My Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria,
My Lords, Justices of the Supreme Court
The President and Justices of the Court of Appeal
The Attorney General and Hon. Minister of Justice
Former Chief Justices of Nigeria and retired Justices of the Apex Courts,
Learned Senior Advocates of Nigeria
Benchers and Learned colleagues,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.
We are gathered here for a Valedictory Court Session. Valedictory sessions of this Court
are of two types. There are the sessions held to mark the bowing out of Justices of this
Court from their offices, after meritorious service to the nation in the administration of
justice, at the constitutionally prescribed age of 70. There are also the sessions held in
solemn assembly to celebrate the lives and times of Justices of this Court who have
departed to the great beyond.
Whether as an assembly for the celebration of service to this nation or for the celebration
of a life well spent, what is certain is that valedictory sessions are to honor the distinguished
lives and times of great judicial titans who have imprinted their marks indelibly on the
sands of time and in the annals of this Court.
This is the Supreme Court of Nigeria, our nation’s highest Court. It is a rare honor and
privilege to rise through the ranks of courts to become one of the twenty-one Justices of
this Court per time. It was Chief Richard Akinjide, SAN of blessed memory who
underscored the honor of being privileged to seat on the bench of this Court in his
valedictory speech in honor of Hon. Justice Niki Tobi in 2016 when he said: “This court is
called supreme. It is a title given to you by the Constitution itself. Nothing that has happened or that is happening can take away that title. You are called supreme because when the law is put into your hands it remains lifeless until you give life to it. The laws are not self-enforcing. It is you who enforce them And whatever you say the law is, that is what it is. So those people are right who say that the nation is ruled by the judges rather than by the law.”
I will therefore not be wrong to say that when we gather here to celebrate the valedictory
session of any Justice of this Court, in life or in death, we are celebrating service and
excellence at the highest levels.
As humans, it is understandably our earnest expectation and prayer that My Lords seated
on this high bench will have the privilege of the honour of the two valedictory sessions
but it does not lie in the hands of any man to choose whether a Justice of this Court will have the opportunity of this distinct privilege and it has been ordained by the Lord God Almighty that My Lord, the Honourable Justice Samuel Chukwudumebi Oseji, for whom we are today gathered, will have the privilege of only this one and last valedictory session which shall be a badge of honour he will wear to the great beyond as a testament of our collective affirmation and recognition of his meritorious service to our nation as a high priest in the highest temple of Justice in the land.
I am therefore most grateful to God Almighty for the opportunity to stand here today to
deliver this tribute to My Lord Hon. Justice Samuel Chukwudumebi Oseji on behalf of
the Nigerian Bar Association. My Lord Hon. Justice Oseji was an epitome of integrity and a jurist of unquestionable repute.
At a time when finding men who match their profession of piety with equal measure of action has become a very difficult undertaking, my Lord stands out as one who walked his talk. Members of the Bar attest to the fact that he was a jurist of steel character, unbendable and uncompromising in dispensing justice to those who deserve it. But being of high moral standard is not enough to do justice as a judge. My Lord also possessed a
sound knowledge of the law that always helped him navigate the maze of arguments and
sometimes contrived narratives put up by those who attempt to pull the wool over the face
of the court.
Lord Denning, the great English jurist, once called public policy an unruly horse in the case
of Enderby Town Football Club Ltd v The Football Association Ltd  Ch 591
when he held thus: “With a good man in the saddle, the unruly horse can be kept in control. It can jump over obstacles. It can leap the fences put up by fictions and come down on the side of justice.” Today, I seek the permission of your Lordships to also metaphorically refer to the office of a judge as an unruly horse and to state boldly that My Lord Hon. Justice Oseji was indeed a good man who until his death, kept that unruly horse in firm control and guided it over obstacles
and fictions and always landed it on the side of justice.
My Lord Hon. Justice Oseji was born on June 2, 1954, in Jos, Plateau State. He attended
the Nigerian People’s High School, Lagos and the prestigious St. Patrick’s College, Asaba.
My Lord thereafter proceeded to the University of Nigeria where he bagged his Bachelor
of Laws degree in 1984. He also bagged a Master of Laws degree from the Ambrose Alli
University Ekpoma in 2002. Hon. Justice Oseji commenced his journey as a judicial officer
as a Senior Magistrate Grade 1 in the Delta State Judiciary – a position to which he was
appointed in 1996. By sheer dint of hard work and dedication to duty, he was appointed a
judge of the High Court of Delta State in 1998 from where he was elevated to the Court
of Appeal in 2010.
My Lord Hon. Justice Oseji served on the Court of Appeal bench for a
decade and he was appointed a Justice of this Court in November 2020.
There is a Yoruba proverb that says where a carver ceases to carve new works, the ones
which he has carved previously will not perish. Hon Justice Oseji has gifted our law reports
with expositions of principles of the law that will continue to adorn their pages. I have
taken the liberty to review just a couple.
