BY HON. FEMI KEHINDE
J.I.C’s mother, was Remilekun Alice Taylor (Nee Williams) and was thus, a first cousin, through his mother, to the Late Chief F.R.A Williams, another legal titan and contemporary at the Bar.
J.I.C was born, on the 27th of August, 1917 and died on the 7th of November, 1973, at the age of 56 Years.
Within this short span, J.I.C lived a worthy, glorious and exemplary life, that would still remain unmatched and unparalleled in Nigeria’s history of incorruptibility at the bench, judicial independence, strict interpretation of the law, restraint, courage, uncommon judicial boldness and untainted integrity.
J.I.C Taylor, had his early education at the Methodist Boys High School Lagos, before being sent to England by his father, to complete his Secondary School Education at the Culford School, Bury Saint Edmunds, at Suffolk.
He thereafter, proceeded to King’s College England In 1936 to read Law, before transferring to Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1937, where he made a Second Class Degree in Jurisprudence.
He was subsequently called to the Bar at the middle Temple on the 14th of January, 1941.
Within a space of 15 years, J.I.C Taylor had become one of the great Legal luminaries at the Nigerian Bar, and was prominent in the ranks of Bode Thomas, F.R.A Williams and Fani Kayode, who had formed a law partnership of Thomas, Williams, Fani Kayode & Co (Solicitors), S.L.A Akintola, Chief Chris Ogunbanjo, Michael Odesanya, who had also formed a partnership of Samuel, Chris & Michael (Solicitors) in 1952.
Obafemi Awolowo had also in Ibadan, around this period, formed a law Partnership with Chief Abiodun Akerele, then known as Awolowo, Akerele & Co (Solicitors) in Oke-Ado, Ibadan.
J.I.C in law practice, was a very resourceful lawyer of impeccable integrity. He was extremely knowledgeable in law and was a delightful personality at the Nigerian Bar.
He was blessed with a great command of English Language, which is the potent tool of the legal profession and very eloquent with a diction, that was impeccable. He was not given to frivolities or undignified practice.
Like his father, Eusebius, he had a weakness. He was easily provoked and tended therefore to lose control in court whenever he was angry. The Late Chief F.R.A Williams in advocacy with Taylor was always happy to take advantage of this weakness.
The Late Fani Kayode too, though a friend to J.I.C, had also taken advantage of this weakness, whilst appearing with J.I.C, in some instances, but nevertheless, admitted that he was a meticulous and dogged advocate.
J.I.C Taylor as a seminal figure at the Nigerian Bar had appeared in many “causes celebres” –celebrated cases that have gone down in our legal jurisprudence, as hallmarks.
These cases, includes the case of King’s College students, who had demonstrated during the Second World War against the colonial authorities on account of poor administration of their school and also appeared in the Sedition Trial of the Editors to the Daily Commet and the West African Pilot of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Sedition Trial of Anthony Enahoro of 1947, the case of Prince Adeyinka Oyekan and Others and Oba Adeniyi Adele in 1952, in which the ownership and legal status of the “Iga Idunganran”, which was the traditional residence of the Oba of Lagos, was in question.
He also appeared in the case of Dr. Okechukwu Ikejiani and the African Press Ltd, (publishers of The Tribune Newspaper) In 1953, Zik Enterprises Ltd (Publishers of the West African Pilot) and Others V. The Hon. Obafemi Awolowo in 1955. By way of a little digress, Dr. Okechukwu Ikejiani who was in 1960, made the Chairman, Nigerian Railway Corporation, had earlier been member, Board of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Nigerian Coal Corporation, Enugu (NCC) and was also made Pro Chancellor and chairman of the Governing Council of the University of Ibadan. He was then, a close confidant to the Late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and was resident in Ibadan. He had earlier been accused of unbridled nepotism, in the appointment of people to the Nigerian Railway Corporation.
Dr. Okechukwu Ikejiani, was a lover of cars and was noted to have had on his stable, a car known as “Thunderbird”, perhaps the best of his time, on the streets of Ibadan. He admitted at the Adefarasin Panel, on the affairs of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, late in 1966, that- “I love cars”
APPOINTMENT AS A JUDGE
In 1956, at the age of 39, J.I.C Taylor was appointed a Judge of the High Court of the Western Region.
In 1960, he was elevated to the Supreme Court and he descended from the court in 1964 to become the Chief Justice of the High Court of the Federal Territory of Lagos.
When Lagos state was created in 1967 and Brigadier Mobalaji Johnson became its Military governor, J.I.C Taylor, became its first Chief Justice. Whilst in office as the Chief Justice of Lagos state, an incident happened, which stood him out as a very bold, courageous and independent judge.
HIS TIMES AT THE BENCH
J.I.C Taylor, then Chief Justice of Lagos State, had been invited to a state dinner by the Military Governor of the State- Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson and the invitation was brought by one of the Governor’s aides.
Justice Taylor, after reading it, endorsed a brief note to the governor at the back of the invitation card, informing him that he would be unable to attend, because the Lagos State government had several cases pending before him and it would therefore, in the circumstances, be most inappropriate for him to honour the invitation.
That simple, (unprecedented though), act of judicial boldness and courage, best captures the essence of the man- as a man among men, and a judicial icon and oracle.
Perhaps, in other climes, this feat could only have been surpassed, by the great Alfred Thompson Denning- commonly known as Lord Denning, who was an English Lawyer and judge, with degrees in Mathematics and Law in 1920 and 1922 respectively at the Oxford University.
