By Kingsley George
The name Eyimofe Atake rings a bell in legal circles in and outside Nigeria.
The highly cerebral Atake didn’t just drop from the skies without traces. As a matter of fact, he is the son of Honourable Justice Franklin Oritse-Mueyiwa Atake, a Judge of the High Court of Mid-western Nigeria (1967-1977), and a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1979-1982).
Born into an affluent home, Atake did well for himself from his days in Lagos, Nigeria where he attended St. Saviours School in Ikoyi during his father’s reign as the Senior Magistrate in the colony of Lagos between the 1950s and early 1960s. Atake continued to make his parents proud when he proceeded to attend the Emotan Preparatory School, Benin, Our Lady’s Preparatory School, Sapele, and Hussey Model School Warri before proceeding to the United Kingdom.
In England Eyimofe was educated at an independent boarding school for boys Copford College, Copford, Colchester, where he was a School Prefect, House Captain, Athletics, and Table Tennis Captain, and played Soccer and Rugby for the school.
He proceeded to attend the London School of Economics and Political Science and Darwin College, the University of Cambridge where he earned a doctorate degree in Law in 1987 with a thesis Contempt in The Face of The Court and The Procedure for Committal under the supervision of Professor Sir David Williams QC.
The brilliant Eyimofe’s Ph.D. thesis delivered in Cambridge early in 1987 formed the basis for a book Contempt in The Face of The Court (1992) with a comparative and critical analysis of the jurisdictions of England and Wales, the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Nigeria.
Eyimofe Atake also attended The Hague Academy of International Law (1980 and 1981) and studied International Law under the supervision of Professor Dame Rosalyn Higgins QC, while at the London School of Economics and wrote an LL.M dissertation under her supervision – Is restitution an appropriate remedy for taking of foreign property in contemporary International Law?
Since leaving the four walls of learning, Eyimofe has continued to excel as a practicing legal associate in Nigeria and across the globe.
Eyimofe has handled and argued contentious cases especially in the field of Maritime/Admiralty Law, Constitutional, and Commercial Law at all levels of the courts including contested appeals both in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Some of those contested cases are landmark decisions.
He persuaded a Nigerian Court to be moved to New York to hear proceedings and take the vital evidence of some citizens of the United States who live there. The Judge agreed with him and proceedings were moved to New York. It was the first time in the history of Nigerian Legal Jurisprudence that a Court was moved to a foreign land to hear proceedings. That case received a lot of coverage in the Nigerian and international press.
Another example of his astounding performance as an astute lawyer was in an Admiralty Case in 1997. Eyimofe persuaded the Supreme Court of Nigeria to hold for the first time that, a case that has been discontinued and struck out, did not prevent a Judge from making consequential orders, where it is established that, the Plaintiff who discontinued the case has abused the legal process by using the process of the court to gain unmerited advantages over the defendant, to the detriment of that Defendant.
In 1994 in a Constitutional Case with a full bench of seven Justices, he persuaded the Supreme Court of Nigeria also for the first time in Nigerian Legal Jurisprudence, to hold that a Judicial Officer who has seized to be one could appear for himself in person in a court of law rather than being represented by counsel and that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria did not place such a bar on a judicial officer who has seized to be one.
The Supreme Court of Nigeria reversed the decision of the lower court that held that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria bars a person who has held judicial office from acting for himself in a court of law.
Again, in an Admiralty case in 1998, he persuaded the Court to hold that a vessel under arrest should not pay port charges or dues. That was the first time such a decision was so held by a Court of Law. However, the gains of that decision led to the amendment of the Port Act with a provision that was unmistakable in its pronouncement that a vessel under arrest must pay port charges and dues.
Another landmark achievement in the life and career of Eyimofe was in an Admiralty case in 1995. The legal expert convinced an appellate court to hold for the first time in Nigerian Legal Jurisprudence, that a vessel can only be arrested if at the time the action is brought, the relevant person (that is to say, the person who would be liable had the action been brought in personam) is the beneficial owner with respects to all the shares in the vessel or the charter of the vessel under a charter by demise.
Eyimofe Atake has also done extensive work on Privatisation and was one of those who wrote comprehensively on the Legal Aspects of Privatisation during the exercise in Nigeria in the 1990s. He served in the sub-committee of the Technical Committee on Privatisation and Commercialisation (TCPC) for the privatisation of the Nigerian Fish Company.
As a result of his extensive writings in the press and comments on television, he was invited to deliver and delivered the Public Lecture on the Legal Aspects of Privatisation and Commercialisation at the International Conference organized by the Technical Committee on Privatisation and Commercialisation (TCPC) in 1990.
George wrote in from Lagos.