ADDRESS BY HON. JUSTICE MARY U. PETER-ODILI, CFR, DSSRS, LIFE BENCHER, CHAIRMAN, BODY OF BENCHERS AT THE CALL TO BAR CEREMONY HELD AT THE BENCHERS COMPLEX, ABUJA, ON WEDNESDAY, 11TH OCTOBER 2023.
The Vice Chairman, Body of Benchers – Chief Adegboyega S. Awomolo, SAN, Life Bencher.
Past Chairman of the Body of Benchers here present.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria – Hon. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, GCON.
Former Chief Justices of Nigeria here present.
Hon. Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice – Prince Lateef O. Fagbemi, SAN, Life Bencher.
Distinguished Life Benchers and Members of the Body of Benchers.
The Chairman, Council of Legal Education – Chief Emeka Ngige, OFR, SAN.
The President of the Nigeria Bar Association – Mr. Y. C. Maikyau, OON, SAN.
Honorable Judges and Kadis.
Distinguished and Honourable Members of the National Assembly.
Members of the Inner and Outer Bar.
Your Royal Highnesses.
The New Wigs.
Proud Parents and Guardians.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is my great privilege and honour to address you all at this special occasion of the October, 2023 Call to Bar Ceremony. I give glory to Almighty God through which whose mercies and benevolence has made this joyful day possible.
I congratulate our proud new wigs, who undoubtedly deserve all the accolades. Your success story can be equated with that of a farmer who plants his seed after clearing the farm, nutures it and patiently waits for a bountiful harvest. I am sure you are all happy today seeing that your dedication and hard work have germinated the desired fruits. How you managed the stress, anxiety and pressures to get to where you are now is truly commendable.
The success you have recorded today in not a one-way street and a one-man operation. Most times, it takes an entire family, if not a village, an entire group of people invested in one’s dreams, to usher that person into the finish line. In this vein, I extend my congratulations to the Director General, Prof. Isa Hayatu Chiroma, SAN and the entire Faculty of the Nigerian Law School for their efforts towards ensuring quality training which enabled the new wigs to be found worthy in both character and learning. The same commendation goes to the Council of Legal Education under the Chairmanship of Chief Emeka Ngige, OFR, SAN. To the proud parents and families, your perseverance and support was not in vain. Therefore, I congratulate you too.
YOUR ROLE AS LAWYERS
My brand new learned friends, your role as a Legal Practitioner is firstly about “service.” It has been said that service “is not the domain of are individuals, it is not confined to a single part or time of ourselves. We simply heed the call of that caring impulse within and follow where it leads.” (Ram Dass and Paul Gorman)
As lawyers, you are uniquely positioned to provide not just random acts of service, but world-changing, life-changing and even view-shaping service. You have the capacity to change the world, whether you decide to go to private practice, government service, to put up a business or whatever your heart leads you to.
Your law degrees and Call to Bar certificates are not just pieces of documents you will hand on your wall or boast with to others. These are credentials that you can wield as your sword to fight against injustice, to fight for what is right and for those who cannot fend for their own rights. These are shields that you can raise up to protect the innocent and uphold the rule of law.
I was privileged to be called to the Bar forty-six (46) years ago. I can confidently state that I have seen the good and bad times in the course of my journey both at the Bar and the Bench; nothing pays more than honesty, diligence, perseverance, love for humanity and above all prayers.
Wherever you decide to apply your talent as a lawyer, you will be required to act with utmost professionalism and wisdom as your legal advice, your professional actions, and even your inactions, affect the very lives of your clients.
ETHICS AND ETHOS OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION
In your service as a Legal Practitioner, you must not forget to put into practice the ethical and moral obligations of a lawyer that has been imbibed in you during your training. In this highly competitive era, as lawyers remember that it is essential to be civil and ethical. This means acting civilly and ethically with clients, in the courtroom, in the bar, and with others in your offices.
