NBA President’s Address at the Valedictory Court Session in Honour of Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, CFR

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ADDRESS DELIVERED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION, MR. OLUMIDE AKPATA, AT THE VALEDICTORY COURT SESSION OF THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA IN HONOUR OF HONOURABLE JUSTICE OLABODE RHODES-VIVOUR, CFR, RETIRINGJUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA

  1. PROTOCOLS
  2. I am grateful to Your Lordship, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Dr. Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, CFR, for the opportunity to address this Special Session being held in honour of Honourable Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, CFR, who retires from this court today. I am particularly glad that no time was allotted to me for this address videthe letter inviting me to deliver this address, even though I immediately cautioned myself to say all I have to say within a reasonable time, and as My Lords already know, this Court defined reasonable time in Effiom v. State [1995] 1 NWLR (Pt. 373) 507, as such length of time as may fairly, properly and reasonably be allowed or required, having regard to the nature of the act or duty to be carried out or the nature of the subject-matter and also to the attending circumstances. In other words, given the circumstances, the dictum cited easily tells me to take all the time in the world.
  1. I speak about time because, the embodiment of brilliance, excellence, integrity, and diligence that My Lord, Honourable Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour represents, transcends time. I should therefore apologize in advance if I fail to round off in good time even though I will do my best to stay within the bounds of what this Honourable Court has defined as reasonable time.
  1. On being invited to deliver an address at this Special Session, I wondered how best to address the Court. Aside from knowing My Lord and keenly following his career trajectory, being a worthy mentor to many, I have spent the last few days indulging myself in the consumption of judgments delivered by My Lord. What better way to speak of a man than through his own words?
  1. It is easy to see that My Lord has always been a person of clarity and uprightness who would stop at nothing in his pursuit of the truth. I am here reminded about My Lord’s dictum in Ndayako v. Mohammed [2006] 17 NWLR (Pt. 1009) 679, where My Lord as Justice of the Court of Appeal said, and I quote: “Counsel is allowed to urge the semblance of the truth, while the court must at all times pursue the truth.”
  1. Upholding truth has seen My Lord deliver dissenting judgments, even in his early days as a Justice of the Supreme Court, standing alone on what he believes should be the decision of the Court and finding the courage and conviction to hand down a dissenting opinion as was the case in Ugwuanyi v. Nicon Insurance Plc[2013] 11 NWLR (Pt. 1366) 615, where My Lord held inter alia, that words that have been judicially interpreted by the Supreme Court and similar courts outside the shores of this country must be consistently followed in subsequent matters with similar facts pattern.
  1. In reviewing the first few paragraphs of my address at the draft stage, I found that I had inadvertently referred to My Lord in the third person pronoun and quickly caught myself, remembering that My Lord had stressed the need for Counsel to always address Judges courteously in Sanni v. Okene L.G. [2005] 14 NWLR (Pt. 944) 60; preferring phrases like “learned judge” “trial judge” “Honourable Justice” etc. It then dawned on me, that many of My Lord’s admonitions will remain with us for a very long time, and My Lord, though leaving the Bench today, will continue to speak through the very clever words of his many judgments.
  1. My Lord was not only excellent in his ways during his time on the Bench, he demanded same of Counsel. In Oshiomhole v. Airhiavbere [2013] 7 NWLR (Pt. 1353) 398, My Lord, without mincing words, said as follows: “The standards expected are for Counsel in such a situation to advise his client accordingly and not waste judicial time by coming all the way to this Court to see if he has a chance.”
  1. Even aspirants to the Bar, will not escape the brilliance of My Lord while taking Legal Methods 101 and 102. They will see that My Lord elucidated the Lady Justitia in very clear terms in the case of Wassah v. Kara [2015] 4 NWLR (Pt. 1449) 374, thus: “Law is blind. It has no eyes. It cannot see. That explains why a statue of a woman with her eyes covered can be found in front of some High Courts. On the contrary, justice is not blind. It has many eyes, it sees, and sees very well.”
  1. My Lord even spoke to the ills in society and his words on police brutality finds credence today, especially having regard to the #ENDSARS protests which rocked this country recently and left wanton destruction in its wake. In Oyakhere v. State [2005] 15 NWLR (Pt. 947) 159, My Lord, while at the Court of Appeal stated thus: “The appellant and the two other convicts, all policemen turned their guns on defenseless proletariat, a people they are to protect. The attack was ferocious and indiscriminate, appalling and indescribable, clearly a wicked and despicable act. It is about time something is done to curtail the excesses of trigger-happy policemen. The police authorities must go the extra mile to ensure that constant checks are carried out on policemen who carry guns, and these checks should include constant examination by a psychiatrist.” These words are still true today and the recommendations proffered by My Lord are still very much relevant, even after sixteen (16) years.
  1. My Lords, I could go on and on about the cases decided by My Lord Honourable Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, including the notable ones which are not included in this address. I have carefully (and may be ‘selfishly’) selected those that are suitable for the purpose of this address which is to place on record and to showcase the brilliance, erudition, intellect, diligence and quality of the man that we have come to honour today.
  1. Let me use this opportunity to touch on certain statements attributed to me that have unfortunately found its way into the social media space and become subject of public discourse.
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  1. On March 18, 2021, as the President of the NBA, I chaired a meeting of the National Executive Committee (NBA-NEC) of the NBA held in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State Capital. At that meeting, as is customary, I reported my overall activities including my participation at the last NJC interview meeting (of the recently appointed Justices of the Court of Appeal).
  1. I informed the meeting that during this exercise I expressed concerns about the competence of some of the candidates that were interviewed and the process that led to the recommendation of twenty (20) candidates to the NJC for appointment as Justices of the Court of Appeal.
  1. I further informed the meeting that on March 10, 2021, I wrote a letter to My Lord the Chief Justice of Nigeria, in his capacity as Chairman of the NJC, expressing these concerns. The NBA remains grateful to My Lord the Chief Justice of Nigeria and indeed to the NJC that sequel to that letter, two of the candidates nominated for appointment as Justices of the Court of Appeal were later dropped. I remain optimistic that in addition to the foregoing the NJC will undertake a holistic review of the process of appointing Judges/Justices of our superior courts.
  1. As I mentioned earlier, the foregoing formed part of my report to the NBA-NEC, a body to which, as President of the NBA I am accountable. Unfortunately, one of the members of NBA-NEC rushed to the online blogs and published his own version of that statement and in the process quoted me, not necessarily incorrectly, but definitely out of context. My Lord, this action by a member of NBA-NEC who was entitled to be in attendance at the meeting is one that I have no control over.
  1. My Lords, the relationship that exists between the Bar and the Bench is one that must be continually nurtured and sustained and My Lords can be rest assured that this is what the NBA yearns and stands for.
  1. My Lords will however agree with me that the Judiciary needs more and more (and not less) of stellar individuals like My Lord, Honourable Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour in this Court and in the Courts below and if this is to be achieved, appointments on merit must trump any other consideration.
  1. On behalf of the NBA, I want to re-assure My Lords of our commitment to providing any level of support to enrich the quality of the Bench. This is our constituency and we will stop at nothing to protect it.
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CONCLUSION

