1. It is a special pleasure to be at the maiden edition of the Body of Benchers Award, which affords one the opportunity to be in the charmed circle of the brightest legal minds in our country today, albeit for only a few hours. This occasion is an affirmation of the honour and pride that reside in the Benchers, no matter the prevailing atmosphere. It is heartening to see esteemed and unbowed members of the Body of Benchers here tonight in celebration of that inviolable truth.

2. Benchers are guardians of the realm, vanguards in the quest to uphold, defend and strengthen our democracy. The role of the Judiciary as a co-equal arm of government cannot be overstated. Nor can we overlook the significance of this gathering as we push towards a society in which the rule of law is the fulcrum of the exercise of power. We recognise the important role played by this body to enthrone the time-tested principles of Checks and Balances and Separation of Powers – which compels government to remain accountable to the people, so that governance may advance the greater good.

3. In that light, tonight’s awards to all Former Chairmen of the Body of Benchers and Life Benchers, are very well deserved. These are legal eagles whose careers have been guided by observance of our Constitution, ethical conduct and judicial integrity.

4. As Jose Igreja Matos noted about judicial integrity, “Since judges exist to accomplish the essential goal of delivering justice to their fellow citizens, a vigorous ethical commitment should constitute a genetic trace of its professional codean irreprehensible ethical behaviour by the legal professionalshas an essential role in the legitimacy of the judicial system, as necessarily based on the bond of trust with the involved community.”

5. To that, I would add that building the trust estate requires a context where laws are relevant to issues affecting the people, making for effective delivery of justice. Also crucial is a socio-political climate that insulates the judicial system from undue influence, while protecting judicial officers in the course of the discharge of their duties. This brings me to my main message to this gathering, which takes the form of a question: What is the role of the rule of law in shaping the development of a viable 21st Century Nigeria?

6. I should broaden the discussion by making bold to say that, in Nigeria and the African continent as a whole, we face a precarious future if we do not address a number of challenges looming just around the corner. This is not scaremongering. There must be a concerted drive towards consolidation of democracy, liberalisation of the economy, and ensuring the rule of law. No two ways around this. In the next few decades, the population of Nigeria and the continent – including the youth demographic – is set to increase exponentially. The challenge is to see how we can reduce poverty and create jobs for the youth whose numbers will treble in the coming years.

7. They are not a generation that will sit idly by and watch their aspirations fade. Without inclusive government that creates jobs and opportunities, we are sitting on a time-bomb. We must act fast, and the Judiciary has an important role to play in ensuring sustainable economic success that is predicated upon a more democratic environment. The job creation stimulus we are seeking requires investment, and this depends on democratic stability. It follows, therefore, that the types of government that emerge must be through a democratic process that builds on the confidence of the people.

8. Our ability to produce effective solutions has never been more in demand. From the threats and opportunities of information development, sharing, management, manipulations aided by technology to the changing dynamics of terrorism, we must remake a judicial process that is integrity assured and delivers in good time. This requires the legislature and the judiciary to engage more and share ideas, more than is currently the case.

9. We must have a society where truth and justice are seen to prevail, where men and women will believe that the system will always stand by the truth. Politicians and business people must know that power and money cannot trump truth and justice, and that the law bends for no one. It must be clear that the corruption of money will always lose out. Benchers are key to instilling that confidence . Inconsistency will only create problems further down the line. Fear of man cannot be the driving imperative of what we do. It must be the Constitution. In any case, history has shown us that power is transient. Posterity is the goal.  

10. My Lords, members of the Nigeria Bar, I admit that I have come with more questions than answers for us to ponder upon, as we seek to build a stronger country with a coherent constitutional structuring and order. Like many of you, I am deeply concerned about the protection of the Judiciary as the bulwark of the rule of law, Separation of Powers and the careful observance of our constitutional directives.

11. We are living in interesting times. Every aspect of the justice system is being systematically degraded, and eminent jurists have the accusing finger pointed in their direction. One could argue that this is in itself a commentary on the public perception of the Judiciary. If the public truly believed in the sanctity of the Judiciary, one might expect them to rise in defence of accused jurists. It is clear, therefore, that the profession must do everything possible to win back the trust of the public. The Body of Benchers is central to that project.

