By Dennis Agbo
LAW, they say, is no respecter of any man, no matter his status, influence, affluence, or authority. The law itself is a delicate authority that does not prevaricate nor undaunted when it sledges its hammer. Its custodian is in a trance, and most often in a macabre of great expectation.
Justice Innocent Umezulike, understood the demands of the authority bestowed on such a custodian and was prepared for it and upheld the virtues of justice administration until the nature call, which when it came, he swallowed his poison like a Man.
From testimonies of the living, whom he crossed paths with in his 64 years sojourn, Justice Umezulike was not only a good man but an intellectual giant and probably Africa’s most prolific writer on land law, comparable only to another colossus, Prof Ben Nwabueze.
Umezulike was the best, masterly in his knowledge of law, a good and an honest man, whose brain is not lost but dwells in his 23 books. He is however, irreplaceable in physic and stature. He was incorruptible despite the glitter of lucre and bobby traps, yet he was hounded by the forces that he resisted their brandish.
At the valedictory court session in his honour on September 27 2018; the crème la crème of both the Bar and the Bench in the Enugu State High Court Auditorium, named after Umezulike, was a testimony of his endearing legacies and his value. Apart from his successor, Chief Justice Ngozi Emehelu that presided, the Supreme Court was represented by Justice C.C Nweze, just as other Chief Justices- Alloy Nwankwo of Ebonyi and Peter Umeadi of Anambra states were also there to pay their last respects.
Others legal luminaries present include Justices Chukwuma Emeh, M. Dumba-Benson; Ralph Agbo, Abdul Aboki, Igwe Agube among others. There were also Justice Iyizoba; the Attorney General of Enugu State, Mellitus Eze; former deputy Governor of Anambra State, Dame Virgie Etiaba; President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo; Businessman, Prince Arthur Eze; Chief Emeka Etiaba, SAN; Chief Enechi Onyia, SAN; Chief Tagbo Ike; Prof Agu Agu and numerous chapters of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA.
His successor as Enugu CJ, Justice Emehelu described Umezulike as a judicial octopus and a legal colossus that occupied the Enugu judiciary centre chair for 12 years and remained the longest serving Chief Judge in the South East and South South of the Niger before he retired in 2016.
Justice Emehelu recalled how as a practitioner in the bar, she appeared before Justice Umezulike at an Anambra State High Court, Nsukka over a divorce case but failed to present any marriage certificate to argue her matter. She said she lost the matter which Umezulike after she (Emehelu) became a judge continued to make jokes of her attempt to mesmerize him with her advocacy to find in favour when she had not proved the essential ingredients that will cloth him with jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
On the bench, Umezulike valiantly censored lawyers and litigants without compromising decorum. He believed that lawyers must be impeccable in their dressing and lived by such example. His judgment style was quite incisive, practical and pragmatic. His judgments reflected him as a thorough Judge whose thoughts were well processed.
One of the landmark judgments he delivered in 2013 was in the case of Basil Offor Vs. Institute of Management and Technology, IMT, Enugu, suit No E/70m/2012. The issue for determination, among others in the said suit was whether the respondents, the Institute and the Registrar of the Institute can legally and validly run parallel panels of inquiry into the finances of the Institute in view of the fact that the Governor of Enugu State as the Visitor to the Institute in line with section 41 of the Institute of management and Technology law, Cap 97, laws of Enugu State, 2004, had given special or general direction to IMT Judicial panel of Inquiry led by Justice A. Ozoemena to inquire into the finances in the past four years, retrospective from December, 2011.
As a legal practitioner, Justice Umezulike was a brilliant lawyer who was a partner in the law firm of Fred Agbeyegbe and co in Lagos, yet he practiced across the country in the 80s before joining the academia as a lecturer in the law faculty, University of Ibadan. He joined Nnamdi Azikwe University Awka in 1987 as a senior lecturer and rose to become an Associate Professor of Property Law and thereafter a visiting professor of property law in Enugu state University of Science and Technology.
Umezulike bestrode the legal world like a colossus; his cerebral prowess evident in his many leading literary works and incisive judgments depicts a man at home with essence of justice administration. His quest for excellence remained the driving force that even after his retirement he had outstanding researches in progress which includes Trends in Trust Concept; The Chief Judge of a state- My experience; Contemporary study of Rights of Occupancy systems in Nigeria and Tanzania. He was by every inch a renowned scholar.
As a teacher of law, his students found his authority in Conveyancing and Adverse Possession as stamp of knowledge. As a professor in Land and Property Law, Umezulike dotted his footprints with 23 books.