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KonkNaija Media | May 2, 2016

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Justice Oputa dies at 96

Justice Oputa dies at 96

| On 05, May 2014

A former Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, died on Sunday at age 96. He died of a stroke-related ailment.

A son of the departed jurist and musician, Mr. Charles Oputa (aka Charly Boy), confirmed the death of his father in a statement.

“The Family of Justice Chukwudifu Oputa wishes to announce the passing to glory of the eminent jurist and a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria at the age of 96 years. He passed on peacefully on Sunday afternoon (May 4, 2014) after recovering from a brief illness. Funeral announcements will soon be released by the family,” Charles’ statement read.

Oputa, before his death, had been absent from public functions in recent years due to ill health.

A source said the body of the deceased had been deposited at the morgue of the National Hospital in Abuja.

Oputa was appointed to head a panel constituted to investigate rights abuses during the 15 years of military rule between 1976 and 1999 when President Olusegun Obasanjo assumed office as the elected president on May 29, 1999.

Prominent legal practitioners in the country expressed shock and sadness over the death of the late jurist on Sunday.

A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, described the deceased as one of the nation’s finest legal minds.

“It’s very sad that the great jurist has passed on. Having actively appeared before him, I can confirm that he was one of our finest legal minds. My prayers are with my friend, Charly Boy, and his family,” Agbakoba said.

Mr. Mike Ozekhome (SAN), who described the deceased as “a quintessential oracle of law” noted that his death was “a monumental loss to the legal profession, the judiciary and the entire nation.

“He was a legal prodigy, an iconic phenomenon, the quintessential oracle of the law and an unparallelled  jurist of inestimable value.

“He shone on the legal firmament like a million stars, bestrode the Nigerian judicial space like the colossus that he was. His judgments were lucid and provocative. His thoughts fecund, his writing skillful, literary and philosophical. Oputa came, saw and conquered.”

Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Tayo Oyetibo, who expressed shock over Oputa’s death, described the late jurist as the ‘Socrates of the Supreme Court.’

“He did not only understand the law as a Justice of the Supreme Court, he understood and applied the philosophy of law. His reasons for his judgments were often illuminating. He made law looked like Mathematics,” Oyetibo said.

Yusuf Alli (SAN) said, “Like the death of every person, the death is painful. But we thank God that he left at a very old age. His death is a loss not only to Nigeria’s jurisprudence but to the jurisprudence of the whole world. He contributed immensely to our jurisprudence from the High Court to the Supreme Court. He was a gifted orator and an engaging writer. He has left an indelible mark.”

Nigerian Socrates bows out

When controversial artiste, Charly Boy, announced in February that the iconic Justice Chukwudifu Oputa was critically ill,  many Nigerians of different generations were touched by the information.

Suddenly, Oputa had returned to their consciousness after a relatively long time, since the ‘Socrates of the Supreme Court’ had been leading a quiet life after the Oputa Panel he had headed during the Obasanjo administration completed its work.

Although the circumstances under which the panel investigated human rights practices during the military regime were largely controversial and sensational, Oputa handled the assignment in  a way that gave many Nigerians hope.

According to Charly Boy, his father had been rushed from the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri to a specialist hospital in Enugu, as he was suffering from a partial stroke.

A few weeks after, Charly Boy was back on air and social media to solicit prayer for the survival of the venerable old man since his condition was not improving.

But on Sunday, the sun finally set on the great man, leaving apostles of a sane, bold and consistently just legal system to grapple with the fact that the giant eagle had flown away from the iroko tree.

Indeed, with the passage of the legal luminary, Nigeria has lost one of its most influential justices in history.

Like a few other members of his generation, Oputa was an embodiment of knowledge, native intelligence and patriotism.

Many observers of the country’s legal system believe that he exhibited a measure of noble conscience that any person sitting in judgment over other people demands.

It was on these bases that he was popularly called the Socrates of the Supreme Court, named after the Greek philosopher, whose life, thought and method had greatly influenced the legal profession.

Like Socrates, Oputa was a strong patriot who believed that a citizen is bound by conscience to obey the laws of the state.

Born in Oguta, Imo State, the deceased’s father was Chief Oputa Izukwu while his mother was Madam Nwanetu Oputa.

Although he was said to have lost his parents early in life, he had his early education at Sacred Heart School, Oguta and Christ the King College, Onitsha, with his grandmother said to have played a major role in his upbringing.

According to an online account, he later attended the Yaba Higher College, “but due to the exigencies of the Second World War, was sent along with others to the famous Achimota College, Ghana, then Gold Coast. There he graduated with a B.Sc (Hon) Economics in 1945. After this, he came back to Nigeria and took up a teaching appointment with the Calabari National College.

“He later came to Lagos where he worked as an assistant district officer. It was here that Justice Oputa achieved a remarkable feat by studying at home and obtained his BA (Hon) History at home.”

The late legal giant then proceeded to London where he got his LLB degree and was called to the Bar in Gray’s Inn, London.

The Hallmark of Labour, in a citation, further said, “Upon his return to Nigeria,  Oputa went into a brilliant and successful private practice, handling such celebrated cases and special inquires as the Oguta Chieftaincy dispute – 1958/ 59; the Amanyanabo Dispute – 1956/ 60 and many more.”


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