By Udo Ibuot
NEWS that renowned jurist and former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu, GCON, had passed on in a private hospital in Abuja came to many as a rude shock.
This is so because only but members of his immediate family and close associates had any idea that he was ailing.
The late Justice Katsina-Alu who had a distinguished legal career spanning 44 years after his call to the Bar, was a month short of 77 years at the time of his death.
Born in Ushongo in Benue State on August 28, 1941, Justice Katsina-Alu was the first citizen of Benue State to be appointed to the Supreme Court Bench in 1998. He had a well deserved stint at the Court of Appeal and it is reported that he never lobbied to be appointed to any position during his sojourn in the nation’s judicial offices.
During his elevation to the office of Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, the late Justice Katsina-Alu encountered an unusual drama.
Then President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was not available to swear him him having been admitted to a foreign hospital. Besides, Yar’Adua had not transmitted power to his deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, meaning that the latter had no authority to carry out such functions.
Justice Katsina-Alu’s predecessor, the outgoing chief justice, Hon. Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi had the onerous responsibility of swearing him in to assume responsibilities of the office as the tenth indigenous chief justice of the federation. He, however, retired from the exalted office on August 28, 2011, after having reached his retirement age. Again, Justice Katsina-Alu refused to attend his valedictory service. Despite calls for him to show up for the solemn ceremony for retiring justices of the Supreme Court, he continued to decline explaining that he was not interested.
At his retirement, a retired justice of the Supreme Court, Kayode Esho, described Katsina-Alu’s 13 years on the country’s apex court as period of progressive development of the law. He said, “Justice Katsina-Alu delivered landmark decisions before his deserved appointment as the tenth indigenous chief justice of Nigeria on December 30, 2010. His decisions contributed immensely to the progressive development of the Nigerian legal system. His elevation to the Supreme Court in 1998 was at a critical time in the nation’s history when democracy was restored after a prolonged military rule. The period underscored the imperative for the rule of law.” Justice Esho credited the late Justice Katsina-Alu with sitting over 406 cases, out of which he delivered 56, concurred in 346 and dissented on four.
Justice Katsina-Alu was described by his kinsman and legal practitioner, Moses Adaguusu, as one who did not speak much “but whenever he speaks, he speaks the mind of the law,” adding “that is what we find interesting in him. He says it as it is. He is not a man of many words but when he espouses the law, he does so accurately.”
At the time of his retirement from office as Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tartenger Hon, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, described him as a detribalized jurist who had fought hard for the improved welfare of judicial workers during his tenure as Chief Justice of Nigeria. He added that Katsina-Alu was retiring when he was not tired, noting, “if I had my way, I would recommend that he continued as he had the capacity to do so and since he had, indeed, done well.”
Perversion of justice
During his tenure, the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, had accused him of working toward the perversion of justice in an appeal that involved the governorship election in Sokoto State. The scandal rocked the judiciary to the extent that it forced the National Judicial Council to set up a probe panel headed by Justice Umaru Abdullahi to investigate allegations of professional misconduct against the chief justice.
Justice Salami was suspended by the National Judicial Council, on account of the accusation,and even when offered promotion to the Supreme Court, he rejected the offer.
Despite controversies that dogged his tenure on the bench, he was eulogised by many as a brilliant judge whose erudite judgments contributed towards the growth and enrichment of the nation’s jurisprudence. In particular, he was described as a bold judge who would give rulings and believed in the saying that justice be done even if the heaven falls.
He will be missed by many who loved his independent mindedness.