By Our reporters
A retired Supreme Court Judge, Justice Kayode Eso, 87, is dead. He passed on at the early hours of yesterday in London.
A statement by his family which was signed by Olumide Eso, announced the death. The statement which was entitled, ‘’The Honourable Justice Kayode Eso, JSC, CON, CFR,’’ reads, ‘’With Glory to Almighty God we wish to announce the peaceful passing on of our husband, father, grandfather, and brother the Justice Kayode Eso on Friday November 16, 2012 at Hammersmith Hospital London United Kingdom.
He is survived by his wife Mrs. Helen Aina Eso, (whom he married on January 16, 1954) his children Funmilayo Eso Williams and Olumide Eso, as well as his grandchildren.’’
Born on September 18, 1925, Justice Eso practised law at all levels; in practically all the courts in Nigeria, up to the West African Court of Appeal and later the Supreme Court.
After his university education at Trinity College, Dublin between 1949 and 1953, was called to the English Bar by the English Council of Legal Education in November, 1954. He was also called to the Nigerian Bar same year.
Eso was appointed the Acting Judge of the High Court of Western Nigeria in March 1965. Thereafter, he became a Justice of the Court of Appeal Western Nigeria and then, Acting President of the Court of Appeal Western Nigeria.
He was appointed the first Chief Judge of Oyo State, January 1978 and September 18 1990, following the creation of the state before he was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court. After his retirement from the Bench, he was engaged in legal consultancy and arbitration.
According to his biography written by Professor Ade Ajayi and Yemi Akinseye-George, a senior lecturer at the department of public and international law, University of Ibadan, and formerly a fellow at Princeton University, Justice Eso started his formative years in public service.
The book also illuminates various episodes in contemporary history where Justice Eso played prominent roles, like in the Legal Department of the Civil Service put together in the 1950s for the Western Region, the functioning of the Ministry of Justice in the politically turbulent Akintola years and the controversial Western Nigera Court of Appeal.
The book has chapters on law, human rights, corruption and good governance, and international dimensions.
However, when Saturday Vanguard visited his Ikolaba residence at 11:05am yesterday, it was evident that the news of his death had not yet spread as only workers of the late jurist were seen.
They declined to make comments on the cause of his death saying all the children of the respected judge were abroad and would be in the best position to make comments.
However, Saturday Vanguard gathered that the late incorruptible judge travelled to London in August.
It was also gathered that Justice Eso usually travelled to London every year and spend three months before returning home.
His Secretary for many years, Mrs. Desola Oluwasola refused to comment on her master’s death, saying that one of the late jurist’s daughters in- law would arrive the country yesterday evening.
Meanwhile, a condolence register has been opened at his residence. The first female Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Chief Folake Solanke who was the first to sign the condolence register simply wrote “resquiescat in pace.” Chief Solanke later said she was in a state of shock.
She told Saturday Vanguard that, “this interview is very difficult for me. But, as a professional calling, I will grant it. He was one of the best of the best on the bench. Nigeria has lost the most upright judge. He lived his life as a God-fearing man. As a justice of the Supreme Court, he represented the golden age. His legal knowledge was awesome. He was always ready to help. The thought that he is no longer here is too painful to bear. He was always very vast in law and an intellectual delight to the legal profession.
Anytime you had a case before him, he would read your file and ready to engage in banter with a lawyer. He was very very cerebral”
Other eminent Nigerians who reacted to the death yesterday include President Goodluck Jonathan, Vice President, Namadi Sambo, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, former Judge of the World Court, Chief Bola Ajibola, Governors Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo); Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Chibuike Amaechi (Rivers), Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Justice Ebenenzer Adebanjo and the Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Ikeja branch, Monday Ubani.
Other Senior Advocates of Nigeria who lalso lamented Justice Eso’s exit include Chief Richard Akinjide, Sunday Olorundare, Tayo Oyetibo, Chief James Ocholli, Sabastian Hon, Segun Ajibade, Olisa Agbakoba, Professor Itse Sagay, Chief Mike Ozekhome, Lai Babatunde and Segun Ajibola. Among other eminent lawyers who reacted to Justice Eso’s death are Bamidele Aturu, Kayode Ajulo Nick Abugu and Festus Keyamo. Some of them described the death as a “great disaster to the judiciary and legal profession,’’ adding that ‘’he was one of the best judges this country has ever produced.”
Reactions: Nigeria has lost a great legal mind with Justice Eso’s death – President Jonathan
President Goodluck Jonathan said he received news of the death of retired Justice Samuel Kayode Eso with sadness and a feeling of great national loss.
