ADDRESS DELIVERED BY O.C.J. OKOCHA, MFR, SAN, JP DSSRS, CHAIRMAN, BODY OF BENCHERS AT THE CALL TO BAR CEREMONY HELD AT THE EAGLE SQUARE, ABUJA – FEDERAL CAPITAL TERITORY OF NIGERIA, ON TUESDAY, 15TH SEPTEMBER, 2020
The vice chairman, Body of Benchers, Milord The Honourable Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, CFR, JSC;
Distinguished Past Chairmen of the Body of Benchers;
Distinguished Members of the Body of Benchers;
The Chairman of the Council of Legal Education, Chief EmekaNgige, SAN;
Milords, Honourable Justices, Judges and Kadis;
The President of the Nigerian Bar Association, OlumideAkpata;
Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members of the National Assembly;
Honourable Ministers of the Federal Government of Nigeria;
YourExcellences, Governors of the States of Nigeria;
Distinguished Members of the Inner Bar and the Outer Bar;
Your Royal Highnesses, Respected Traditional Rulers;
The New Wigs;
Proud Parents and Guardians;
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press;
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
May I, on behalf of the Honourable Body of Benchers, welcome you all to this happy and memorable occasion of Call-to-the-Bar of the several candidates who have this day been admitted into the Legal Profession in Nigeria.Even though this is, without any doubt, a happy and memorable day for many of us here present, and even for those not present, what we are engaged in is a serious and solemn occasion, because the New Wigs are now and henceforth, to be charged with great responsibilities and serious undertakings in a profession which prizes character, dignity, honour, learning and nobility above the merely external advantages of positions, rank and fortune.
I heartily congratulate all the New Wigs, jointly and severally, on their Call-To-The-Bar here in Nigeria. I have every reason to believe that, having received sound and rigorous training at the Nigerian Law School, and having successfully passed the Bar Final Examinations, as conducted by the Council of Legal Education, you are indeed fit and proper persons to be admitted into the Legal Profession. This has actually been confirmed by the Screening Committee of the Body of Benchers, which committee had scrutinized your personal details and records before recommending you for Call-To-The-Bar.
May I also congratulate the proud parents, guardians, friends and relations of the New Wigs, who must all feel proud and satisfied that their investments, in your training and welfare, have not been in vain. Even though they all may not be present here today, I would, however, like to say to them, that their duty is not fully and finally done, and that they all still have a responsibility to continue to assist and support the New Wigs in their journey to success and greatness in our Learned and Honourable Profession of Law. They, the New Wigs, will still need to buy decent clothing, the robes and other accoutrements that they require to practice, transportation and accommodation facilities, and much more. Every little help they can get will surely assist them.
May I also commend and congratulate the Body of Benchers for managing to hold this ceremony. As we may all recall, this ceremony was to have been held on Wednesday, 29th day of July, 2020. On account of the global pandemic caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19), and the resultant consequences, including lock-downs in Nigeria and worldwide, we could not finalize the necessary arrangements for this ceremony to hold on the earlier proposed date, and at any of our usual venues. With some restrictions still in place, and to duly observe and perform the protocols stipulated by Government and the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, we managed to secure the use of this venue, the Eagle Square, Abuja, so that this Call Ceremony may not be delayed longer than necessary. May I, on behalf of all of us in the Body of Benchers, express a special word of gratitude to the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, AbubakarMalami, SAN, for the kind assistance which he gave to us in the matter of securing this Eagle Square Venue for our use for this ceremony.
May I also express our thanks and gratitude to theCouncil of Legal Education and the Nigerian LawSchool, for the training programmes which wereadministered for the benefit of the students whoundertook the same. Since its inception in the year1962, the Council of Legal Education, through theNigerian Law School, has continued to ensure that allcandidates for admission into the Legal Profession inNigeria are equipped with the requisite knowledgeand skill to enable them practice as LegalPractitioners. It is my hope that the Council willcontinue to discharge, creditably as it has alwaysdone, the enormous responsibilities with which it ischarged under the Legal Education Act, albeit incollaboration with the National UniversitiesCommission, particularly here in Nigeria.
And now to you the New Wigs, my Learned Friends, I am sure you heard me when I said earlier that, fromnow and henceforth, you have been charged withgreat responsibilities and serious undertakings in theLegal Profession. Our Learned and HonourableProfession of Law demands and expects from yougood character, becoming dignity, high honour, deeplearning and demonstrable nobility. I must admonishyou to adopt and always uphold honesty andintegrity, which are also hallmarks of the LegalProfession. Note, and always remember at all times,that the governing law for our profession is the LegalPractitioners Act, 1975 (AS AMENDED), CAP. LI1,Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, which ispresently in the process of review for re-enactment.Even in spite of the on-going review, I believe that theextant provisions of the Act, particularly as theyrelate to your admission into the Legal Profession,will still remain in full force and effect.
The first thing to do hereafter is to proceed, as soon asyou can, to the Supreme Court, with the Certificate ofCall-To-The-Bar, issued to you by the Body ofBenchers, so that you may be enrolled in the Roll ofLegal Practitioners kept in the Supreme Court. It isonly upon due enrolment as such that you will bepermitted to practice as Legal Practitioners.
Section 2(1) of the Legal Practitioners Actunequivocally stipulates as follows:-
“Subject to the provisions of this Act, a person shallbe entitled to practice as a barrister and solicitor if,and only if, his name is on the Roll.”
