 elections and ensuring the sanctity of democratic processes.
“As the 2023 general elections draw near, the significance of the legal profession becomes even more pronounced considering the vital roles you play in the electioneering process, both at the pre and post-election stages. I hope you maintain the position of an honest arbiter,” he said.
President Buhari said that his administration will continue to respect and elevate the rule of law, adding, “adherence to the rule of law is critical to the progress of any society and this administration has not reneged in its commitment to this ideal.”
While congratulating the Body of Benchers, chaired by Chief Wole Olanipekun, for the successful completion of the complex, which was started in 2008, the President commended the Body for keeping the wheel of justice turning effectively by providing a solid foundation for upholding the rule of law, with over five decades of proven track record.
“I am aware that the Body of Benchers is responsible for the formal call-to-Bar of persons seeking to become legal practitioners as well as ensuring the highest standard of discipline within the profession.
“I consider this Body as critical to the legal profession. I say this, because the membership of the Body cuts across all facets of Government and the legal profession, particularly, the Executive, Legislature, Judiciary and the Bar.
“Furthermore, all Justices of the Supreme Court, retired Chief Justices of Nigeria who are alive, President of the Court of Appeal and Presiding Justices, Chief Judges of the High Courts, the Federal and state Attorneys General, Chairmen of the Judiciary Committees in the two Houses of the National Assembly, leading members of the Bar and others constitute this Body.
“I am unaware of any other institution or organ in the legal profession that draws its membership from all segments of the profession like the Body of benchers. No wonder, the statute describes it as consisting of men of the highest distinction in the legal profession,” the President noted.
President Buhari pledged to support improvement in the welfare for staff of the Judiciary after the ongoing review.
“I recall that on the 28th July, 2022 when I played host to the leadership of the Body of Benchers, its Chairman, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, was very emphatic in making a case for the welfare of judicial officers in the country. 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 on this matter.
“May I restate my commitment towards this ideal. In similar vein, I have been intimated of the engagement of Consultants by the Body, through its Judiciary Advisory 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 recommendations, as this will assist us to review the welfare packages.
“A society where justice thrives is one that can be assured of development. For Nigeria to effectively embrace sustainable development, institutions such as the legal profession must remain deeply committed towards promoting good governance,” he added.
President Buhari praised the initiative of the Body of Benchers to build the complex, and extend invitation to his office for the commissioning.
“This is a major achievement for the Body of Benchers, as this structure serves to boost infrastructural development of the legal profession.
“I commend the efforts of the entire Body of Benchers for being able to deliver this project, which I have been told was embarked on in 2008 and has only now been fully completed.
“From the information available to me, meetings of the Body of Benchers were hitherto held at the Supreme Court premises, both in Lagos and Abuja. Now, the Body has its own beautiful complex which will serve for its meetings, seminars, conferences and also bring some revenue to its coffers.
“Once again, I thank the Body of Benchers for this opportunity to identify with it on this auspicious occasion of the commissioning of this beautiful edifice,” President Buhari said.
In his remarks, the Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Olanipekun, said the idea of the complex was deliberated in 1992, and the ground breaking ceremony was held on November 28, 2008.
“So much time, talent and treasure has been invested in this facility,’’ he said, explaining that the complex had a 3,000 sitting capacity hall, 240 capacity meeting room, 1000 capacity banquet hall, another 1000 capacity multipurpose hall, offices for staff and a library.
He said realization of the vision of building the complex could be attributed to the foresight of 16 persons, of which one of them was still alive, while commending two retired Chief Justices of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Belgore and Justice Mahmud Mohammed.
On improving conditions of service for judicial workers, Olanipekun said, “may I publicly thank and commend Mr President for his fast response to my address that a democratic government, standing on a tripod, cannot thrive where one is not properly taken care of.’’
Describing the building as “magnificent and befitting of the Body of Benchers’’, the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, said the sacrifices of past Chairmen and Presidents of the Body of Benchers had eventually paid off.
He urged the Body to put the facility to good use, particularly in hosting the call to bar.
The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, congratulated the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Olukayode Ariwoola, on his confirmation.
He said the Body of Benchers complex transcends a physical structure, capturing the essence of the Body in the conscience of legal professionals and creating an enabling environment for the administration of rule of law.
He said the legal profession needs to purge itself of charlatans, stating that “we cannot afford to lower the bar, if must retain family confidence.’’
The minister said the President had already made improvement in remuneration of judicial workers a priority, further demonstrating his love and respect for the legal profession.