On behalf of himself and the Federal Government, Jonathan extended his heartfelt condolences to the Eso family, their friends, associates and the government and people of Osun State as they mourn the eminent jurist, a courageous judge and consistent advocate for an independent judiciary, whose long and exemplary life was dedicated to the service of law and order, and the dispensation of true justice, equity and fairness to all.
He said Eso will forever be remembered as a very bold, fearless and courageous judge who contributed enormously to establishing the independence of the Nigerian judiciary, and the national effort to entrench the highest levels of professionalism, discipline and integrity in the country’s legal system.
Jonathan believes that members of the legal profession in Nigeria will always owe a debt of gratitude to the late Justice Eso for his immense legacy of learned, erudite and seminal judgments, prodigious writings and major interventions in national debates on and outside the Bench which will always be remembered for their incisiveness, thoroughness, intellectual touch and impact.
Vice President Sambo who reacted through his Special Adviser, Media, Alhaji Umar Sani said: It came to me as a rude shock for the nation to lose eminent statesmen and giants in their respective fields of jurisprudence and politics in the persons of Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki and Justice Kayode Eso, all in one week. While we mourn the demise of this fine gentlemen, we take solace in the fact that the Almighty God loves them more.We pray for the repose of their souls and for their respective families, the fortitude to bear the loss.
Justice Kayode Eso was integrity personified — Atiku
Atiku in a statement by his media office in Abuja yesterday extolled the extraordinary virtues of integrity of the late retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Kayode Eso.
Atiku, said the late legal luminary was notable for his courage and integrity because of his role in saving the image of the judiciary from the nadir of moral eclipse. As a judicial activist, he said the late Justice Kayode Eso was always on the side of justice, regardless of whose ox was gored.
He also recalled that almost every administration in Nigeria had invited Eso to head one judicial inquiry or another because of the recognition that he was a rare man of probity.
According to Atiku, Honour counted above money in the eyes of the late Eso and even his enemies must privately find themselves admiring his unique uprightness. One of the greatest desires of any man was to retire with his integrity intact and the late Eso had achieved this ambition. The late Eso deserves a special place in the pantheon of Nigeria’s judicial heroes and judges and lawyers should imbibe his virtues to make our judiciary more vibrant, unbiased and fearless.
Justice Eso’s Death Another Great Loss-Mimiko
Coming few days after the death of former Governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Lam Adesina and the strongman of Kwara politics, Dr Olusola Saraki, the Ondo State Governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko described the demise yesterday, of Justice Kayode Eso as another great loss to the nation and the judiciary in particular. He said Eso’s exit has robbed Nigerian legal jurisprudence of a great mind.
The governor said Justice Eso, a legal iconoclast played his part in promoting the course of justice and rule of law, doing it with passion that has no equal.
Justice Eso’s death, Mimiko submitted, is “ another death too many in this land that has continue to deplete the rank and file of the death of the best of men in Nigeria.”
Mimiko asked Eso’s family to take solace in the fact that their patriarch lived a life of honesty, probity, transparency and hardwork in his chosen legal career.
“You can mourn but be comforted because our fallen patriot lived a life of honesty, probity and integrity with hardwork which earned him goodwill in the comity of great men, his memories shall remain everlasting while the legal and the principles he lived for shall remain our guidance forever.”
David Mark mourns Eso:
Senate President David Mark has described the death of late supreme court Justice Kayode Eso as a monumental loss to the the Judiciary and the country.
According to Mark, late Eso was one of the proponents of the legal reforms that ushered in the era of dignity and the independent of the nation’s judicial system.
”Eso left his positive footprint on the sands of time As a legal officer and jurist, Eso was a voice for the voiceless. He defended the defenseless and was there for the oppressed.He was forthright and a distinguished officer. Nobody doubted his integrity and where he stood on national issues were clearly unambiguous. He was a patriotic Nigerian”.
He urged the Osun state government and the people, especially the bereaved family to take solace in the fact that the erudite jurist left a legacy worthy of emulation.
Fayemi mourns Eso
Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, expressed regret over the death of retired Supreme Court Justice, Kayode Eso, describing his passage as a “big blow to the Judiciary in particular and the nation at large.
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Olayinka Oyebode, Fayemi described Eso as “an incomparable legal giant whose contribution to jurisprudence will remain indelible in Nigeria and Africa; an impartial, incorruptible and fearless judge who did justice to all cases before him regardless of personalities involved. He was the conscience of the nation’s judiciary”, Fayemi recalled that the late judge was fothright in arriving at his decisions as a judicial officer and never allowed anybody to initimidate him.
