The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Mr. Paul Usoro SAN in his address at the valedictory session held in honour of retiring Justice Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs, OFR, Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, extoled the virtues of the learned jurist who has spent the past 33 years in the nation’s judiciary.
According to Mr. Usoro SAN, his Lordship rose through the rank to the apex court and is retiring without blemish.
Read the address below
ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION (“NBA”), PAUL USORO, SAN AT THE VALEDICTORY COURT SESSION IN HONOUR OF HONORABLE JUSTICE KUMAI BAYANG AKA’AHS, OFR, JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA, ON 12 DECEMBER 2019
- We thank My Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honorable (Dr) Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, CFR, for the privilege of joining in the celebration of a distinguished jurist, one of Nigeria’s finest, a complete gentleman and a detribalized Nigerian, Honorable Justice Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs, OFR who retires today as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria having attained the mandatory retirement age of 70.
- We thank the Almighty for the life of Honorable Justice Aka’ahs. We thank Him in particular for keeping Your Lordship alive, well, in good health and of sound mind and, I dare add, with good humor, at 70. His Lordship’s looks, sharp mind and intellect not to mention his sprightly steps belie his 70 years of age. At a time that being a lawyer not to mention, being a judicial officer, is becoming an extremely risky enterprise given the contrived minefields and boobytraps that are deliberately and mischievously placed on our way by those who seek to demonize the profession and the judiciary, it is remarkable and indeed, calls for celebration and thanksgiving that Honorable Justice Aka’ahs has served his term in the judiciary, all 33 years of his life, without blemish and retires today, unscathed and spotless. Indeed, God has been kind and faithful.
- Beyond the faithfulness of the Almighty which cannot howsoever be discounted and/or diminished, Honorable Justice Aka’ahs has consistently conducted himself on the Bench with rectitude and in an exemplary manner right from His Lordship’s appointment as a High Court Judge in Kaduna State in May 1986. We cannot divorce that conduct from His Lordship’s strict and spartan upbringing and religious background. For those who may not know, His Lordship was a seminarian at St. John Vianney Seminary, Barakin Ladi between 1963 and 1966 and today remains a devout and practicing Christian of the Catholic faith. The virtues and values that were inculcated in His Lordship from childhood remain with him up to today. His Lordship therefore lives his faith and the values therefrom permeate his entire life. Little wonder that God saw it fit to elevate His Lordship from the High Court Bench to the Court of Appeal in 1998 and from there to the Supreme Court in 2012 from where Your Lordship now retires, honorably and with deserved ovation.
- From the perspective of being a product of both the public and private Bars, Honorable Justice Aka’ahs is a rare breed. Not many judicial officers combine both backgrounds. After his National Youth Service Corp program in 1974, Justice Aka’ahs joined the then North Central State Ministry of Justice as a State Counsel and rose through the ranks to the position of Acting Principal State Counsel in the Kaduna Ministry of Justice from where he left the public Bar in June 1980 and joined the private Bar. His Lordship’s repertoire of experience in the two Bars – public and private – suffuses his judgments and rulings which constitute a significant part of our corpus of precedents and are well documented and preserved for posterity in our Law Reports.
- Before I proceed much further, I must make full disclosure of the capacities pursuant to which I speak on and about His Lordship, Honorable Justice Aka’ahs. I speak and deliver this Address both as the President of the Nigerian Bar Association and as a privileged younger friend of His Lordship. My wife, Mfon and I have known Honorable Justice Aka’ahs from 1982 when I went to serve as an intern from the Nigerian Law School with my mentor and father, Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim, SAN CON. I subsequently returned to work in Kaduna in 1983 after my National Youth Service Corp. At the time, Honorable Justice Aka’ahs who was then in private practice was one of the seniors that we looked up to and who took a special mentoring interest in younger ones like me. That special relationship has survived over the years and subsist up till date and we, Mfon and I, truly feel honoured to be counted as one of His Lordship’s younger friends.
