Friday, July 11, 2014 3:04 pm
By Francis Onyeukwu, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
There were tributes galore, as the remains of late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa were interred on June 27, 2014.
Many people eulogised the late jurist for his exemplary virtues like determination, hard work, sincerity, transparency, love and patriotism.Born on Sept. 22, 1924 into the family of Onumonu Oyata, the young Oputa lost his parents at a very tender age but his grandmother, Ognim Enesha, supported him in his efforts to succeed in life.
Oputa first studied economics and history before studying law. At different points in time, he worked as a teacher, civil servant and lawyer, before reaching the pinnacle of his legal career as a Supreme Court justice.
He passed on May 4, 2014 at the National Hospital, Abuja, at the ripe age of 96.
His funeral ceremonies were attended by several dignitaries, including serving and former governors, ministers, legislators, business moguls, academics as well as members of the Bench and Bar.
President Goodluck Jonathan was represented at the event by Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF).
The son of the deceased, Mr Charles Oputa, also known as Charly Boy, described his father in an oration as an epitome of love and compassion.
“Papa delivered more than 200 public speeches; touching on law, justice, democracy, peace, discipline and religion.
“Some of these speeches that were compiled into books include `In the Eyes of the Law, Our temple of Justice, Selected Speeches, Towards Functional Justice and Theme on Judicial Activism’.
“Other books are `Modern Bar Advocacy, Conduct at the Bar and Unwritten Laws of the Legal Profession, the Law and Twin Pillars of Justice and In Search of Disciplined Society through Law’,” he said.
Charles expressed the gratitude of the Oputa family to the Federal Government for recognising the contributions of the late jurist.
At the requiem mass at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Oguta, the Most Rev. Mathew Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of the Sokoto Diocese, described Oputa as “a very reliable and transparent character.
“Justice Oputa was accomplished in his legal profession, family life and other activities.
“As the secretary of the Oputa Panel, I learnt a lot from the legal dexterity of Justice Oputa who was the chairman of the panel instituted in 2001 by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo on human rights abuses,” he said.
Kukah prayed for the repose of Oputa’s soul and urged Nigerians, particularly the younger generation, to emulate the exemplary lifestyle of the deceased.
In a tribute, Prof. Tam David-West, a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, recalled that he was a student of Oputa, who was then the Principal of K.N.C. Kalabari National College in Buguma.
Describing the deceased as a role model, David-West said: “His qualities include determination, sincerity, transparency, patriotism, hard work and visionary leadership, among others.”
He said that these attributes spurred the transformation of his alma mater during his college days.
“As a school principal, Justice Oputa exhibited high sense of duty, brilliance, sincerity, commitment, selfless service and these qualities endeared him to both teachers and students of K.N.C. Kalabari National College,’’ he said.
He said that the younger generation of Nigerians must necessarily emulate the virtues of visionary leaders like the late Oputa in efforts to foster the country’s development.
In his tribute, Jonathan described the deceased as a respected public servant, patriotic and world-class jurist whose contributions remained indelible in the annals of the country’s history.
“It is on record that in his long service to our nation, he distinguished himself and left behind an enviable legacy which his kinsmen and the entire nation could be proud of.
“Oputa was not only an outstanding legal icon; he also readily gave himself to the service of his fatherland in demonstration of his faith in the emergence of a strong, united and prosperous Nigeria,’’ his said.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in his tribute, described Oputa as one of the most prominent jurists which the country’s judiciary had ever produced.
“As an eminent jurist, Oputa served this country efficiently in various capacities and distinguished himself throughout a distinguished career as the judge of High Court of the then Eastern Nigeria, from where he rose steadily to become a justice of the Supreme Court.
“Oputa was a judge who would for long be remembered as one as one of the pillars of the noble profession in the country; a worthy pioneer who has left an imperishable legacy for posterity.
“His record of service is long, varied and it is not by accident that Oputa rose to the highest pinnacle in the nation’s judicial system.
“I deeply value the way he handled the affairs of the Peace and Reconciliation Committee, which I instituted in 2001 to investigate human right abuses in the country from 1979 to 1999.
“In fact, Oputa gave the assignment all the desired commitment and a very high sense of duty; despite the panel’s short tenure, the significant contributions he made could not go unnoticed.
“Under his watch, the panel opened the eyes of Nigerians to the horrors and injustice perpetrated by some members of the military in the past and the panel gave out its best in the assignment without fear or expectation of reward,’’ Obasanjo said.
Also speaking, Justice Aloma Mukhtar, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, said that the judiciary was saddened by the demise of one of the country’s most respected jurists.
“Hon. Justice Oputa was a valued and respected member of the Supreme Court bench who contributed his best to the court and the development of law; he also carved a niche for himself in the legal profession,’’ she noted.
Eulogising the late jurist, Gov. Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State said that the death of Oputa had reduced the number of Nigeria’s patriots, writers and high-profile jurists.
“Oputa was more than evident in his lucidity of writing and eloquence of speech. His proclivity for the Socratic Method that uses inquiry and discussion to arrive at logical conclusion is, perhaps, the reason why Oputa’s contributions to our jurisprudence are beyond comparison.
“He inspired and continued to inspire me, and I dare say a host of lawyers and judges alike will remain ever grateful to him for the magnitude of his contributions.
“He certainly was a blessing to all law students, law scholars and practitioners throughout the West African sub-region.
“He was an erudite scholar across disciplines, his publications and presentations constitute a great credit to human intellect,’’ Fashola added.
On his part, Gov. Willy Obiano of Anambra moaned that Nigeria and the Igbo nation had lost a rare gem and a great son who was an embodiment of wisdom.
“Oputa left an indelible mark; his stewardship as chairman of the Oputa Panel and his roles in the judicial system would go down well in the annals of the history of Nigeria,’’ he added.
In his tribute, Sen. Hope Uzodimma, lawmaker representing Imo West Senatorial District, noted that the deceased was an illustrious son of his district, adding that Oputa fought for equity and justice throughout his lifetime.
“Although Justice Oputa has gone, his indelible marks in his church, community, state and Nigeria at large will continue to endure forever,’’ he said.
Explaining why Oputa’s burial turned out to be a carnival of sorts, Mr Vitus Nwadikwa, an indigene of Izombe in the Oguta neighbourhood, said that people of the area usually celebrated the death of any indigene who made valuable contributions to the society during his or her lifetime.
“The various dance troupes at this funeral indicate that our son and father not only died at an old age, but also made positive contributions to the society during his lifetime.
“I can recall with interest that there was no time I visited the house of the late Justice Oputa that I was not well-received regardless of the glaring difference in our socio-economic backgrounds,’’ he said.
Nwadikwa stressed that Oputa’s contributions to the society and his love for other members of the society had endeared him to many people.
Observers note that with the interment of Oputa; a chapter in the nation’s legal history has come to an end.
They, however, underscore the need to make tangible efforts to immortalise the late jurist, whose worldview and contributions to nation building have been a source of pride to many Nigerians.