I urge you as a matter of urgency to acquaint yourselves with the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners as you must adhere strictly to the stipulated rules at all times.
Let me remind you that the Body of Benchers in addition to having the powers to admit you to the Legal Profession also have the power through its Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee to discipline you whenever you are in breach of the Rules or conduct yourself in a manner incompatible with the status of a Legal Practitioner such that could bring the Profession to disrepute.
The importance and many gains of mentorship cannot be overemphasized and it is a fulcrum of our profession. As my predecessors have always admonished new wigs, I advise you to always seek the counsel of experienced senior colleagues whenever you are faced with a challenge or in difficulty. I am certain a majority of them will be willing to guide and help you navigate through the web of law practice.
Having a Mentor will greatly assist you in molding your career and position you effectively to help in maintaining confidence in our justice system by being good stewards of justice. The Legal Profession is ours to cherish and protect, we must live above board as the public expects so much. When the public repeatedly see the justice system failing, propose changes in the laws or changes in the rules. You have the skills, training, and ability to make a difference, to have an impact as good stewards of justice. Flee from acts or conducts that have the slightest tendency of creating chaos or anarchy.
I recommend you all take advantage of the laudable mentoring program of the Body of Benchers for all young lawyers (0-7 years at the bar) which is on-going and participate thereof.
RESPECT FOR SENIORS
In our noble profession, respect for seniors is a cherished culture which we hold in high esteem. You must therefore, imbibe this culture of respect for your seniors and the courts as well. This respect which you owe as a duty should also be extended to your mates and junior colleagues. Seniority at the Bar is an age long tradition; do not get agitated therefore when a member of the inner Bar or a senior calls his or her case out of turn in court. Remember that whatever respect you accord to a senior colleague will be accorded to you subsequently by a junior.
The Legal Profession is a conservative and regulated profession, and the approved dress code for Legal Practitioners is one of the unique attributes of this noble profession. Your appearance today is not just for this ceremony, but for the rest of your days as Legal Practitioners and you must strictly adhere to the dress code. A good lawyer should not just abide to the dress code but must be properly and decently dressed at all times. After all, as the saying goes, looking good is good business.
USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
One cannot deny the many gains attendant to the advent of the social media and members of the Legal Profession are not left out of the benefits of this innovation. However, owing to some recent negative use of the social media by the general public including some lawyers, it has become expedient that I use this medium to urge you to positively harness this technology and many others and endeavor to refrain from any negative use which may bring you and the Legal Profession to disrepute.
CONTINIOUS LEGAL EDUCATION
It may interest you to note that your success in the Bar Final Examinations is not the end but the beginning of your education as a lawyer. To be a successful lawyer, you must constantly enrich yourself with statutes, case laws and continuously update your knowledge of legal options.
You must also actively participate in the numerous beneficial activities of the Nigerian Bar Association which is the umbrella Body for all practitioners in Nigeria. I am aware of the three (3) engaging sections of the Nigerian Bar Association: Section on Business Law (SBL), Section on Legal Practice (SLP) and Section on Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL) and many other Mandatory Continuous Legal Education (MCLE) programs which will be of great benefit to you. I charge you also as a matter of ethics to promptly pay your Bar Practice fee as stipulated and other dues accrued such as Branch dues.
On behalf of the Body of Benchers, which is the highest Body with distinction to the Legal Profession, I once again congratulate you and welcome you to the noble Legal Profession. You may have accomplished what you have set to achieve, you did it!
CHAIRMAN’S CHARGE TO NEW LEGAL PRACTITIONERS
In time honoured tradition, I hereby close with the Chairman’s charge to our newly called Legal Practitioners.
“You may now go forth in your new wigs from this day forward to serve Nigeria and serve humanity in justice, without fear or favour, affection or ill will”
Thank you and may God be with you and return us all safe to our various destinations.
Hon. Justice Mary U. Peter – Odili, CFR, DSSRS
Chairman, Body of Benchers.