HomeNewsIndustrial Court President’s Valedictory Speech for Late Justice Agbakoba

Industrial Court President’s Valedictory Speech for Late Justice Agbakoba

Date:

Speech By Hon. Justice Benedict Bakwaph Kanyip, Phd, OFR, FNIALS, FCTI, FCArb, President, National Industrial Court of Nigeria, At The Special Valedictory Court Sitting  For The Late Hon. Justice Edith Nneka Neolita  Agbakoba, Which Held on 13 December 2023

 

1.  Courtesies

Introduction

2.       “By connecting to the reality of death, we connect more profoundly to the reality of and fullness of life. My separating death from life and repressing our awareness of it, we do the opposite”. So says Robert Greene in The Daily Laws (Pacific Books Ltd: London), Paperback Edition 2023 at page 433.

3.       We have been morning since 6 November 2023. And so we are all gathered today at this special court session to bid farewell to our late colleague Hon Justice Edith Nneka Neolita Agbakoba who went to be with the Lord on 6 November 2023. Her premature and unexpected exit came to us as a shock after a bout of ill health.

 

4.  As it is written in the Holy Bible in Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 2:

To everything there is a season,

A time for every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born,

And a time to die.

 

5.  And in same Ecclesiastes 12:5:

For man goes to his eternal home,

And the mourners go about the streets.

 

6.   The shadow of death hangs over all of us. There is the certainty of death and the brevity of life. No human being can pretend to have the wherewithal to unravel divine mysteries. We are completely reconciled to the will of God Almighty Ecclesiastes in 12:7 continues:

Then the dust will return to the earth as it was,

And the spirit will return to God who gave it.

 

7.  Permits me the indulgence in this occasion to reflect on the life and times of our departed sister, Hon Justice E.N.N. Agbakoba.

 

Birth And Academic Pursuit

8.       Hon.   Justice E. N. N. Agbakoba was born on 21 May 1963 in London, United Kingdom, to the family of Edward Chike Ekpechi and Anthonia  Chike Ekpechi who were both from Onitsha North Local Government Area of Anambra State. She attended Notre Dame High School London from 1974 to 1977 and later Girls High School, Awkunanaw, Enugu from 1977 to 1980 where she successfully sat for the West African School Certificate examination. She was admitted to read law by the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (Enugu Campus) and was awarded the LL.B (Hons) Degree in 1984. She immediately proceeded to the Nigerian Law School where she was awarded the B.L. certificate; and was thus called to the Nigerian Bar in 1985. She obtained a Masters Degree in Public Administration and Law from California South University, Irvine CA, USA in 2012. Hon Justice E. N. N. Agbakoba was a lady of academic excellence, intellectual sagacity, and discipline. Her parents placed tremendous value on education. It is not in dispute that she had the best education.

 

Career(Legal Practice)

9.       After Hon Justice E. N. N. Agbakoba’s call to the Nigerian Bar, she did the compulsory service to the nation (NYSC) at the Legal Aid Council, Oyo State Secretariat, Ibadan between 1985 and 1986. Her diligence and hard work during her service year paid off; and she was given a permanent appointment at the Legal Aid Council where she began her career as a counsel. She carved a niche for herself as a thoroughbred professional. She rose through the ranks and ascended to the positions of Zonal Director in charge of five (5) States: Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti and Kwara in 2003; and Director, Legal Aid Council Headquarters in 2011. She was disciplined and she loved the practice of law. Her career at the Legal Aid Council was characterized by the penchant for order and organization. She was the epitome of propriety, candour that was evident in her speech, and formality seen in her dressing and work. It was at the Legal Aid Council, that her Husband, Honourable Gozie Agbakoba (Member of the House of Representatives, 2003 to 2011), met her. No doubt, these sterling qualities of hers attracted him. They got married; and have a daughter, Miss Onyeoma Agbakoba.

 

Appointment To The Bench

10.     Hon. Justice E. N. N. Agbakoba was appointed a judge of the National Industrial Court on 22 May 2013. She was humble and of impeccable character. A quintessential jurist known for her integrity and firmness. She was a distinguished and exemplary Judicial Officer who creditably performed her judicial functions with confidence, candour, and truthfulness. Her unblemished record is enviable and worthy of emulation. She adjudicated in Ibadan, Calabar, and Abuja Divisions of the Court. As testament to her hardwood and diligence, and from the available statistics, she delivered over Four Hundred and Seventy One (471) judgments and One Hundred and Eight (108) rulings within the period of 10 years that she was a judge in areas of substantive and procedural law. She wrote with clarity and simplicity, devoid of verbosity and grandstand; and was known for her understanding of the law, diligence and industry.

11.      Hon. Justice E. N. N. Agbakoba was a member of the Rules, Practice Direction and Digitalization committee of the court. She will be remembered for her immeasurable contributions to the rules, and digitalization of the court, and to the development of labour law jurisprudence in Nigeria.

12.      I take the liberty to sample some of her catchy judicial statements that adorn the Court’s website as she resolved labour disputes.

(a)     Mrs Eyunce Ovayeun Ojapa v. University of Ilorin & 2 Ors, unreported Suit No. NICN/ABJ/247/2020, available at https://nicnadr.gov.ng/judgement/details.php?id=8175:  The fact that a party appeared before a court or a panel does not ipso facto mean that he was given a fair hearing in a matter in which his conduct is called to question. He may have been hard, but there can be no fair hearing if a party did not know what his employer had against him.

