Be Impartial Arbiters In Election Matters, Buhari Tell Judges

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President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, advised the judiciary to sustain the rule of law in Nigeria and ensure the integrity of participatory democracy by remaining honest arbiters in pre and post-election matters. Buhari said this at the inauguration of the Body of Benchers Complex in Abuja.

The president went down memory lane, at another event, recalling how the signing of a peace accord with former President Goodluck Jonathan and other presidential candidates in the build-up to the 2015 elections contributed to the peaceful outcome of the polls. He spoke at State House, Abuja, while receiving the National Peace Committee (NPC), led by former military Head of State, General Abdusalami Abubakar.

The president’s comments came as Delta State Governor and vice presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, urged PDP members to take advantage of what he termed obvious unpreparedness of other political parties, particularly, the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), for the 2023 polls, as demonstrated by their inability to put their acts together.

Speaking while inaugurating the Body of Benchers Complex in Abuja, the president noted that the judiciary had a major role to play in safeguarding fairness in the 2023 elections and ensuring the sanctity of the democratic process.

He said, “As the 2023 general election draws near, the significance of the legal profession becomes even more pronounced considering the vital roles you play in the electioneering process, both at the pre and post-election stages. I hope you maintain the position of an honest arbiter.”

Buhari said his administration would continue to respect and elevate the rule of law, adding, “Adherence to the rule of law is critical to the progress of any society and this administration has not reneged in its commitment to this ideal.”

While congratulating the Body of Benchers, chaired by Chief Wole Olanipekun, for the successful completion of the complex started in 2008, the president commended the body for keeping the wheel of justice turning by providing a solid foundation for the rule of law, with over five decades of proven track record.

The president stated, “I am aware that the Body of Benchers is responsible for the formal call-to-Bar of persons seeking to become legal practitioners as well as ensuring the highest standard of discipline within the profession.

“I consider this Body as critical to the legal profession. I say this, because the membership of the Body cuts across all facets of government and the legal profession, particularly, the executive, legislature, judiciary and the bar.

“Furthermore, all Justices of the Supreme Court, retired Chief Justices of Nigeria, who are alive, President of the Court of Appeal and Presiding Justices, Chief Judges of the High Courts, the Federal and state Attorneys General, Chairmen of the Judiciary Committees in the two Houses of the National Assembly, leading members of the Bar, and others constitute this Body.

“I am unaware of any other institution or organ in the legal profession that draws its membership from all segments of the profession like the Body of Benchers. No wonder, the statute describes it as consisting of men of the highest distinction in the legal profession.”

Buhari pledged to support improvement in the welfare of staff of the judiciary after an on-going review.

He added, “I recall that on the 28th July, 2022 when I played host to the leadership of the Body of Benchers, its Chairman, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, was very emphatic in making a case for the welfare of judicial officers in the country. I am not unaware of the passion and commitment of Chief Olanipekun in championing the cause of the welfare of judicial officers in Nigeria, as well as the commitment of the Body on this matter.

“May I restate my commitment towards this ideal. In similar vein, I have been intimated of the engagement of consultants by the Body, through its Judiciary Advisory Committee, to amongst other things, come up with a peer review of the conditions of service of judicial officers in Nigeria with other countries and jurisdictions, within and outside Africa.

“I earnestly look forward to the completion of this peer review and the submission of recommendations, as this will assist us to review the welfare packages. A society, where justice thrives is one that can be assured of development. For Nigeria to effectively embrace sustainable development, institutions such as the legal profession must remain deeply committed towards promoting good governance.”

Buhari praised the initiative of the Body of Benchers to build the complex, and extend invitation to his office for the inauguration.

According to him, “This is a major achievement for the Body of Benchers, as this structure serves to boost infrastructure development of the legal profession. I commend the efforts of the entire Body of Benchers for being able to deliver this project, which I have been told was embarked on in 2008 and has only now been fully completed.

“From the information available to me, meetings of the Body of Benchers were hitherto held at the Supreme Court premises, both in Lagos and Abuja. Now, the Body has its own beautiful complex, which will serve for its meetings, seminars, conferences, and also bring some revenue to its coffers. Once again, I thank the Body of Benchers for this opportunity to identify with it on this auspicious occasion of the commissioning of this beautiful edifice.”

Earlier, Olanipekun explained that the idea of the complex was mooted in 1992, and the ground-breaking ceremony was held on November 28, 2008.

“So much time, talent and treasure has been invested in this facility,” he said, explaining that the complex has a 3,000 sitting capacity hall, 240 capacity meeting room, 1000 capacity banquet hall, another 1000 capacity multipurpose hall, offices for staff and a library.

He noted that realisation of the vision of building the complex could be attributed to the foresight of 16 persons, one of whom was still alive. He specifically commended two retired Chief Justices of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Belgore and Justice Mahmud Mohammed.