- Several strands however flow from my acknowledged friendship with Honorable Justice Aka’ahs and predominant amongst these is the fact that, contrary to the prevalent negative perception and view from some quarters, it is possible to maintain a decent friendship and relationship with a judicial officer in Nigeria that does not translate into corruption and does not howsoever compromise the judicial officer’s ethics, oath of office and the discharge of his duties and functions. In the more than 35 years that I have known Honorable Justice Aka’ahs during which period I have been privileged to count myself as his younger friend, not once have we ever discussed, outside the courtroom, any judicial matter that is before His Lordship.
- More importantly and quite telling, the personal relationship that I am privileged to enjoy with His Lordship did not at all stop His Lordship from deciding against me some matters that I handled before His Lordship’s court, when the justice of the matter, as determined by His Lordship, so dictated. One of the more notable matters that I readily and always recall was a preelection qualification matter from Akwa Ibom State in which I represented the Appellant before a panel of the Calabar Division of the Court of Appeal presided over by His Lordship. His Lordship, by the way, was the Presiding Justice in that Division between 2008 and 2011 and that particular matter, as I have mentioned, was decided against me. And yet, our friendship endured and the mutual respect that we had for each other never flagged neither was it threatened howsoever. At no time did I also presume on His Lordship’s friendship neither did I ever mention to any third party that I was acquainted with His Lordship. I never also discussed any litigant’s issue with His Lordship in the years that I have known My Lord.
- Why do I make these points? I make this point essentially to rebut what has become the official line and presumption in some quarters, which is sadly, also fed by some lawyers, that any acquaintance between a counsel and a judicial officer inexorably translates to judicial corruption. That is not true howsoever. We malign and denigrate our Judges with such malevolent and mostly false assertions. But of course, personal relationships between Counsel and judicial officers must never be allowed to intrude into or constitute a red flag in the judicial functions of the judicial officer. Those relationships must never be allowed to colour judicial functions neither must the perception or the whiff of it be given of bias based on such relationships. That said, it is however an undeniable fact that judicial officers had friends and relationships in the profession before they took office and those friendships cannot and will not suddenly abate or turn into enmity upon the appointment of Their Lordships. Those friendships and relationships may, depending on the parties, persist within the constrains and limitation of Their Lordships’ new judicial offices, ethics and oaths. Where such friendships persist, they cannot and do not willy-nilly signpost judicial or any other form of corruption.
- I mention these facts in order to underscore the point that we still have in Nigeria judicial officers of integrity who can stand tall in the comity of upright men and women and who do not deserve the opprobrium and scorn that we recklessly and commonly now pour on our judicial officers and the Nigerian judiciary. Honorable Justice Aka’ahs is one such jurist. And he is not alone. He is representative of an array of hard working, upright, intelligent and mostly over-worked jurists that we have in the Nigerian judiciary whose pronouncements continue to keep us as one united Nigeria. Do we have some bad eggs in the system? But, of course, we do, just as we have some very bad eggs – indeed, far more bad eggs – in both the executive and legislative branches of the Nigerian Federation. And there are processes for identifying and weeding out such bad eggs which must be respected and complied with in a manner that preserves both the independence of our judiciary while maintaining and upholding its integrity. However, the blanket condemnation of and disdain with which we hold the judiciary and our judicial officers, mostly by officials of government and by some lawyers, is totally undeserving and condemnable.
- We do great disservice to this army of hardworking, dedicated and upright judges when we irresponsibly malign and impugn their characters because of, possibly, an infinitesimally small unidentified number of them that we suspect, or it is alleged, may not be walking in the straight and narrow. We dis-incentivize these army of incorruptible and uncorrupted jurists when we disparage them and their characters, and by extension, the entire Nigerian judiciary, purely because decisions of the courts sometimes do not favor us or the judges do not make decisions in the manner that we would like them to or in accordance with the dictates of some agencies or persons and we falsely perceive these to be motivated or influenced by some corruptive relationships. The facts do not bear out such malicious assumptions. We indeed destroy the foundations of the rule of law and erode the independence of the judiciary when we attempt to intimidate, harass and blackmail upright and outstanding jurists with these untruthful postulations. And we also, ironically, self-destruct and signal to the outside world that the judgments of Their Lordships and our courts are not worth the papers they are written on. That is a monumental disservice not only to Their Lordships but to us as a nation and a people.
