(SUPREME COURT YEARS, 1984 – 1989)




Quite frankly, I want to thank the organizers of this event for the privilege given me to grace this occasion as Special Guest of Honour. This, to me, is an honour which neither time nor circumstance will erase from my memory.


We are gathered here to celebrate with the Oputa family as they formally present Judicial Footprints, a chronology of Justice Chukwudifu puta’s notable pronouncements during his Supreme Court years from 1984 – 1989.


I recall that Justice Oputa, these days more fondly referred to as puta Panel, was appointed to the Supreme Court on July 4, 1984 and retired gloriously on September 23, 1989, leaving in our memories five years of judicial activism in the nation’s apex court. During this period, our own Lord Denning of the Supreme Court or if you like Socrates of the Supreme Court (apologies to Justice Mohammed Bello) delivered no fewer than 267 judgments, 50 of which were lead judgments. This is no mean achievement, ladies and gentlemen, and could only come from a man who believes that justice delayed could tantamount to justice denied. Let me not leave you in doubt that the Judicial Footprints of my lord, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa JSC (as he then was) is certain to be punctuated with erudition, courage, mastery of law, legal interpretation and reasoning, capability and ability not only to take up challenges of delivering lead judgments but mores endowed with wonderful grammatical diction and philosophical verbosity.


For you to actually appreciate the man of the moment, you must either be a lawyer, an accused, a prosecutor or a civil litigant or a human right activist and moreso if you were a victim of military dictatorship.


Indeed, as a lawyer and a lawmaker, I must confess that I have found the contributions of Justice Oputa to the Nigerian legal system most enriching and rewarding.


Let me emphasise here that one thing that has challenged me about the life and career of this Lion of the Supreme Court was the boldness and courage he wielded while delivering judgment. Not for him the banal aphorism that the law is an ass, meaning that anybody who has the means can ride it. Not for him the pecuniary notion that justice is for the high and mighty.


Justice, to Oputa, is for one and all. For the poor, the handicapped, the rich, the state, the citizenry, the complainant as well as the defendant.


This philosophy was the nexus of his landmark judgment in Josiah Vs the State (1985) and I quote: “And justice is not a one-way traffic. It is not justice for the appellant only. Justice is not even a two-way traffic. It is really a three-way traffic – justice for the appellant accused of a heinous crime of murder, justice for the victim, the murdered man, the deceased, whose blood is crying to heaven for vengeance and finally justice for the society at large – the society whose social norms and values had been desecrated and broken by the criminal act complained of”.


In 1986, the courage of this Lion of the Supreme Court was brought to full manifestation when he ruled in Governor of Lagos State Versus Ojukwu that:

“In Nigeria even under the military government, the law is no respecter of persons, principalities, governments or power and that the courts stand between the citizens and the government, alert to see that the state or government is bound by the law and respects the law”.


Such was the courage displayed by the man in whose honour we are gathered here today. He was indeed a lion who dared the military with all their jackboot and grenade. Your Lordship, I salute your courage.


It is of little wonder therefore that when this Republic was inaugurated on May 29, 1999, and the need arose to address and redress the litany of human rights abuses suffered by Nigerians in the past, this administration in its conventional wisdom gave the difficult and tasking job to the Lion himself.


Today, you will agree with me that going by the activities that hallmarked the various sittings of the Human Rights Violations, Investigations Commission (aka Oputa Panel) in various cities, the lion has not tainted his immaculate judicial apron. He has kept his integrity intact. He has demonstrated that justice flows in all directions. He has done a difficult job very, very well. Your Lordship, once again, I salute you.


But it is not just enough for us to pour encomiums on this man. His ideals, triumphs and successes should be the challenge of my generation.


What shall we do to sustain these and even improve on them? Can a Supreme Court judge in the next five or ten years stake his integrity against the State and not bow to political exigencies and persuasions? Can the Supreme Court sustain the tempo it recently set in the landmark judgment on resource control which subtly altered the revenue structure of the Federation?


Can the same Supreme Court judge or any other judge or magistrate place the common man on the same pedestal as the rich man while delivering his judgment? These are food for thought for all of us. Let us take a second look at the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa ideals. I am convinced they will be useful even now and in many, many years to come. Thank you.