By Victorson Agbenson.
I just returned, in company of a veteran journalist, Azariah Kucha from a visit to the home of the Kutigis.
Yes, the late Chief Justice’s son, Haruna Idris is my boss in the office, but my visit to the house was beyond that . It was indeed to interact with the spirit of the late jurist. It was a similar pull that made me to fall on the roads to Nnewi to pay my last respect to Ikemba when he passed on.
Kutigi was perhaps the last man standing in the order of incorruptible judges. In 2011, an online invistigative medium published a document it said emanated from the US embassy. The document disclosed how an aide of a former President and a businessman allegedly offered a bribe of N200 million to justice Idris Kutigi to compromise the 2007 presidential poll by excluding one of the candidates from the race, but the judge told them to leave his office.
The report also unearthed how a foremost traditional ruler from Kutigi’s home state of Niger offered him another bribe of N400 million which he also turned down.
That was the stature of the Nigerian legal luminary who on the 20th of this month passed on to the great beyond.
I say this in an age where many judges have come under scrutiny and been found wanting, a situation which wrung out poem from the renowned Nigerian poet, Niyi Osundare entitled ‘My Lord, Tell Me Where To Keep Your Bribe? ‘
Indeed Nigeria has lost one of her most accomplished legal luminaries. As Chief justice of Nigeria,Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi was said to have publicly criticised the practice of retired justices of appellate courts working as “consultants” to election petitioners and their lawyers at election tribunals.
That was the kind of person late justice kutigi was, a man who was contented with his modest and somewhat spartan lifestyle.
A man who though rose to the highest pinnacle of his career and national life, was forever modest in his lifestyle and that of his family, which reflected in his insistence that his children go through the rigours just like every other Nigerian in rising in the chosen career. His son Haruna Idris is a testament to this. He is aguably the best News Editor Radio Nigeria ever had, a feat I hope to surpass someday.(laugh)
Today I saw the magnificent house in which late Justice Kutigi lived untill his death. I was not received that he could afford such because I know that the mansion was only built for him as his retirement benefit as CJN, another testimony that if we live well and work rightly we could get to the top.
Justice Kutigi, who died at 78 during a brief illness no doubt lived to the fullness of age and served his country diligently, rising to become the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), the highest office in the third arm of government.
In 2014, the late CJN was appointed by then President Goodluck Jonathan as the chairman of the National Conference to steer discussions on national issues and present viable solutions on the way forward for the country. With 494 delegates drawn from across the country, justice Kutigi with great grace presided over the confab for four months, even when he lost his wife of many years in the process.
I was one of those privileged reporters, alongside the likes of Dan Ede, Sandra Udeike and Abubakar Best all of Radio Nigeria, Henry Umoru of Vanguard, Chuks Okocha then of Thisday Ignatius Nkwoh of NTA and many others who covered the 2014 National Conference which was ebuliently presided over by Justice Idris Kutigi.
The Justice took on the assignment with so much passion that he didn’t find time to mourn his wife, the amiable mother of my Oga Haruna Idris.
His mastery of the act of managing very delicate and intricate situations really came to bear during that historic gathering of eminitent, bright and often prrovocative Nigerians.
On June 12, 2014 he stepped in to separate Northern and Southern politicians who almost came to blows during a conference meeting over a disagreement on holding a one minute silence to honour those that died during the 1993 presidential election.
He also successfully staved off very highly emotive religious and regional controversies by firm leadership and negotiations.
I recall when my Pastor, Dr Tunde Bakare touched on what could have sparked a religious flame when he rebuked Muslims who recite an Islamic quotation before making comments on the floor of the conference. To the pastor, it would be unfair for Christians to begin their own contributions by shouting hallelujah or speaking in tongues. I recall the high ranking Islamic cleric now JAMB boss Professor Ishaq Oloyede reacting and tempers went high to the extent that reporters including Friday Olokor of Vanguard trying to feast on the situation. Justice Kutigi doused all the tensions , sometimes calling for recess.
Despite his age then he used his cracked , bass voice to ensure that the delegates were always brought into alignment with the vision and focus of the talks, with his sense of humour tinctured with a funny laugh pattern sometimes coming to the fore amidst heated debates.
Despite his age he was always on time at the confab sittings.
He was a stickler for rules and a good team player. This reflected in how he worked closely and harmoniously with his deputy during the confab, the very cerebral Professor Bolaji Akinyemi.
Late justice Kutigi would no doubt be remembered as a man who loved Nigeria and wanted peace for the country.
This was reflected in the supreme Court decision following the legal tussle that greeted the 2007 Presidential elections which had pitched President Umaru Musa yaradua and then general Mohammadu Buhari.
The story was told of how there was a tie at the end of the sittings and what was needed was for Kutigi being the chief justice to cast his vote. It was siad he voted in the side of stability and peace. He no doubt knew the implication of upstaging a presidency which would lead to tension and most likely , loss of lives and property.
By virtue of this choice, Some political watchers have come to see late justice Kutigi as an establishment person. But what is wrong in being an establishment person if it advances the cause of national peace and stability.
Looking back today, it was as if the late justice saw to the future that general Mohammadu Buhari would later become the President and seemed to be telling him then: just be patient, what God has willed will surely come to pass, and at a better time.
This teaches us patience , tolerance and understanding of higher values.
Good enough, president Muhammadu Buhari has paid glowing tribute to the former Chief Justice and honoured the late CJN by authorising his burial in the National Cemetery, Abuja.
Indeed Kutigi’s contributions to the evolution of the country’s jurisprudence is remarkable.
In his tribute, President Buhari said the nation would not forget the hard work and dedication of the eminent jurist and this was evident during the 2014 national conference.
Justice Idris Kutigi was born on December 31, 1939 in Kutigi, North-Western State ,which is now located in the Lavun Local Government Area of Niger State.
He attended elementary school in that town and middle and secondary school in Bida. He then moved on to Government College ,now known as Barewa College, and then to Ahmadu Bello University (both in Zaria, Kaduna State.
He later left the country for England, where he studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and Gibson and Weldon, before returning to attend the Nigerian Law School in Lagos. He was called to the bar in 1964.
He was Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Niger State before becoming a high court judge. Kutigi joined the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 1992.
After 10 years at the Supreme Court, based on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, Former President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him to the position of Chief Justice to succeed Justice Salihu Alfa Belgore, who retired on January 17, 2007.
By January 30, 2007, Kutigi was confirmed by the Senate and took over as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Chairman of the Federal Judicial Service Commission and Chairman of the National Judicial Council. He occupied these offices simultaneously between January 30, 2007 and December 30, 2009.
Kutigi retired on 30 December 2009, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. He swore in his successor, Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu. The President of Nigeria usually swears in the Chief Justice, but President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was not available on this occasion due to ill health.
He rise to the top echelon of his profession and to the number one judicial officer of the country is a testament of his dedication and commitment.
In an era where the reputation and integrity of many judges have been substantially brought to question, Perhaps late justice Kutigi’s austre lifestyle should be an inspiration and a ray of hope to many Nigerians who dream for a better society since the judiciary should be the last hope for the common man.
Possibly, one of his dying wishes may have been for the widely applauded recommendations
of the national confernce to be implemented. As the nation continues to mourn his demise, one would only wish that the report would be revisted someday.