Former Justice of the Supreme Court, Mary Odili JSC is now officially the Chairman of the Body of Benchers, BoB following the expiration of the tenure of Wole Olanipekun, SAN, and the send-forth ceremony held on his behalf in Abuja on Thursday evening.
The BoB is the legal body of practitioners of the highest distinction in the legal profession which graduates law students into lawyers as well as discipline erring lawyers.
Odili assumed the position as Chairman of the body after serving as Vice Chairman to Olanipekun and this is in line with the tradition of the body.
But it seems that the rift between Olanipekun and the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA has not been resolved.
Recall that the NBA president Yakubu Maikyau SAN had in a letter dated December 4, 2022 backed the call made by his predecessor, Olumide Akpata, who had asked Olanipekun to withdraw from heading the BoB following the action of Ms Ogunde, a partner in his law firm who sought a client’s engagement of her principal (in a €119.94m case) over his alleged influence on judges.
The Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee under the BoB had exonerated Olanipekun of the allegation by the NBA but Yakubu insisted that Olanipekun must vacate his office so as to save the image of the legal profession.
The call by the NBA was obviously ignored by Olanipekun.
But as the expiration of Olanipekun’s tenure drew closer, the National Executive Council of the NBA recommended certain names to replace Odili as vice chairman of the BoB.
In its circular made available to journalists on Thursday morning, NBA stated thus: “In view of the expiration of the tenure of the current Chairman of the Body of Benchers and the fact that the Vice Chairman of the body shall be nominated from the Bar, NEC resolves that NBA should sponsor a preferred nominee of the Bar to represent the Association as the Vice Chairman.
“Consequently, Mrs. Funke Adekoya SAN was unanimously nominated and adopted as the nominee of the NBA for the position of Vice Chairman of the Body of Benchers. It was further resolved that, in the event that Mrs. Funke Adekoya SAN declines the nomination, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN should step in as the alternate nominee of the NBA.
“Finally, it was also resolved that the NBA President shall have prerogative to immediately nominate, without further recourse to NEC, any senior Bencher of his choice in the event that both Mrs. Funke Adekoya SAN and Dr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN decline the nomination.”
However, at the meeting the members unanimously endorsed respected silk and life bencher Asiwaju Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN as the Vice-Chairman of the Body of Benchers on Thursday evening and it is reported that this decision was based on the order of membership of the Body which adheres strictly to the rule of seniority as to admission into the body. It does not permit contests, lobbying, or jumping the gun.
The next in line is Chief Albert Akpomudje SAN, followed by Mrs Adekoya, Dr Olisa Agbakoba SAN, and Chief J.B Daudu SAN in that order.
It was also gathered that Olanipekun stepped down the name of former NBA president, Akpata from those appointed to serve as honorary members and new Life members of the body.
In his valedictory speech on Thursday, the outgoing BoB chair maintained that despite the allegations leveled against him by NBA, he maintained his “integrity”.
His words, “You are not unaware of the several offensive publications (to put it mildly) that certain identified leaders of the NBA have orchestrated against me and my person in the past one year, all of which have been elaborately circulated in the prints, electronics and social media, (including paid advertorials in leading national dailies), and the deliberations on some of the publications at our last meeting of 24th January, 2023. I take the attacks with equanimity.
“It is part of the price I have to pay for who I am, through the grace of God. It is also expected that any leader of my status will go
through unjust travails at one point or the other, but the important thing is for a leader not to quake, cave in or succumb to any unwholesome bait.
“I was always conscious of the fact that I occupy a very distinguished and eminent position in succession to worthy, noble, revered and venerated predecessors–in–office. Hence, my deliberate decision not to join issues, but let me boast in the Lord that I have my integrity before me, and it remains intact. Like the Psalmist of old, I can always say that: “But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity.”
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