He had also, like J.I.C Taylor, descended from the House of Lords, to return to the court of Appeal, as Master of the Rolls in 1962, a position he held for 20 years.
In Denning’s 38 year career as a judge, he was known as the people’s judge, a judicial activist and a man with a great penchant for justice.
Denning in an instance had once said- “unlike my brother Judge here, who is concerned with the Law, I am concerned with Justice.”
He died on the 5th of March, 1999, at the ripe old age of 100 years, at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital, Winchester, England.
Another true essence of J.I.C Taylor was displayed when he was made the Pro Chancellor of the University of Lagos, while still serving as the Chief Justice of Lagos State.
J.I.C as the Chairman of the Governing Board of the University of Lagos was a hard nut to crack, with a huge principle and unsurpassed integrity.
Other members of the Governing Council were Col. (now Maj. General Rtd) Olufemi Olutoye, and now Oba of Ido Ani, in Ondo State, (the Military Member), Mr. (now Chief) S. Ade John (Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education,) Mallam Nuhu Bayero, Professors- F.O Dosekun, O.J Fagbemi, C.O. Taiwo, A.B Aderibigbe, A. Akinsanya and Mrs. B. Olumide.
According to Professor Saburi Biobaku, then as Vice Chancellor of the University had said of J.I.C- “attending council meetings of those days before the resignation was like going into a battle field” but described him however, “as a brilliant lawyer, a forthright judge, a strict disciplinarian and a stickler for procedure.” As Vice Chancellor, he briefed the then Pro-Chancellor once every week, but would rather wait for him at the office of Mr. R.A Bakare, the then Registrar of the Lagos State High Court, for the briefings. Nobody visits him in chambers.
J.I.C Taylor at the Council meeting, of the Governing Council of the University of Lagos, on the 20th of September 1970 tendered his resignation as the Chairman of the Council, due to some inappropriateness, bothering on the interpretation of procedure, with regards to the appointment of persons in the University and ruled that his resignation, should not be discussed.
As a judicial conservative, J.I.C Taylor believed in the principle of “lex lata” i.e. what is the strict interpretation of the law, rather than “de lege ferenda”, i.e. what the law ought to be, with a view, to be future law.
Despite a stern and principled life that bordered on asceticism, J.I.C was a sociable, principled, highly urbane, unassuming and cultivated man.
HIS CARS, DANCE STEPS AND SPORTSMANSHIP
Even though reserved and would rather prefer the company of a few select friends, he was a great sportsman and was prominent in the game of cricket, between 1947 and 1949.
He was a motor racing enthusiast and had a high collection of motor racing cars, including an “Aston Maria”. He was a very skilled ball room dancer and a lover of Juju music of the Late Akanbi Wright, alias Akanbi Ege, I.K Dairo, Adeolu Akinsanya, alias Baba Eto and latter day Juju exponents- Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade. J.I.C so much loved the music of Akanbi Ege, that he in fact financially supported him.
In the late 1950s, his only son was struck down by Polio. He was so much affected by this, according to the Late Fatai Williams, a one time Chief Justice of Nigeria, that- “he visited the boy who was then, no more than a toddler, everyday at the University College Hospital, in Ibadan. Eventually, he became a recluse and hardly went anywhere”
J.I.C breathed his last to join the saints triumphant on the 19th of November, 1973, at the age of 56 years, while still serving as the Chief Justice of Lagos State.
In this season of anomie, this period of judicial mudslinging and irreverence, where are the likes of Justice John Idowu Conrad Taylor? and Justice Kayode Eso, Justice Andrew Otutu Obaseki, Justice Bolarinwa Oyegoke Babalakin, that was a stickler for time, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, Justice Teslim Olawale Elias, Justice Namman Nasir, Justice Sir Darnley (Omowale ) Alexandra – the Jamaican born, Nigerian Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Idigbe, Justice E.O Morgan, E.A Coker, Fatai Williams, Olumuyiwa Jibowu, J.A Kester, S.O Lambo, Louis Mbanefo, Adetokunbo Ademola, Udo Udoma, Quarshie- Idun- a Ghanaian Chief Justice of the Western Region and a host of other eminent jurists, who had contributed immensely to the development of Nigerian Case Law and jurisprudence, by adapting very admirably, the principles of English common law to the Nigerian environment?
Uniquely too, Justice Mamman Nasir, elevated to the Supreme Court in 1975, had also descended from the Court in 1978, to become the President of the Court of Appeal, until 1992, when he retired.
J.I.C had set a very high ethical standard on the administration of Justice in Nigeria and greatly inspired many Nigerian Lawyers and Judges, who will not be found with the filthy lucre of unexplainable and ill-gotten wealth.
The question had always been- where are these ethical standards of the olden days of J.I.C.?
As a parting epitaph on his passage, the then Head Of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed forces of Nigeria- General Yakubu Gowon, in November, 1973, had described J.I.C in the following sweet terms- “In an age in which corruption, intrigues, backstabbing and the love of office and power are fast becoming virtues, Justice Taylor stood out from the crowd, with a detachment that has brought immense dignity to the high office of judge”
What a very apt epithet, to our contemporary Justice System and executive lawlessness, as was beautifully decried in the popular case of Ojukwu V. Lagos State Government.
J.I.C Taylor, may your soul continue to Rest in Peace.
- Hon (Barr) Femi Kehinde, Former Member, House of Representatives & Principal Partner Femi Kehinde & Co (Solicitors)