Saturday, May 10, 2014 12:21 pm
A Star Dims
The death of Justice Chukwudifu Oputa marks another chapter in the history of Nigeria
On Sunday, 4 May, while most Nigerians waited anxiously to hear President Goodluck Jonathan answer questions bordering on issues of national importance later that evening, one prominent Nigerian battled for life. Every minute of that day, hope waned for Justice Chukwudifu Akunne Oputa and his family members, until 3.30pm when he bade the world goodbye in his sons’ Gwarimpa Estate, Abuja residence.
Though he died at the ripe age of 90, the passage of this eminent jurist and retired Justice of the Supreme Court threw the entire country into mourning. Shortly after his family announced his demise, the news went viral on the social media but everyone who was concerned had one conclusion: the late Oputa has left something to remember; he came, made his mark and inscribed his name in Nigeria’s book of history.
This may have been the reason why Charles Oputa, his son better known as Charly Boy, said his father should not be mourned but celebrated. To ensure this is done, he is planning a concert with Nigerian musicians like Dbanj and Terry G in honour of the late legal icon. To him, Justice Oputa lived a worthy life. “So there is a great need to celebrate him. My father was a good and great man,” he said while receiving some visitors who had come to commiserate with him.
George, the late Oputa’s second son, disclosed that his father passed on sleeping in a thatch-roofed hut, a particular location he liked so much within the building. “In fact, he wanted to go to church that morning but was advised to relax at home by his doctor, who also scheduled to visit the house on Monday [the day after he died] to take his blood sample,” George said.
He explained that his father, who had earlier suffered from stroke and was recovering, was hit again on Valentine’s Day this year. First he was rushed to the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, Imo State, then he was transferred to the National Hospital, Abuja. From there again, he was transferred to a private hospital within Abuja. He was taken care of and discharged. “My father was fully recovering from the stroke when he had a relapse at the weekend, but also recovered well…We never knew or suspected that he was going to die that day. I will simply say that his death was God’s will,” George told journalists.
He summarised the life of his father as one characterised by service to the nation, doing all within his power to uphold the tenets of democracy.
In a confirmation of Oputa’s importance to the country, President Goodluck Jonathan called his death “a national loss”. The President said he received the sad news with a deep feeling of immense national loss. He extended his condolences to the jurist’s family, relatives, associates and friends, praying “that God Almighty will receive Justice Oputa’s soul and grant him a well-deserved rest from his diligent and exemplary labours on earth”.
For Senate President David Mark, the late Justice Oputa was a pathfinder for the nation’s judicial system. Mark said Oputa was one of Nigeria’s best and foremost judicial officers, adding that his landmark judgments are eloquent testimonies of who he was. “He was a judicial officer par excellence. He remains a reference point on virtually all judicial matters,” Mark said, while urging the Oputa family to take solace in the fact that the deceased lived an accomplished life.
While Aminu Tambuwal, Speaker of the House of Representatives, said Oputa’s death was a loss to the country, Mohammed Adoke, Nigeria’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, recalled that Oputa served the legal profession meritoriously and the country and humanity with characteristic candour, courage and dedication.
The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, through its National President, Chief Okey Wali, called Oputa a colossus with impeccable character, integrity, learning and professionalism. The body said Oputa was famously described by the Bar and the Bench as the Socrates of the Nigerian legal profession. “He was indeed one of the best legal minds the Nigerian legal profession has ever produced,” he said.
Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State said the late Oputa sacrificed everything about him for the country. Other governors commiserated with the bereaved family, all of them telling tales of who they know he was and how he would be missed.
More succinct was the reaction of , the traditional ruler of Oguta, the native home of the late Oputa in Imo State. Eze Nani Nzeribe, who first gave God thanks for giving the community such a man of history, disclosed that Oputa played prominent roles in the growth of the community, the Catholic Church, the state and Nigeria. “There is no way the history of Nigeria and indeed, the justice delivery system will be written without the mention of Justice Oputa,” he said.
Indeed, history cannot forget Oputa. The landmark judgments he delivered on the bench of the Supreme Court are evidence that he did his best. He served the country as a High Court judge, graduated to being a state Chief Judge, peaking his career as Justice of the Supreme Court.
Born into the family of Chief Oputa Uzukwu and Mrs. Nwametu Oputa on 22 September 1924, he started facing the challenges of life very early. His father, who had 10 wives, died when he was just three months old while his mother died when he was six months old. The responsibility to train him fell on his grandmother, who saw him through early education.
He studied at the Achimota College, Ghana and proceeded to the University of London, England, after which he was called to the English Bar, the Gray’s Inn, London in 1953. He was appointed a judge of the then Eastern Region of Nigeria 10 years later. Oputa also served as Principal, National College, Buguma between 1945 and 1948 and was Administrative Officer, Nigerian Secretariat between 1949 and 1951.
Oputa may not have died a happy man, however. George Oputa said it was his father’s earnest desire to see a corruption-free and independent judiciary in his lifetime, but it never happened. And much as his record at the Supreme Court was formidable, he would be much more remembered and revered for his peerless conduct of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission, HRVIC, which he chaired on the country’s return to democracy in 1999.
While alive, Oputa refused to talk much about his achievements. He once said: “Obituary comes usually when you die. It is then that they will assess what you have done. It is not for me to write a recommendation about myself, it is for you people, journalists, to say whether ‘A’ has lived a full life or not. I may think I have, but I have not, so it is for others to judge, not for you. Satisfaction is not a word that belongs to us here; it is up there. If you reach the end of the journey, then the word satisfaction applies, but down here, we still want to do this and that. Man is a very queer animal.”
Now the world is assessing him at death.