On improving the conditions of service for judicial workers, Olanipekun said, “May I publicly thank and commend Mr President for his fast response to my address that a democratic government, standing on a tripod, cannot thrive where one is not properly taken care of.”

Describing the building as “magnificent and befitting of the Body of Benchers,” the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, in his remarks, said the sacrifices of past Chairmen and Presidents of the Body of Benchers had eventually paid off. Ariwoola urged the body to put the facility to good use, particularly, in hosting the call to bar.

Speaking, also, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, congratulated Ariwoola on his confirmation, and noted that the Body of Benchers complex transcended a physical structure. Malami said the edifice captured the essence of the body in the conscience of legal professionals and created an enabling environment for the administration of the rule of law.

While noting that the legal profession needed to purge itself of charlatans, Malami stated, “We cannot afford to lower the bar, if we must retain family confidence.” He said the president had already made improvement in the remuneration of judicial workers a priority, further demonstrating his love and respect for the legal profession.

In another development, while playing host to the NPC, Buhari declared, “You may recall that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and I signed the first National Peace Accord before the 2015 elections. It is my conviction that it contributed significantly to the peaceful outcome of the 2015 election.”

While urging all signatories to the 2023 election Peace Accord and their supporters to abide by its content and spirit, Buhari stated that the signing of the First National Peace Accord by the presidential candidates in the 2023 election, earlier at a separate event yesterday, was aimed at committing political parties, aspirants and their supporters to conduct their campaigns in a peaceful manner, devoid of ethnic, religious and hate speeches that could mar the upcoming elections.

Buhari said, “The timing of the First National Peace Accord is significant considering political party campaigns have already commenced in the country. The initiatives undertaken by the NPC are commendable, as these efforts would ensure issue-based campaigns.

“I look forward to the second phase of the signing of the National Peace Accord coming up in January 2023. It is my hope that the National Peace Committee continues this important work post-2023.”

The president reiterated that credible, free and fair elections could only be achieved in a peaceful environment, adding that the signing of the Electoral Act 2021, as amended with landmark provisions, underline his resolve for transparent and all-inclusive electoral process.

He urged all stakeholders to conduct themselves in a manner that would ensure the successful conduct of the general election in 2023 as well as smooth transition from one democratically elected government to another.

Abubakar, who briefed the president on the activities of the committee in the build-up to next year’s election, said they had met with various stakeholders, including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the heads of security agencies, who reassured of their preparedness to conduct the polls creditably.

The former Head of State told the president that the membership of the committee had been expanded to bring in some “young minds”. He said he was confident that the committee would do its utmost to ensure that all political actors lived up to expectation.

The NPC chairman also lauded Buhari for repeatedly reaffirming his commitment to fairness in the 2023 elections, particularly, at international outings. He noted that the off-season elections in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states had confirmed Buhari’s irreversible commitment to credible and violence-free polls in the country.

Okowa Charges PDP to Take Advantage of APC’s Unpreparedness

Delta State Governor and PDP vice presidential candidate, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, charged PDP members to take advantage of the unpreparedness of other political parties, including the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), for the 2023 polls. Okowa said the unpreparedness was obvious in the parties’ inability to put their acts together.

Okowa made the call yesterday in Abuja at the inaugural meeting of PDP’s Presidential Campaign Council (PCC). He cited the huge lapses in the selection of vice presidential candidates by the other political parties and the delay in the constitution and inauguration of their campaign councils as indications of their pedigrees and unseriousness.

He congratulated members of the PCC on their selection, and said with the calibre of persons in the council, PDP was sure to retake government in Nigeria for the benefit of the people.

The governor stated that there was more work to be done by PDP to attain its target of rescuing Nigeria, but stated that the task was surmountable.

Okowa urged leaders and members of the party to return to their units and wards across the country to mobilise the people, saying the elections would be won at the grassroots. He acknowledged that many PDP members would be angling to be on the national campaign train to move around the country, but reiterated that the strength the party would exert in the elections was in the units and wards.

He stated, “Our strength and size of our followers, as leaders, will be best tested and harnessed in our units and wards. So I urged every leader and member of the party to return to their homes, because that is where the elections will be won.”

The vice presidential candidate urged PDP members in the North-west to leverage the on-going mass defection of people to PDP from other political parties, especially APC, to strengthen the ranks of the party in the zone.

For the North-east, he charged party faithful not to be discouraged or intimidated, because the presidential running mate of the ruling APC was from there. He told them to be encouraged by the “rescue Nigeria” mission of PDP.

Okowa stated that the party was faring well in the South-south and the South-east “and even the South-west, where people are thinking that we are in the minority. What we are going to achieve in the South-west in the elections will surprise the people, because we are sure of repeating what we did in Osun.”

In his remarks, Chairman of the PCC and Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Udom Emmanuel, restated the imperative of members, especially, leaders of the party, returning to their political units and wards to market PDP and ensure that the party won all elections.

He urged members of the council to be committed to the assignment by applying themselves to the job in a way that would motivate others.