Earlier today in Abuja, the Founder of NewCruse 92.7FM Radio Station and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the illustrious and highly cerebral Chief Wole Olanipekun, OFR, SAN, assumed the mantle of leadership, as the 50th Chairman of the Body of Benchers for a term of one year to pilot the affairs of the Body. The exceptional learned Silk and Life Bencher, having been elected as Vice-Chairman in March, 2021, took over from the remarkable Jurist and former Justice of the Supreme Court and Life Bencher, Hon. Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, CON, JSC. Also, the eminent and amiable Justice of the Supreme Court, Hon. Justice Mary Peter-Odili, CFR, JSC was elected today, as Vice-Chairman of the august Body.

Founded on 27th November, 1971, by sixteen professional and illustrious primogenitors, some of the eminent Legal Practitioners qua Jurists, who have mounted the saddle of leadership of the Body of Benchers as Chairmen include: the first indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Adetokunbo Ademola, GCFR; the sage Jurist and scholar, Hon. Justice Taslim Olawale Elias, GCON (the first Minister and Attorney-General of the Federation); the exceptional and outstanding Jurist in the person of Sir Danley Alexander, KBE; the cerebral and consummate Jurist, Hon. Justice Augustus Nnamani, SAN, JSC; former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Mohammed Bello, GCON; former President of the NBA, in the person of the indefatigable O.C.J. Okocha, MFR, SAN etc.

In the course of reading his Acceptance Speech at the new edifice of the Body of Benchers in Abuja, Chief Wole Olanipekun, OFR, SAN, made reference to the Body of Benchers Regulations, particularly, paragraphs 3 (1), (2) and (3) of the Regulations, which provided for the establishment of the offices of the Chairman and Vice Chairman to be held for a term of 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. In distilling the essence of the said paragraphs, Chief Olanipekun, OFR, SAN, in his speech stated as follows:

“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…”

Pledging to continue to give his all to the services of the Body of Benchers as Chairman, Chief Wole Olanipekun, OFR, SAN, informed members of the august Body that he will be calling upon all members for their cooperation, understanding, assistance, advice and counsel in order to revamp the legal profession posited thus:

“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. 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…”

Furthermore, the new Chairman of the Body of Benchers in his speech called upon the leaders of the legal profession present at the occasion to do all within their power to rejig, redefine and reorientate the legal profession by stating thus:

“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. 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 appreciating members of the Body of Benchers for the confidence reposed in him as Vice-Chairman for the past one year, and the opportunity to transit to the position of Chairman, he also, on behalf of the Body, expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the outgoing Chairman, Hon. Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, CON, JSC (Rtd.) for discharging his duties as Chairman creditably well.