In the case of Lagos Sheraton Hotel and Towers v. Hotel and Personal Services
Senior Staff Association (2014) 14 NWLR (part 1426) 45 at page 71, paras. E-G, His
Lordship gave a sound exposition of what was the law at that time when he stated thus:
“I will add here that litigants who seek to circumvent or evade the provisions of section 243 and of the Constitution by seemingly waving the magic wand of fair hearing or breach of fundamental right with the main motive of having access to appeal against a decision of the National Industrial Court on matters falling outside the allowed scope should be advised not to under estimate the sharp sense of perception and wisdom of the appellate courts to sift the wheat from the chaff.
Undoubtedly, in deserving cases, the court will not relent in defending the course of justice given its status as the dynamic agency for the protection of the rule of law.”
It is often stated that judges of our court should not do justice by technicalities.
This view was aptly articulated by Oputa JSC in Bello v. A.G. Oyo State (1986) 5 NWLR (PT.45)
528 when he held thus: “The picture of law and its technical rules triumphant and justice prostrate may, no doubt, have its admirers. But the spirit of justice does not reside in forms and formalities, nor in technicalities, nor is the trump of the administration of justice to be found in successfully picking one’s way between pitfalls of technicalities.” My Lord Justice Oseji was obviously an adherent of this principle and this was evident in the case of a N.P.A. v. Okereke (2017) 17 NWLR (part 1564) 323 at p.337, paras. E-G where he held that “where a party referred to a wrong statute or section of a statute in his claim this does not operate to frustrate his case or deny him of the reliefs sought.
What matters is whether he is entitled to the remedy he seeks from the court.”
My Lords, on a day like this when His Lordship is being honoured by us all, this session
should ordinarily be about the life and times of Hon. Justice Oseji and I ought to continue
with my rendition of excerpts from his very many erudite judgements. However, it is
pertinent that I pause at this point to dwell on the recent assault on the sanctity of this
Court by agents of this government who laid siege on the home of the Hon. Justice Mary
Odili on Friday October 29, 2021. I am of the firm belief that My Lord Hon. Justice Oseji
himself would not forgive us if all we do today is to celebrate his life whilst we turn a blind
eye on the actions of these agents of government who are obviously intent on desecrating
and denigrating this Honourable Court and indeed the entire Nigerian judiciary.
This sting operation by faceless security personnel calls for grave concern as it is
undoubtedly an attempt to intimidate the Judiciary and to dissuade our Judges and Justices
from dispensing justice without fear or favour.
In the opening remarks of My Lord the Chief Justice of Nigeria at the Annual General
Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association recently held in Port Harcourt on October 25,
2021, Your Lordship threw a challenge at the Bar to always rise in defense of the Bench. I
must once again reassure Your Lordships of the solidarity of the Bar with the Bench and
its readiness to confront anyone who is intent on desecrating the temple of justice.
In 2016 when there was a Gestapo-like invasion of the residences of some Justices by this
same security agents, the Bar condemned in very strong terms the ridicule that the
institution of our courts was subjected to. In this instant case the NBA has been
unequivocal in its condemnation of this dastardly act. We have also called an emergency meeting of the National Executive Committee of the Association at which immediate next steps were prescribed and adopted. We are thoroughly dissatisfied with the denials emanating from the relevant agencies and departments of Government and we have vowed to leave no stone unturned in our bid to unmask all those behind this attack and to bring to justice anyone found culpable, no matter how highly placed.
Public officers must be made to account for whatever they do with their entrusted powers and where there is any appearance of executive lawlessness the NBA will respond with dispatch to demand for justice. It is with equal determination that we will also call out and discipline any of our members who is found to have been part of this despicable attempt to ridicule the Judiciary. Whilst we note that the Inspector-General of Police has announced the arrest of all the officers who invaded the residence of Hon. Justice Mary Odili, we however demand that the veil of secrecy behind which those who directed the said officers are hiding must be torn to shreds for them all to also be brought to justice.
There should be no sacred cows. It must however be noted that just as was the case in 2016, when the homes of some Judicial Officers were invaded and more recently when the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria was illegally removed from office, the resolve of the Bar to rise in defence of the Judiciary can and will be undermined where our efforts in this regard are not concerted.
The cacophony of often discordant voices emanating from what ordinarily should be one Bar, on this same issue, has almost become comical and those to whom we purport to direct our umbrage may be forgiven for not taking us seriously. It serves no useful purpose, after the NBA has clearly articulated a position on such a serious matter, for other groups within the Association, whether they be a body of senior or junior advocates, to muddy the waters by embarking on needless road-shows and issuing statements that only serve to portray our Association, and indeed our approach to the issue at hand, as uncoordinated and ultimately ineffective.
The NBA is the only voice of the legal profession in Nigeria and it has spoken unequivocally on this issue and shall follow this up with unmistakable resolve.
My Lords and distinguished persons here present, I close this tribute by commiserating with the family of Hon. Justice Samuel Chukwudumebi Oseji and all his brother Justices of this Court. Justice Oseji has run his race and has laid down his own sword. The baton to continue the race towards the attainment of justice continues to pass from hand to hand. As he has lived well, we pray for eternal rest for him with his Creator.
Olumide Akpata Esq.
President Nigerian Bar Association
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