(b)     Mabel Inyang v. Incorporated Trustees of NNPC/DPR Retired Staff Association, unreported Suit No. NICN/ABJ/104/2022, available at https://nicnadr.gov.ng/judgement/details.php?id=81756: It is necessary to note at this time, that Section 14 of the National Industrial Court Act 2006 enjoins the court to consider all the rights and entitlements to which parties before the court are legally entitled. The man on the street when considering the claimants ordeal will hold that the claimant is entitled to general damages as per law and Section 14 NICA.

(c)      Dr. Dayo Olagunju v Hon. Minister of Education & 2ors, unreported suit No. NICN/ABJ/229/2022, available at https://nicnadr.gov.ng/judgment/details.php?id=7932: where a statute orders that remittances are to be made to a named body, it is not open to this Court to rule that such remittances to be made to an employee even if the employee is the ultimate beneficiary of the remittances in issue.

(d)     Engineer Faith Thursday Golly v Niger Delta Power Holding Company Limited, unreported Suit No. NICN/ABJ/302/2022, available at https://nicnadr.gov.ng/judgment/details.php?id=7936: For the grant of leave, the Court must itself that material, relevant and sufficient facts and particulars were disclosed therein to constitute a real and genuine defense on the merit to the action of the claimant.

(e)     Unity Bank Plc v Aliyu Yusuf & 2ors unreported Suit No: NICN/ABJ/210/2013: available at https://nicnadr.gov.ng/judgment/details.php?id=7249:: A court of law cannot grant a perpetual injunction on mere prima facie case.  Perpetual cannot be granted on speculation or conjecture on the trial judge that the plaintiff seems to have proved his case.

13.      She was a fine judicial officer with a firm mien. And she deserves to be celebrated.   Testimonies from lawyers and litigants abound that appearing before her was a delight.  She will be remembered as an incorruptible judge.

14.     in a letter of condolence dated 11 December 2023, the President of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice M.B. Dongban-Mensem, CFR, JP, said this of Hon. Justice Edith N.N. Agbakoba: “from my interactions with Justice Agbakoba especially while we were both on posting to Ibadan, I must say that my Lord was a very hardworking, intelligent and astute jurist who dispensed justice with great zeal and passion.   She was also very kind and thoughtful. I would have loved to pay my last respects to the legal icon in person but would not be available to attend due to prior engagements”.

15.      And the National Judicial Council, vide a letter of same 11 December 2023, “noted the unfortunate incident with sadness” and then conveyed to the family of the Hon. Justice E.N.N. Agbakoba “its heart-felt condolence on this irreparable loss” praying “the Almighty God to grant the family the fortitude to bear the loss”

Religious and Social life

16.     The late Hon. Justice Edith N.N. Agbakoba was a devout Christian of the Roman Catholic faith.  She prayed the Rosary and would endeavour to participate in novenas.  She was fondly referred to as a judge with the “Milk of human Kindness”, which I must confess I often cautioned her on as it relates to judging.  Hear her in Mrs. Kathrine Folake Owen  v. National Library Board & 3ors, unreported Suit No: NICN/ABJ/208/2019, available at https://nicnadr.gov.ng/judgment/details.php?id=1878: “… to expect an hapless claimant or a legal practitioner in a claim where labour law is at best an elective in Nigerian University to raise issues of unfair labour practice of Convention 131 I find rather high expectation….” She would proceed in same case to state: “The man on the street when considering the claimants’ ordeal of having to wait 6 years for payment of a part of his terminal benefit i.e kilometer allowance would agree that the claimant is entitled to general damages, Section 14 NICA”.

17.    Her service in the Legal Aid Council and as Judicial Officer typified the injunction in Isaiah 1:17 “Learn to do good, seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, and plead for the widow”. She dispensed justice to all manner of persons devoid of prejudice no matter whose ox was gored, without affection or ill will.   She saw the office of a judge as a high calling from God, to whom we all are accountable.

18.     Honourable Justice Edith N.N. Agbakoba impacted positively on the lives of everyone around her and left behind legacies worthy of emulation.  She was always full of smiles (even in her last days), and was very kind.  She honoured invitations and attended official and social functions of colleagues, classmates and friends.

 

Conclusion

19.     As I conclude, I one again refer to Ecclesiastes 7:1.    A good name is better than precious ointment, And the day of death, than the day of one’s birth.

20.     Hon. Justice Edith N.N. Agbakoba left good name. The National Industrial Court of Nigeria is proud of her.  And so must the Ekpechis and Agbakobas.

21.      I express our sincere appreciation to each and everyone of you for making out the time in spite of your busy schedules to bid our sister Judge farewell at this special valedictory court sitting.  I thank all judges, members of the inner and outer Bar, members of the Agbakoba and Ekpechi families, Friends, NICN staff, and all well-meaning persons whose names I cannot begin to mention here, for your very kind words of comfort, condolence messages, sympathies and support towards the successful burial ceremonies for our beloved Hon. Justice Edith N.N. Agbakoba. I also thank the Priests of the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See, Abuja and Holy Trinity Catholic Church Maitama, Abuja for their spiritual strength and support at this moment of grief.

22.     It is goodbye to Hon. Justice Edith Nneka Neolita Agbakoba by Job 1:21: The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away: Blessed be the name of the Lord.

23.     May God be merciful to her and grant her eternal life.  And may the souls of the departed rest in peace.

24.     May God Almighty grant us all the fortitude to bear the loss.

25.     It is my prayer that the presence of the Lord shall continue to abide with us all.   Amen

26.     I thank you all.

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