Fayemi said Eso was a role model to upcoming lawyers and judges in commitment, dedication, industry and discipline which helped him to maintain a scandal-free career both at the Bar and on the Bench. His death has created a big void in the league of eminent Nigerian jurists whose counsel and contribution will be crucial as the nation embarks on another round of constitution amendment process.
Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi expressed shock over the demise of Justice Kayode Eso. In a statement by his spokesman, Mr. David Iyofor, Amaechi described Justice Eso as an accomplished jurist, a rare breed of uncommon wisdom and sharp intellect who always stood on the side of the law and what is right.
He hailed Justice Eso’s enormous contributions to the growth of Nigeria’s legal and justice system through his contributions as a justice of the Supreme Court. Justice Eso was a man of uncommon virtues. His work in the apex court would not be easily forgotten. Most important to us here in Rivers State was his commitment to the Rivers State Truth and Reconciliation Commission, TRC, which he chaired, contributing to the return of peace and sanity in the state.
Tinubu mourns Eso
Justice Kayode Eso’s death has left a gaping hole that can never be filled in the Nigerian judiciary, “Nigeria has lost in Justice Eso a golden heart and an irrepressible soul burning with justice, fairness and equity. He packed so many good traits: scholarship, character, modesty, boldness, honesty, integrity and candour. He was the quintessential judicial role model.
“His loss is no doubt painful. But you must rejoice in this gift to the world. Even as you grieve, you must thank God for this rare gift, who has nevertheless been called by his creator, after he had live to ripe old age,” he told his family.
The former governor of Lagos State added that Justice Eso was one of the “classical” justices in the golden age of Nigeria’s Supreme Court.
“Our Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, once famously declared that justice was the first condition of humanity. Justice Eso was one of those that ensured through his wisdom and rigour of judicial pronouncements, that basic justice never escaped the average Nigerian, even if he served for most part under military rule. He ensured that justice was done, even if the heavens would fall.”
Justice Eso was a patriot-guide, who by the instrumentality of the law, pointed his compatriots to the right way, and insisting on the rule of law. Justice Eso never shirked in his judicial responsibilities, even when the powers-that-be were involved.
His minority judgment over the 1979 presidential election, in which he rejected the latter day idea that two-thirds of 19 states could be anything than 13, and nullifying President-elect Shehu Shagari’s election. This development underscores his judicial engineering to achieve justice.
Eso was one of the justices that fired my administration in Lagos State to institute far-reaching judicial reforms, aimed at increasing access to justice and fastening the pace of the courts and ensuring fairness for all.
Gov. Peter Obi described the death of Justice Eso as another great lost to the nation.
He said Nigerians were comforted by his contributions to the growth and development of jurisprudence as well as his many other contributions to the development of the country.
Justice Eso, Deacon of integrity takes a bow — Professor Sagay
“Apart from Justice Oputa there is none like him. He brought sound leadership, discipline into the Nigerian judicial system. Infact, one does not know how to react to his death.
Late Justice Eso left an indelible footprints in the sands of times. His landmark judgments cannot be easily forgotten in the years to come. It was while at the Supreme Court, that he established a remarkable status all over the world; that the court remains the hope for the hopeless and a pinnacle of justice. People like him, Justice Oputa, Aniagolu, Mohammed Bello, Amaechi and Nnamani gave a ruling that the judiciary is totally independent and cannot bow to principalities of power.
This was exemplified in the case of Lagos State government versus Ojukwu. Justice Eso was able to establish then that the judiciary cannot be cowed.’ Another fearless and courageous judgment by the late legal luminary was the mystery gunman case, which was the trial of Wole Soyinka over his role in the broadcast which the government of the defunct Western Region of Nigeria termed offensive. Justice Eso returned a verdict of not guilty on Soyinka. Shortly after the judgment he was transferred from Ibadan to Akure, then regarded as a rural station.
ACN, CPC mourn
Chairman of ACN, in Osun State, Elder Adelowo Adebiyi has expressed rude shock on the death of Justice Kayode, Eso, saying his death marks the end of an era in Nigerian history.
ACN’s Director of Publicity, Research and Strategy, Kunle Oyatomi, said Adebiyi further described late Eso as a disciplined judge who was committed to the course of Nigerian project, stressing that his contribution to the country’s judiciary would remain indelible.
For the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, Eso, in his life-time, showed the way in judicial courage and uprightness. He never pandered to the majority at any time to do what he felt was unsupportable with available evidence and the dictates of his conscience.
He said “With the passing of Justice Eso, a great era of judicial integrity has come to an end. It will be a very long time before Nigeria can produce the likes of justice Eso at the Bench. Kayode Eso in many ways at the peak of his career was a legal name that guaranteed justice and incorruptibility of the Bench and a beacon of impeccable jurisprudence.’’