Now, while it is true that upon enrolment, youentitled to practice as a Barrister and Solicitor, I willadvise that you do not launch yourselves directly intopractice, by opening your own Law Firms and LawOffices. This is because you are yet to acquirecognate experience in practice and procedure. TheBody of Benchers actually does recommend a fewyears of pupillage, under an already established LawFirm, where Legal Practitioners who aremoreexperienced than you are will be able to show you theway, and how to meet the several challenges that lieahead of you. Continue to maintain the attitude of astudent, and be very willing to learn. There areseveral areas of law practice that are now emerging,and you should not see yourselves as being only courtroom lawyers. In all that you do while in practice,commit yourselves to upholding the Rule of Law andthe pursuit for Justice. I speak of JUSTICE in itsfinest and purest elements. This applies equally to allof you, those who may continue to practice as legalpractitioners and those who may proceed to becomeMagistrates and Judges.
AS Legal Practitioners, we areall bound to observeand uphold the Rules of Professional Conduct in theLegal Profession, as may for the time being be inforce. The current Rules are the ones made by theGeneral Council of the Bar dated 2nd January, 2007Rule 1 thereof unequivocally stipulates as followsconcerning the general responsibility of everylawyer, namely-
“A lawyer shall uphold and observe the rule of lawpromote and foster the cause of Justice, maintain ahigh standard of professional conduct, and shall notengage in any conduct which 1s unbecoming of alegal practitioner.”
Also in the Rules are stipulated some essential dutieswhich we as Legal Practitioners owe to our Clients,our Colleagues, 1.e. other Legal Practitioners, and tothe Court. As you all should know, the greatest dutywe owe is to the Court, especially in theadministration of justice.
For those of you who will go on to becomeadjudicators, i.e. Magistrates and Judges, codes of conduct and general behaviour have also been putplace, and the Rules and Regulations in that regard are also to be strictly observed and performed. Any breach of the aforesaid Rules and Regulations is a Very serious matter, and severe censures and sanctions can be meted out to those found to be inbreach.
Still as Legal Practitioners, I must remind you aboutthe existence of the one unified Association for all of us in the legal profession, i.e. the Nigerian BarAssociation (NBA). As you begin practice, registeras a Member of the Branch of the Association in theplace or nearest to the place of your practice. TheNBA is the foremost professional association inNigeria, and its influence on national affairs cannotbe overstated. The motto of the NBA isPROMOTING THE RULE OF LAW and among itsaims and objects are the following, namely:-
- Maintenance and defence of the integrity andindependence of the Bar and the Judiciary inNigeria.
- Improvement of the system of administration ofJustice, its procedures and arrangement of courtbusiness and regular law reporting.
- Maintenance of the highest standards ofprofessional conduct, etiquette and discipline.
- Promotion and protection of the principles ofthe Rule of Law and respect for enforcement offundamental rights, human rights and people’srights.
- Creation of schemes for the encouragement ofnewly qualified members and assistance toaged or incapacitated members of the Association.
I assure you all that your active and regularparticipation in the activities of the NBA will help you to make a daily advancement in the Legal Profession, and also help you to make yourcontributions to the entrenchment of the just andegalitarian society which we all desire to have inNigeria.
As I proceed to conclude this address, let mere mindyou all that the Body of Benchers, which has this daycalled you to the Bar, also has power to enforcediscipline and decorum at the Bar. This is donethrough the instrumentality of the Legal PractitionersDisciplinary Committee (LPDC), which is aStanding Committee of the Body of Benchers, whichconducts the trial of any Legal Practitioner chargedWith infraction of the Rules of Professional Conductor with Infamous Conduct. The LPDC has power torecommend that, with respect to any LegalPractitioner found liable for a breach of the Rules orfor Infamous Conduct, such Legal Practitioner’sname be struck-off the Roll of Legal Practitioners, orthe lesser sanction of such Legal Practitioner beingsuspended from practice for a stated period, or thatSuch Legal Practitioner be admonished. Thesesanctions all have their repercussions, which I amSure none of you will find palatable.
And so, I encourage you all to be of very goodcharacter and conduct, and not to be found wanting,in any way whatsoever, in your conduct as LegalPractitioners.
In conclusion, let me remind you all about the need tolearn and know about those things which they did notteach you in the Nigerian Law School. A lot of it hasto do with your emotional intelligence and yoursocial intelligence, and the willingness at all times tobe pragmatic and to face the realities of everyoccasion. The current experience with COVID-19has exposed some of the weaknesses in our systemsfor doing things in Nigeria, and particular theweaknesses in the machinery for the administrationof justice. I reckon that you all must have heard aboutremote court sittings, virtual court sittings, and thejudicial stamp of approval given to the same by theApex Court in Nigeria. And so, there is an urgentneed for all concerned to come up with systems andprocedures that can enable us to quicken the pace ofjustice, and the pace of doing legal business inNigeria. These will demand our creative attention,and a new CAN-DO SPIRIT which will make us allthe better enabled to discharge our duties as LegalPractitioners, and more importantly as patrioticcitizens of Nigeria.
CHAIRMAN’S CHARGE TOTHE NEW WIGS
In line with our time honoured tradition, I herebyclose this my address with the Chairman’s Charge tothe New Wigs, and I now invite you all to beupstanding.
“YOU MAY NOW GO FORTH IN YOUR NEWWIGS, FROM THIS DAY FORWARD, TO SERVENIGERIA AND SERVE HUMANITY INJUSTICE, WITHOUT FEAR OR FAVOUR,AFFECTION OR ILL WILL”!
Milords,Distinguished Benchers, Proud Parents andGuardians of the New Wigs, Your Excellences,Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you allfor being part of this epoch-making ceremony, and I thank you all for your kind attention.
MAY GOD BLESS US ALL! AND MAY GODCONTINUE TO BLESS THE FEDERALREPUBLIC OF NIGERIA! AMEN! ANDAMEN!
O.C.J. OKOCHA, MFR, SAN, JP, DSSRS
Legal Practitioner; Life Bencher
Chairman, Body of Benchers
15th September 2020