Former Supreme Court Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, revered by many as Nigeria’s Lord Denning for the philosophical depth of his decisions, died “peacefully” after recovering from a brief illness.
Lawyers described the late justice as a legal colossus who would not only be missed by the judiciary but by the country.
A statement by his son, the singer Charles Oputa (Charley Boy), said: “The family of Justice Chukwudifu Oputa wishes to announce the passing to glory of the eminent jurist and retired justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria at the age of 90 years.
“He passed on peacefully on Sunday afternoon 4th May 2014 after recovering from a brief illness. Funeral arrangements will soon be released by the family.”
Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha, his deputy Eze Madumere and other prominent Imo State indigenes lamented the exit of the foremost jurist.
Madumere described the passing of Justice Oputa as a huge loss to the Igbo nation and the country.
In a statement signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo, Okorocha described the late Oputa as one of the foremost jurists Nigeria has ever produced, adding that he was a good ambassador of the Igbo nation.
Former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi said Justice Oputa was the Lord Denning of Nigeria. “If the great biographer, Plutarch, were alive today to write lives by parallel, he would find no difficulty pairing Lord Alfred Denning and our own Justice Oputa.
“Both approached law more from jurisprudence, insisting on examining the philosophical underpinnings of different laws and interpreting them in manners to serve the needs of man and the society in the most just manner,” Obi said.
He said the greatest service to the memory of great sages, such as Justice Oputa, was to make their wisdom function actively in the society through the preservation of their legacies.
Mr Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) said the late Justice Oputa was known for his philosophical reasoning.
“Oh my God! That was the Socrates of the Supreme Court! He did not only understand the law as a justice of the Supreme Court, he applied the philosophy of law.
“His reasons for his judgments were often illuminating. He made law look like mathematics. He was the original source of the expression that justice is a three-way traffic – justice to the accused, justice to the victim and justice to the public.
“I enjoyed reporting his judgments when I was a law reporter. The Bar and Bench and the public would miss him.”
Chief Anthony Idigbe described Oputa’s death as a huge loss. “O! What a loss for the nation. He was a great jurist who impacted our jurisprudence. He was my father’s classmate at CKC Onitsha. His other classmates there include the late Chief G.C.M Onyiuke (SAN).
“A generation of committed patriots has passed with him. May God receive his soul with favour and grant his family the fortitude to bear the loss,” Idigbe said.
Mr Mike Igbokwe (SAN) said Oputa contributed immensely to the development of the law.
“Our nation and not just our judiciary have lost an iconic jurist who contributed immensely to the development of our law as a lawyer, author, judge, Chief Judge of Imo State and Justice of the Supreme Court.
“Remember the Oputa Panel he presided over and what he achieved through that too. May his soul rest in peace and God give his family the fortitude to bear the loss,” Igbokwe said.
A former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN) said: “God gave us this legal icon. God has taken him away. May God be praised.”
Mr Dele Belgore (SAN) said: “His Lordship will be remembered for the depth of his research and the thoroughness of his judgments. He wasn’t a jurist who glossed over issues and his numerous judgments which will live long after him attest to this. Justice Oputa’s place in our jurisprudence is certainly assured.”
Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary in the Lagos State Ministry of Justice Mr Lawal Pedro (SAN) said: “Justice Oputa was a great jurist of our time. From his decisions in the apex court, judges and counsel have drawn inspiration and strength for future decisions and judgments in like or similar cases.
“Though he has long retired and now dead, his judicial pronouncements remain with us as a guide. May his gentle soul rest in peace.”
Mrs Funke Adekoya (SAN) said the Bar has lost its Lord Denning. “The Bar has lost another of its icons, our own Lord Denning. He was one of the greatest philosopher-judges Nigeria has produced and his judgments always displayed interplay between law and morality.
“He has gone to rest, but remains with us through his judgments and legal writings.”
Former NBA Lagos Branch Chairman Taiwo O. Taiwo said: “It’s so sad to hear of his death. He was one of the titans for civil rights at the Supreme Court and his pronouncements at the apex court no doubt endeared him to many lawyers.
“His views on human rights especially on fair hearing will remain evergreen. His views were no only restricted to law but beyond. He was not known as Socrates for fun. He was indeed a deep mind. May his soul rest in peace!”
The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu has described as “sad and unquantifiable loss” the death of late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa.
He said: “Nigeria has lost one of her brightest legal luminaries. He was an upright, courageous, intelligent, patriotic jurist and elder statesman.
“Although, he lived to a ripe age, but how I wish he lived longer because his kind comes once in a blue moon. The nation will miss him sorely.”[The Nation]