Justice Chukwudifu Oputa was one of the finest jurists to adorn the bench in Nigeria. Unlike these days when appointment to the Supreme Court is by promotion from the Court of Appeal, Justice Oputa was elevated from the High Court to the apex Court. Like many of his colleagues of the era, Justice Oputa contributed immensely to the golden era of the nation’s Judiciary. Through his judgments the jurist displayed deep knowledge of procedural and substantive law. He commanded the respect and admiration of judges and lawyers.
Owing to his prodigious grounding in philosophy he was referred to by his learned brethren as the Socrates of the Supreme Court. His commitment to social justice was unparalleled. At a time in the 1980s the jurist allied with Justice Kayode Eso and Justice Andrew Obaseki to form a trinity of judicial activists who mobilised the Supreme Court to dispense justice to all classes of people even if the heavens would fall
Upon his retirement from the bench, Justice Oputa continued to render useful service to his fatherland and humanity. His most celebrated assignment was the chairmanship of the Human Rights Violations Commission otherwise called the “Oputa Panel”. In a bid to cover up the brutal violations of the fundamental rights of Nigerians by the former military dictators, the Olusegun Obasanjo administration refused to release the report of the Oputa Panel.
The greatest tribute that can be paid to Justice Oputa is for the Federal Government to release the Report of the Oputa Panel and proceed to implement the recommendations of the panel. For the legal profession, Justice Oputa should be celebrated for his incorruptibility and consistent defence of human rights, rule of law and democracy.