12. As a co-equal arm of government, I have tried to take some steps to reduce the susceptibility of the Legislature to the Executive since assuming office as President of the Senate. My efforts in that regard are there for posterity to judge. By some contrast, in the last few days, it has been fascinating to watch the astonishing scenes in the British Parliament over the Brexit crisis. Some of the positions taken by House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, in particular, have been instructive, as regards what you might expect when a co-equal arm of government asserts its independence and all in the polity accept that as the norm.

13. A similar demonstration of Separation of Powers is observable in the US Congress over many issues of importance to American lives. Similarly indicative are American court decisions in the last few years alone. I remain resolute, therefore, that fighting for the independence of the Legislature – or indeed the Judiciary – in our own society, is not a bridge too far. It is never a bridge too far. I remain a firm believer in Separation of Powers, a core principle of democracy that is worth defending and fighting for, and which I commend most humbly to Benchers.

14. I would like to touch on some areas that can help improve the delivery of justice. For one, timeous procedures are an imperative. A situation where the docket is so loaded that the court is not able to hear fresh cases for years, is no help to anyone. The Body of Benchers and the National Assembly must work together to streamline procedures.

15. We may take cues from what other countries are already doing successfully. Some have made access to higher courts a matter of leave, not a right. This would mean bringing Magistrates Courts back to their rightful place in the judicial hierarchy. When all cases go to the High Court, the immediate consequence is a clogging up of the system, and delayed justice in many cases, which is justice denied.

16. In the 8th Senate, we made efforts to bring about positive changes via constitutional amendment, especially with regard to interlocutory decisions and right of appeal. These did not see the light of day. All the same, we must not tire of exploring available avenues for improvement. The practice of Court Recorders posted out of their jurisdictions in Britain’s Magistrates and High Courts, for instance, has proved very effective in helping judges clear their dockets of irrelevant cases.

17. Turning to recent events, the critical role of the Judiciary is further underscored by the quest for electoral justice. The 2019 elections have just been concluded; no doubt some aggrieved candidates will head to the courts. It then becomes necessary to frame a question around electoral justice and what it says about the role of the Judiciary when it enjoys the confidence of the people.

18. Some local and international election observers have expressed dismay at the level of violence witnessed during the recent exercise. Many say it is despondency and distrust in the system that leads some to resort to winning at all costs, having no confidence as to their chances in court. Admittedly, there is some depletion of trust in the courts as the final adjudicator, and as a means of seeking redress for perceived irregularities at the polls.

19. For the stability of the country, which is also necessary to lay the right foundation for the future, injustices must be addressed. That is what will give the needed indication to people that politics is not a do or die affair, but that it is about how to build a country that works for the future. Any leader that sees the looming population increase must realise that if our structure is not up to the task, we will be ill-prepared for the challenges ahead.

20. These challenges require the robust response of the Body of Benchers. With the disruptive power of technology comes the ever accelerating speed at which contractual agreements and conversations are taking place. So also, the retooling of the  system will be ineffective unless we meet the challenges with commensurate speed. The utility of the law and our justice system must be visited by reform. Benchers must be part of the solution because you are the greatest custodians of the rule of law.

21. Now, I fully acknowledge that none of this is easy. But as persons who have been chosen as Benchers at this moment in our history, you cannot but rise to help save the present and the future, and let posterity be the judge of the rest.

22. One of the reasons why I accepted the invitation to be here today is that I have seen for myself the courage, commitment and capacity of Benchers. In the case of a lot of you, these qualities stand in stark contrast to what has been portrayed out there. As we all know, there are more good people than bad. That is a reassuring thought for me, always. So, I urge you to be encouraged at all times. In the final analysis, the wealth of the people is much more important than the wealth of individuals. We should keep our eyes on higher goals.

23. I thank you for the opportunity to address you today. Let me assure you that I will continue, in whatever capacity, to support the ideals of the Judiciary, which is constitutionally entrusted with ensuring equity, fairness and justice in our democratic system.

24. I wish you a pleasant and successful evening. My congratulations, once again, to the award recipients.

Thank you.


Abubakar Bukola Saraki MBBS CON (pronunciationⓘ; born on 19 December 1962) is a Nigerian politician who served as the 13th president of the Nigerian Senate from 2015 to 2019.[1][2] He previously served as the governor of Kwara State from 2003 to 2011; and was elected to the Senate in 2011, under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), representing the Kwara Central Senatorial District, and then re-elected in the 2015 general elections