Last of Supreme Court’s golden era, Justice Oputa, dies at 96

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By  Innocent Anaba, Clifford Ndujihe & ABDULWAHAB ABDULAH

THe last of the Golden Era of the Supreme Court, Justice Chukwudifu Akunne Oputa, passed on, yesterday in Abuja, aged 96, after a brief illness. He was famously described by his colleagues at the Bench as the Socrates of the Supreme Court.

His other colleagues who made the era golden include Justice Kayode Eso, Justice Nnaemeka Anyagolu, Justice Otutu Obaseki and Justice Babatunde Craig.

Contacted yesterday, his eldest son, also a musician and actor, Mr. Charles Oputa, commonly called Charlyboy, who is still reconciling himself with the death of his father, confirmed the death saying: “Na true oooh! (It is true) Daddy don go (Daddy is dead).”

Cardiac arrest

Asked how he died, he said, “E been get stroke since (He suffered from cardiac arrest for a while).”
On plans for the burial, he said “it happened this afternoon (yesterday). We will call elders at home and take it up from there.”

He had earlier, in an SMS, said: “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 be released by the family.”

*Justice Chukwudifu  Oputa..

*Justice Chukwudifu Oputa..

Vanguard gathered that the late great jurist died at Charlyboy’s Abuja residence. It was also gathered that the late Justice Oputa, recently returned to the country, from a medical trip abroad.

Reactions: Reacting to his death, Mr. Austin Alegeh, SAN, said: “The loss of Justice Oputa is indeed sad. The legal profession and the nation has lost an erudite jurist and one of the best in our recent history. His incisive and illuminating judgments will remain a strong testimony to his service to the legal profession. A true legal colossus has rested. We join in praying for the repose of his soul and pray to God to comfort and provide for all he left behind.”

Mrs. Funke Adekoya, SAN, said: “The Bar and Bench have lost another icon, our own Lord Denning. He was one of the greatest philosopher judges Nigeria has produced and his judgments always displayed an interplay between law and morality. He has gone to rest, but remains with us through his judgments and legal writings.”

Malam Yusuf Ali, SAN, said: “Justice Oputa’s death is a great loss, not only to Nigeria and Nigerians but to the Commonwealth nations.  He was a renowned jurist, who was cast in the mode of Lord Denning.

He was classified with first brain. There was no legal problem he could not tackle. He was extraordinary and he was an orator, who could not be waved aside.  He will be solely be missed by all.”

Ms Carol Ajie, “I join with so many others on the passing of the Socrates of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Justice Oputa; that in his passing we celebrate the end of a very long and quintessential life.

The measure of a life well-lived is not in what possessions one has accumulated, but rather through the lives we influenced.

Proudly and confidently that his indeed was a life superbly-lived. Consoled in knowing that his loss is felt by all. Rest in perfect peace. Amen.”

Early life: The late Chukwudifu was born to Chief Oputa Izukwu and Madam Nwanetu Oputa on September 22, 1924 in Oguta, Imo State. He had his early education at Sacred Heart School, Oguta and Christ the King College, Onitsha, Anambra State.

Teaching appointment

After this, the young Oputa went to Yaba Higher College, Lagos, 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 B.Sc (Hon) Economics in 1945. After this he returned to Nigeria and took up a teaching appointment with Calabari National College. He later came to Lagos where he worked as an ADO (Assistant District Officer). It was there that Justice Oputa achieved a remarkable feat: He studied at home and obtained his BA (Hon) History.
Justice Oputa then proceeded to London where he got his LLB (Hon) and was called to Bar in Gray’s Inn, London.

Legal practice: Upon his return to Nigeria, Oputa went into brilliant and successful private practice, handling such celebrated cases and special inquiries as the Oguta Chieftaincy dispute 1958/ 59, the Amanyanabo Dispute 1956/ 60 and many more.

In 1966, Justice Oputa was appointed Judge of the High Court of the then Eastern Nigeria and moved on to become the first Chief Judge of Imo State 10 years later. In 1984, he was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.  He retired from the bench of the Supreme Court in 1989.

Oputa Panel: He  was appointed to investigate abuses during 15 years of military rule, which ended when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo took office as elected president on May 29, 1999. The Oputa panel examined human rights abuses when President Obasanjo was in power previously as a military ruler from 1976 to 1979.

The decision followed demands for a thorough investigation of rights abuses in Nigeria since independence in 1960.

Justice Oputa published over 40 papers in lectures, conferences and seminars. Justice Oputa was a dedicated family man exemplarily devoted to his beautiful wife Margaret and his lovely children.

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