JUSTICE CHUKWUDIFU AKUNNE OPUTA(1918-2014) by Raymond Nkannebe


Yesterday, the remains of one of Nigeria’s most distinguished legal personalities, the late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa was finally interned at his country home of Oguta, in Imo state amidst pomp and pageantry that is due to such a man whose life remains a veritable source of inspiration to many generations yet unborn. It will be recalled that the eminent jurist called it a day here on the 11th of May 2014, after a protracted illness at a ripe age of 96, what many in eastern part of Nigeria, regard as a full age to be met with celebration. Chukwudifu, a renowned legal colossus, Economist, HIstorian, public Servant, administrator extraordinaire, Visionary statesman and the Socrates of Nigerian legal history thanks to his knack for Logic and Philosophy in adjudications. His death, predictably elicited eulogies from Many Nigerians, especially for his honesty, wit and uncommon probity in the discharge of his duties as a legal officer both during the days of private practice and upon call to National service. Small wonder than why many in the legal circles referred to him as an “Incorruptible Judge”. Born on the 22nd of september, 1918 in Oguta, Imo State( the reason why he was fondly called by some, ‘Oputa from Oguta’) to the late Chief Izukwu Oputa and Madamme Nwanetu Oputa whom unknown to him at his birth would all transcend to another dimension before he celebrates his one year birthday, as his parents all died within a year of his birth. After that sad episode of his life, the little Oputa would be brought up by his grandmother, Nee Ogonim Enesha, a trader with the then Royal Niger Company. He had his early education at Sacred Hearts school, Oguta from 1930-1936 and later on at the famous Christ the King College (CKC) Onitsha from 1937-1940. After that, the young Oputa. Went to Yaba Higher College, but due to thr exigencies of World War (II), he was sent along with others to the then Achimota College, Ghana, then Gold Coast, where he bagged a degree in Economics in 1945. He later proceeded to the University of London where he would later graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in History. The young Chukwudifu, obviously not satisfied with his academic expedition, later moved on to study Law in England and by June, 1953, that humble effort was crowned with success as he was conferred with an LL.B Hons. Degree. Having bagged a degree in Law, it appeared the stage was set for him to take his generation by the storm. He did. He was called to the English Bar-Garys Inn London on the 26th of Nov. 1953. With his basket of academic degrees literally filled, the saturated Oputa travelled back home-Nigeria to apparently lend his quota to the development of mother land with all he has been able to garner in Education and experiences from near and wide. He went into a brilliant and successful practice that saw him travel across the country and even to Cameroon but with the exception of the North, which at that time, had quite a peculiar legal system. His practising years, had him handle high profile cases such as the controversial Oguta Chieftaincy Title dispute in 1958/1959, the Amayenabo dispute of 1960 to mention but a few. In 1966, Justice Oputa was appointed a judge of the then High Court of Eastern Nigeria in a dramatic circumstance from where he moved on to become the first Chief Judge of the Imo State High Court a decade later. Despite all the accolades that came his way after what thus far appeared to be a successful practice, little did Oputa know that the best was yet to come. In 1984, the great elevation came-The exalted position of the Honorable Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Like in all of his previous assignments, it did not take long before he put a stamp on the S.C as a man moved by Classical Literature, History, divinity and Philosophy. All of which he brought to bear sitting in Chambers at the apex court. No wonder why all his judgments were draped in philosophical robes that is the exclusive preserve of a genius and hence the reason why the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mohammed Bello nicknamed him Cicero, after the great Roman philosopher, Lawyer and thinker. He bagged a sea of awards both at home and abroad as a result of his stellar performance and outstanding personality. He later went on to head the panel that probed Human Rights Violations during 15 years of Military era in 1999 at the instance of former president Olusegun Obasanjo. An exercise which was popularised by the media as the ‘Oputa Panel’ and also one in which he believed was a success. In an interview granted to news men, he said, “……The Human Rights commission was like an exercise to bare ourselves out and see how deficient and unclad we are. To more or less, appeal from the inside to our soul. It was set up to enable us to evaluate our ugly past and to create a purposeful future. I think it worked for us….”. Reacting to posers put to him as to why his ‘controversial’ son, Charlse Oputa (Charly Boy) refused to study Law against his wish, the man said,…..”I practised as a Lawyer, I had and still have a very big Library at home. You will want somebody to take over from you. When we couldn’t get him to do Law, we had to let him do what he wanted to do if it was going to make him happy”. In what appeared to be a testimony of love for his son, against the impression the media created, he once said in an interview, “…..Point of correction, Charlyboy is not my son. I think Charlyboy is a character. I don’t have any child as Charlyboy. I have Charlse Oputa. I don’t allow Charlyboy into my house, but I have a caring and loving son called Charlse. Vintage Oputa! With his philosophical maverick indeed. As the man is reconciled with mother earth, in view of his uncommon patriotism and achievement, we urge the Federal Government to immortalise the man even though his name apparently will ever remain green in the annals of history. We commiserate with his family, friends, professional colleagues, Imo state government, Eastern Nigeria and indeed the Nation on this great loss that marks the end of an era but one which must be received with joy and we wish him a safe journey as he embarks on a voyage back to his maker. He will be missed by Law students, Lawyers and all stakeholders in the legal industry who would only be able to interact with the man on the pages of textbooks and his numerous publications and quotable quotes. When a man of his nature dies, a lot goes with him and not just the flesh. For all of us at InformationNigeria, his life remains a book which must be read by the whole of humanity till eternity. The writer tweets @RayNkah/[email protected]mail.com


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