- A related matter that I crave Your Lordships’ indulgence to mention is the persistent disobedience and flouting of court orders. We desecrate the temple of justice when we blatantly flout and disobey the orders of courts. A court that is made to be helpless in the face of flagrant disobedience of its orders is as useful to society as a toothless bulldog is to its owner. No one fears a bulldog that is known to be toothless; it has no capacity even if it has the will, to keep away a marauding army or a band of invaders. That is the picture of our courts we paint and broadcast, both within and to the outside world, when we brazenly flout and disobey court orders. In the process, we disrobe the court and make a mockery of its toga as the last hope of the common man or of any man at all. We thereby enthrone anarchy and promote the practice of self-help and the doctrine of might and brute force being always right. That slide into the abyss of anarchy and disorder must be arrested immediately and before it is too late. Our governments must take the lead in that regard. They must be exemplary in obeying and complying with court orders.
- Beyond appealing to the good conscience and sense of responsibility of litigants and Nigerian principalities generally, we urge the courts to demonstrate that they are not toothless in sanctioning persons who flagrantly disobey and flout court orders. Our courts are not entirely helpless in this regard; they are remedies in our Rules and statutes. Such persons, for example, must not have continued audience before the courts that they so flagrantly denigrate. They need to be denied audience before any and all courts during the pendency of their contemptuous conduct. They need to know that disobedience of court orders can be and is costly. This requires the collaboration and cooperation of all courts in the land led by our apex Court and My Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria. We must collectively promote and protect the rule of law by ensuring obedience and compliance with court orders. That would be one of the best tributes that we, as a grateful nation, can pay to deserving and hardworking jurists like retiring Justice Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs, OFR and His Lordship’s brother judges, both serving and retired.
- The Nigerian Bar Association indeed rejoices with Honorable Justice Aka’ahs over his retirement and wish him a most restful and enjoyable post-retirement period. We wish Your Lordship continuing good health, in sound mind and with good humor. We wish him God’s continued blessings and protection. We know that His Lordship is retired but most definitely not tired. His Lordship remains of sound mind and body and we firmly believe that there is room for us, as a nation, to still tap from his fountain of formidable knowledge, experience and skills. We can never have enough hands in and for the gigantic task of nation-building and we encourage our official institutions, including the three arms of government – the judiciary, the legislature and the executive – to invite and make use of dedicated retired but still able and healthy jurists like Justice Aka’ahs, as required and necessary. In particular, we, the NBA, will continue to knock on Your Lordship’s doors for those nuggets of wisdom and advice that are the hallmark of Your Lordship.
- This Address will not be complete without my congratulating and extending our sincere gratitude and appreciation to Your Lordship’s wife, Mrs. Aka’ahs, and His Lordship’s immediate family who have, over the years, borne rather patiently, the harsh brunt and reality of Your Lordship’s punishing judicial schedules – and I am referring in particular to those long, arduous and lonely days, nights and weekends when His Lordship forfeited family time in order to ponder over those arcane legal issues, researching law reports and judicial texts in order to decide one way or the other knotty and troubling issues on which rested the hopes and rights of litigants and by extension our people.
- Now, Mrs. Aka’ahs and the growing brood of grandchildren are likely to and may have His Lordship mostly to themselves, subject of course, to the caveat that I have already entered, to wit, the fact that, His Lordship, by God’s special Grace, still being of sound mind and good health, remains on the country’s reserve bench and may be called to national duty in the continuing task of nation-building. I thank My Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, for the privilege of this Address.