Cyril Okonkwo, Abuja
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has challenged the bar and the bench in Nigeria to ensure the proper working of justice system, insisting that their professional practice and the courts must measure up to the moral, ethical and statutory standards they ascribed to.
Professor Osinbajo stated this on Friday at the first award night of the Body of Benchers Nigeria held at the National Judicial Instistute, Abuja.
“We owe the young and aspiring lawyers the duty to set the ground rules right and to lead by example…Whether we sit at the Bar or on the bench, we bear the responsibility for a fair and just society; a free, fair and impartial justice system that ushers in progressive reforms in governance and protects the social structure of our nation.
“Our everyday practice of law has the potential to either strengthen or weaken our democratic values and institutions,’‘ he stated.
Professor Osinbajo said; “The sobriquet ‘learned’ that everyone ascribes to us, suggests amongst other attributes that we are skilled not only in the art of our trade/calling, but also in the mechanics of a just society.
“That just society cannot be established by mere wishes or rhetoric . It can only be by deliberate action and sacrifice especially of those of us to whom our profession has so generously conferred membership of its highest body.”
He said the legal profession in Nigeria was “at a critical cross-road,” but pointed out that the different possible paths lawyers could take have “never been so illuminated and clear as they are today.”
The Vice president warned that taking the path of business as usual instead of the more difficult and more courageous path of renewal, would mean that the profession would face the extinction of our credibility soon enough.
According to him, the weaknesses that have recently been exposed in the legal profession have at the same time provided great opportunity for deep introspection and self-assessment.
“This is an opportunity for reform and reclaim of that tradition of virtuous ethics; a tradition of moral inquiry and doggedness in dispassionate and impartial application of law no matter whose ox is gored,” Professor Osinbajo explained.
The Vice President, who was one of those honoured as Life Bencher at the event, said the greatest debt lawyers in both the bar and the bench owe at this point in their lives and career is to the future.
“That debt is one which we must discharge faithfully. First by being worthy mentors to an ever growing number of legal practitioners, but more importantly by fearlessly insisting that the bedrock of justice and the rule of law is personal and corporate integrity. No less,” he added.
Saraki commends awardees
President of Nigeria’s Senate, Bukola Saraki commended those honoured at the event for the role they have played in society.
“We hope that truth and justice are seen to prevail, where men and women will believe that the system will always stand for the truth, where politicians and business people all over must know that money and power cannot trump truth and justice and that the law bends for no one,” he said.
Saraki said benchers were key to instilling confidence in the profession, insisting that inconsistency would create problems.
“Fear of man cannot be the driving imperative of what we must do; it must be the constitution.
“History will always show that power is transient and posterity is the goal,” the Senate President said.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara said it was an opportunity to reflect long and hard about the parlous state of the legal profession in Nigeria.
“I don’t want to cite a lot of examples because I believe that this gathering is saturated by people who are quite aware of the happenings in the polity.
“Talk about the institutional prerogatives that are being deployed against the judiciary and sometimes the institution of the legislature; talk about the way court orders are treated…All of us shouldn’t pretend that all is well. There is a lot of work to be done.
“We have not hit the bottom, but certainly indications are that if care is not taken, we may be headed for the bottom,” Dogara said.
He warned of the dangers inherent in a situation where law could lose its force, saying it could be become mere words.
“For me, when law loses its force, it becomes an oxymoron, defined only by connecting contradictory words.
“The law becomes, when it loses its force, mere words, where even court judgments are not more than just admonitions or aspirations.
“In the absence of force, some of us who are schooled in jurisprudence know that the law cannot be effective and if the law is not effective it is never because something is wrong with the law, but may be something is wrong with the process of administering the law,” he explained.
Dogara challenged the Body of Benchers to produce “judicial transformational leaders,” saying it is necessary to strengthen Nigeria’s democracy.
The Speaker said the world has turned its eye to the judiciary in Nigeria to see how it would resolve the seeming intractable problems in the country at present.
The Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu said the event was organised to recognise the efforts of those who worked to create, maintain and sustain the values of the legal profession and the judiciary.
Two categories of awards at the event were presented to former Chairmen of Body of Benchers and to Life Benchers.