Nigerians don’t trust the bench, bar for justice, courts not inspiring confidence – Awomolo

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Asiwaju Aegboyega Awomolo, has said the rule of law in the country is facing a lot of challenges as the decision of the courts no longer inspire confidence.

Awomolo said there was therefore an urgent need for stakeholders to win back public trust and confidence.

He said this in his acceptance speech after his inauguration as the new chairman, body of benchers, last week Thursday, with past chairmen, body of benchers, life benchers as well as Chief Justice of Nigeria Olukayode Ariwoola Idowu either physically present or virtually.

The silk took over from Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili (JSC) after a one-year stint.

Addressing the gathering, Awolomo said: “I see today’s ceremony as symbolic and an opportunity of a new call to service. I am not taking your love and goodwill for granted but I sincerely solicit your prayers and support for the next 12 months.

“One must be honest to admit that the current public image of the Bar and Bench in this country is not at the height that it ought to be. Members of the public no longer trust the Bench and the Bar for justice. Decisions of courts no longer inspire confidence and trust.

“The Body, in collaboration with other bodies in the administration of justice sector, has the duty to win back public trust and confidence. In the process of administration of justice, we need to strike humble and conciliatory tone in the engagement with the members of the public. Justice, it is said, is rooted in confidence.”

Awomolo further said: “Corruption in every sense is unfortunately a tag attached to the Judiciary. It is no doubt uncomplimentary and embarrassing but in public opinion, it is real. It then demands that everyone of us in the discharge of our judicial functions must, like Caesar’s wife, be above board.

“Another major problem before the legal profession today is the gradual erosion of discipline and non-observance of the professional ethics contained in the code of conduct of legal practitioners.

“The practice of law today has been thoroughly afflicted with the virus of ineptitude and indiscipline. In the last 4 years, this Body has admitted annually an average of five thousand lawyers. Most of these lawyers went into the practice of the law without any opportunity of tutelage. There is need for a reform that will bring back the enviable status of the legal profession. The ongoing mentorship programme of the Body is a right initiative in this respect.

Let me acknowledge the good works of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee which has, in the last few years, doubled its capacity and returns. We demand for more.”

On the current move by the National Assembly to alter the Nigeria’s Constitution 1999 (as amended), he said the draft of the Legal Practitioners Act approved by this Body had been forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice for presentation to the legislature as an Executive Bill.

“This Body has a very important role to play to ensure that its views are reflected in the altered provisions of the Constitution and the Legal Practitioners Act. There was reported in the media yesterday (Wednesday, March 20, 2024) the proposed alteration of the Constitution which would make appointment, discipline and removal of Judicial officers in the States, the prerogative of the Governors. This move is alarming and will create a threat to the independence of the Judiciary. The Body cannot be passive or ‘siddon’ look. The danger in this move is to take the Judiciary back to pre-1999.

“I respectfully propose a Committee to put together the views of this Body for submission to the leadership of the National Assembly. I call for volunteers please,” he added.

While commending her predecessor in office, Justice Peter-Odili, he said: “Her style of leadership is inclusivity and consensus decisions of most members on all matters.

“The Chairman involved her Vice Chairman (me) in all the decisions affecting this Body and taken at plenary. The Vice Chairman was not treated “as extra-tyre” to be rolled out to fill the punctured tyre. I thank her for kindness and respect for my person and position as Vice Chairman of this Body. I join other Benchers to congratulate her for a very successful tenure as Chairman. Congratulations my noble Lord.

“I promise to follow her example in guiding the Management of the Body under the indefatigable Daniel Tela Esq, Bencher, the Executive Secretary of the Body.”

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