Fallen Legal Heroes: Justice Chukwunweike Chike Idigbe OFR, CON

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Late Justice Chukwunweike Chike Idigbe OFR, CON

Honourable Justice Chukwunweike Chike Idigbe OFR, CON (AUG 12, 1923- JULY 31, 1983) was the fourth born of Alexander Ahudinma his father, was a Produce Inspector, and his wife Madam Christiana Idigbe, a housewife. He was born in the morning of the 12th day of August 1923, in Kaduna, Nigeria.

Idigbe started education when he was six years old his father enrolled him at St. Mary’s Catholic Mission, Port Harcourt. He later gained admission in 1937, into Christ the King College, Onitsha.  The road to the youthful Chike’s academic programme was well paved when he passed the Cambridge examination in 1943 in Division One and obtained an exemption from the London Matriculation Examination. To his father’s delight, he had planned with his father to read Engineering in London. One morning, just after the family’s early prayers, he made an announcement that threw everybody except himself, into confusion. He said that he would no longer read Engineering. Though the father tried to resist the imposition, people prevailed on him to allow the boy read whatever he wanted.

Justice Idigbe arrived London in the summer of 1943 and registered for academic work at King’s College, Cambridge. Chike Idigbe’s immersion in his studies paid off. In 1946, he made a Second Class Upper Division in his LLB. He came among the first four Nigeians to pass the Cambridge University Law examination with honours, the others being Dr. T.O. Elias, former Attorney General of Nigeria, and Chief Justice of the Federation; Dr. G.B.A. Coker; and Gabriel Onyiuke QC, SAN. After culminating his studies in King’s College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge England with a brilliant performance at the Bar Examinations in December 1946, by winning the much coveted “Forster-Campbell Prize” in Criminal Law, he returned to Nigeria.

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Three weeks after Chike’s return from London, a big reception was held in his honour in Asaba. He was, indeed, the first Asaba Lawyer in the then Asaba Division covering the present Oshimili, Aniocha and Ika Local Government Areas. He was also the first Lawyer from what was known then as Benin Province from the Local Government areas of Ovia to Oshimili to Oredo and to Etsako.

Almost immediately after his admission to practice law in Nigeria in May 1947, he chose to settle down in Warri, which was reputed as very active in land matters practice and declined the renowned Sir Louis Mbanefo’s (the first Igbo lawyer who later became the Chief Justice of Eastern Nigeria) automatic offer of employment in his chambers. Owing to the experience he garnered during his part-time work in a London Law firm during his study years, Justice Chike Idigbe as indicated earlier, practiced in Warri commencing with the famous and dreaded Sierra Leonean lawyer, Nelson Williams, and thereafter established his own law office named PUNUKA CHAMBERS, as a tribute to his great great grandfather Obi Idigbe, who was married to one “Onye Punuka”.

On May 22, 1961, he was appointed a judge of the Western Nigeria High court. He was made a supreme Court Justice in 1964 and from 1966 to 1967, he served concurrently as the Chief Justice of the newly created Mid-Western region. However, in 1967, by virtue of his hometown, Idigbe was on the Biafran in the Nigerian Civil War and ceased to be a Nigerian judge. In 1972, he joined Irving and Bonnar, a private firm and three years later, he was re-appointed a judge in the Supreme Court. As a judge he was chairman of a land use committee set up to review the land tenure system in Nigeria.

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Justice Idigbe was the recipient of two national honours, Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) and Commander of the Niger (CON). He was also like his father a traditional Chief (Olinzele) of Asaba and held the title of Izoma of Asaba, a highly coveted title.

He passed on  the 31st of July 1983 at Cromwell Hospital London a few days short of his 60th birthday and anticipated appointment as Chief Justice of Nigeria.

‘Nike…

Adenike Adesanya is a Brilliant young wig who is passionate about preserving the legacy of the legal profession. Nike wishes to bring back to our memories our heroes past. Email to Nike: nikey06@yahoo.com

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