By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, yesterday, relinquished his position as Chairman of the Nigerian Body of Benchers, even as Chief Idowu Sofola, SAN, has been elected to succeed him and pilot the affairs of the body for the next one year.
Statutorily, the Body of Benchers is the highest judicial organ with the responsibility of regulating legal practice in the country as well as admitting any person who wants to become a legal practitioner into the Nigerian Bar.
Meantime, a female Justice of the Supreme Court who is the likely successor to the CJN, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, was yesterday elected as Vice-Chairman of the legal body.
The election which took place at the Supreme Court was chaired by the CJN and supervised by National President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Chief Joseph Daudu (SAN) and Mr Okey Wali (SAN).
In his acceptance speech, Sofola, who is the first African to be elected as Secretary General of the International Bar Association (IBA), expressed gratitude to former NBA President, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, who he said “kept renewing my membership until I became a Life Bencher.”
Canvassing support from members of the body, Sofola said: “The need for the significant review of the legal profession and all its institutions is imperative.”
He said it was to this end that the Elder’s Committee was inaugurated to review the functions of all legal institutions, regretting that since its creation, the committee is yet to assert its authority.
The new Body of Benchers chairman further emphasized the need to strengthen the powers of the Legal Practitioner Disciplinary Committee (LSDPC).
He said: “The LSDPC should be extended so that the committee will be able to cope with the volume of petitions it gets. At the moment, the Disciplinary Committee appears limited to abuse of professional ethics. What of cases of lawyers guilty of corruption in politics? Shouldn’t we look for a way to address this? If we successfully do self-cleansing, I mean lawyers in practice, what of lawyers that are not in practice? If their excesses are not checked, it could affect the integrity of the legal profession.
“The legal profession must lead the way in societal re-engineering. We, as the conscience of the Bar, must not fail in this onerous task. We need to find sterner penalties for erring members of the profession who are guilty of infamous conduct.
“We must hold all members of the profession to a strict moral code so that the legal profession will retain its pride of place in the society.”