  1. When I looked at My Lord’s Curriculum Vitae, attached to the letter inviting me to address the Court, all I saw was the power of focus, and a career trajectory that commenced as a pupil state Counsel, and culminated on the Bench of the apex Court in the land. My Lord has been about the business of law all through his adult life and he never looked back neither did he take a detour.
  1. I should probably pause to advise learned colleagues at the Bar, to ensure they take the business of law seriously, and accord it the devotion it requires. Opportunities for elevation come every now and then and should not meet colleagues in positions where they cannot take advantage of the same. A legal practitioner should not be short-listed for judicial appointment, only to have such nomination ridiculed by endless petitions of incompetence or of no substantive evidence of any active practice.
  1. I have asked myself what the 25 years old Olabode Rhodes-Vivour (if My Lord will kindly permit me) saw ahead of him in 1976 when he was only a pupil State Counsel. Did he know he would sit on the Bench of the foremost Court in the land? It is true that no one knows tomorrow. However, My Lord, through his strides, shows us that those who work towards a glorious future hardly ever miss the mark.
  1. My Lord is also a very devoted family man who is very supportive of his family. It is worthy to note that not only did My Lord work very hard to reach the pinnacle of his career, he has also supported his dear wife, Mrs Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour, SAN, to excel in her own career. This is indeed a rare and very commendable attribute.
  1. So, what next for My Lord? So far, it has been an impressive and awe-inspiring career, and I have no doubt that we have not seen all there is to see about My Lord. It is usually rare for men of My Lord’s caliber to fade into oblivion after reaching the peak of their career. Aside the fact that My Lord’s name is already written in gold on the pages of history and the additional fact that My Lord’s name would eternally appear on the pages of law reports, I am convinced that we will continually hear of My Lord achieving even greater feats.
  1. I say this because My Lord hardly looks tired. My Lord’s gaze is set as one who is watching out for the next target or goal to achieve. It is left for the rest of us to just sit back and watch out for what My Lord does next.
  1. I thank My Lord for the days of service he has given to the Judiciary. We are all grateful that My Lord spent all his years of service serving the Nation. Obviously, My Lord could have earned more by going into private practice or serving in-house in some multinationals, but My Lord chose the path of sacrifice. As I join others in wishing my Lord a very happy 70thbirthday, I will also like to wish him the very best in his future endeavours because this is definitely not the end but the beginning of greater things to come.
  1. I cannot close this address without offering, on behalf of the Nigerian Bar Association, our condolences to My Lord the CJN, other Justices of the Supreme Court and the immediate family of the late Hon. Mr. Justice Sylvester Ngwuta CFR, who took a final but permanent bow on March 7, 2021, barely 3 (three) weeks to his 70thbirthday and mandatory retirement from the Supreme Court Bench. We pray the good Lord will comfort My Lords and indeed members of his immediate and extended families.
  1. I thank My Lords for this privilege for which I am much obliged.
  1. May my Noble Lords be pleased.
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Signed.

OLUMIDE AKPATA

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