The news of the death of quintessential Justice Babakayode Eso, the doyen of judicial activism in Nigeria took most people by surprise. In this tribute, CHARLES ADINGUPU writes on his travails in the troubled waters of the Nigerian judiciary.
Just yesterday morning, Nigerians woke with the sad news of sudden demise of yet again another prominent son, legal luminary par excellence, Justice Kayode Eso, a respected Supreme Court judge.
The indefatigable legal icon was born on September 18, 1925 at Ilesa in Osun State His foray into the legal world began w;hen enrolled as legal science student of the Trinity College Dublin. He, however graduated with a Bachelor of Law (Honors) degree in 1953 and about three years afterward bagged a Masters degree in the same discipline.
Upon graduation, the late renowned legal icon moved to Nigeria to help refine the judiciary.
Within a short span, Justice Eso upheld the tenets of uprightness in dispensing justice. Though for his legal acumen, he had brushes with authorities that be.
The late Justice Eso has been described as the architect of Judicial Activism in Nigeria and an advocate of an independent judiciary. The legal luminary will be remembered for his relentless efforts in maintaining discipline and protecting the integrity of the court.
However for the likes of renowned constitutional lawyer, Professor Sagay, the death of Eso is a devastating blow to Nigerians and most importantly to the Nigerian judiciary.
Professor Sagay who described the late legal icon as a deacon of integrity, honour, justice and uprightness, said his death marks the end of a golden era in the Nigerian judiciary.
“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,”he said.
His legal travails the late Justice Eso left an indelible footprints in the sand of times. His landmark judgments cannot be easily forgotten in years to come.
He presided over many cases that exposed him to the brushes of government authorities while he was at the Supreme Court from 1970 to 1990 or thereabout.
“It was while at the Supreme Court, 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, Anyalolu, 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,’’ Professor Saggay enthused with nostalgia.
Another fearless and courageous judgment by the late luminary was the mystery gunman case, which was a trial of Wole Soyinka over his role in broadcast which the government of the defunct Western Region of Nigeria termed offensive. Justice Eso returned a verdict of not guilty on Soyinka, and shortly after the judgment, Professor Sagay disclosed, he was transferred from Ibadan to Akure, then regarded as a rural station.
Also the celebrated case of Chief Obafemi Awolowo versus Alhaji Shehu Shagari, in 1979 will continue to occupy the first chapter of the history book of Nigeria’s jurisprudence. The Apex court in deciding the law relating to election cases had by a majority of 6-1, affirmed the election of Alhaji Shehu Shagari as duly elected president. His dissenting voice in the matter, held that at least two-third of 19 states could only be 13 ;and not 122/3.
Another Supreme Court judge, Justice Pius Aderemi tendered Justice Kayode Eso as a permanent exhibit. He also added Eso’s decisions as judge is legendary and a delight to study, full of erudite scholarships, well reasoned and replete with legal authorities, there are fine statements of law and veritable guides for all in the legal profession or concerned with law.
According to Professor Sagay there are so many landmark judgments by the late Justice Eso that cannot be easily swept away.
Justice Eso bestrode the Nigerian judiciary like a colossus and fought doggedly for the integrity and liberation of Nigerian judiciary from the grip of the power that be.
Until his sudden demise, the late legal icon authored several books, articles presented various papers at both national and international seminars. He bagged several awards and recognitions for his stance against corruption.
He was married to Helen Aina Eso and had two children and grandchildren. While paying glowing tribute to his father, Olumide, his son, described him as a very resolute man and a wonderful father who committed his entire life to the goodness of Nigeria and people around him.
Once again, adieu to the godfather of justice and integrity.