Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola; Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Yakubu Maikyau (SAN) and former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), Prof. Epiphany Azinge (SAN) are among dignitaries expected at events to mark the centenary celebration of former Justice of the Supreme Court, the late Justice Chukwunweike Idigbe.

According to a statement made available to CITY LAWYER and signed by Mr. Nnamdi Oragwu, Partner and Head of Litigation at PUNUKA Attorneys & Solicitors, a firm founded by late Justice Idigbe, the 100th anniversary celebration will be a year-long event.

“Our late founder served as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria from 1964 to 1967 and from 1975 to 1983,” he said. “He is remembered as a distinguished jurist, a fearless advocate for justice, and a champion of the rule of law.

“He was renowned for his landmark judgments, which continue to shape the legal landscape of Nigeria to this day. Justice Idigbe epitomizes the gold standard of the Supreme Court of Nigeria; several of his decisions remain a major point of reference in present-day cases.”

Oragwu, who is the Chairman of the 100 Years of Justice Idigbe Planning Committee, said the firm will be celebrating Justice Idigbe’s life and legacy with six major events.

On May 3, Justice Ariwoola will commission the Justice Idigbe Faculty of Law in Veritas University, Abuja. This will be followed by a colloquium with speakers including Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court, Mr. Cosmas Enweluzo (SAN) and Mr. C. V. C. Ihekweazu (SAN).

The Justice Idigbe Symposium will hold the next day on May 4, and will feature front-burner discussions on landmark judgments of Justice Idigbe and his impact on present-day jurisprudence.

The Keynote Speaker, Mr. Ekong Sampson, will speak on “The Life and Legacy of Honourable Justice Idigbe – 100 years of a Gold Standard for Judges in Nigeria.” The speakers include Minister of Works, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN); Professor Abiola Sanni (SAN); Prof. Obiora Okafor, Maikyau and Professor Azinge.

Other events include the commissioning of Punuka Childcare Centre by the Punuka Foundation on July 30, 2023 in Lagos.

A Public Lecture/Valedictory Court Session will hold in Asaba, Delta State, on August 11, 2023 and will feature the commissioning of Justice Idigbe NBA ICT Centre. The following day, a thanksgiving mass and commissioning of Justice Idigbe Museum, Library and Youth Centre will be held in Asaba.

The events will culminate with the commissioning of PUNUKA Attorneys and Solicitor’s new head office in Lagos on December 7, 2023.

  • Late Justice Chukwunweike Chike Idigbe OFR, CON

According to Ms. Isioma Idigbe, Partner and Head of Media, Entertainment, Intellectual Property and Technology Law, Punuka Attorneys & Solicitors, “These events are designed to celebrate and immortalize the contributions of late Justice Idigbe to the development of the legal profession in Nigeria, and to inspire the next generation of legal professionals. This is a time of celebration and reflection.

“Whilst we honour and edify the heritage he left us, we must reflect on whether our lives and practice of the law are in step with his values of excellence, thoroughness, knowledge, diligence and justice which were things that made him one of the greatest legal minds Nigeria has ever seen.”

Justice Idigbe was born on August 12, 1923 at Kaduna, Nigeria, the fourth and only surviving child of Alexander Ahudinma and his wife, Madam Christiana Idigbe.

He was a distinguished Nigerian jurist who practiced law all over West Africa, from Warri from 1947 to 1961. He served as a judge in the then Eastern Region of Nigeria High Court and Chief Justice of Midwest Region of Nigeria, rising to the position of Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

Chike, as he was fondly called, began his education at St. Mary’s Catholic Mission, Port Harcourt, at the age of six. He later gained admission to Christ the King College, Onitsha in 1937. In 1943, he passed the Cambridge examination in Division One and obtained an exemption from the London Matriculation Examination.

He had planned to study engineering in London but suddenly and in an interesting manner changed his mind to study law. He was admitted to study law at King’s College, University of Cambridge.

He completed his studies at King’s College with flying colours, obtaining a Second-Class Upper Division Grade in Law in 1946. He won the much-coveted Forster-Campbell Prize in Criminal Law.

Justice Idigbe was also one of the first four Nigerians to pass the Cambridge University Law examination with honours, the others being Dr. T. O. Elias (former Attorney General of the Federation and Chief Justice of Nigeria), Dr. G. B. A. Coker, and Chief Gabriel Onyuike QC, SAN.

Being the first lawyer in the Asaba Division and the then Benin Province in 1947, he was upon his return to Nigeria welcomed with fanfare and grandeur. He was admitted to the Nigerian Bar later that year.

He settled in Warri where he established his law office, PUNUKA Chambers (named after his great-great-grandfather Obi Idigbe, who was married to one ‘Onye Punuka’) with the famous Sierra-Leonean lawyer Nelson Williams.

In 1961, he was appointed a Judge of the Eastern Nigeria High Court, and elevated in 1964 to the position of Justice of the Supreme Court. From 1964 to 1967, he served concurrently as the Chief Justice of the newly created Mid-Western Region before he ceased to be a Nigerian judge as a result of the Civil War.

In 1972, he joined Irving and Bonnar, the oldest law firm in Nigeria, as a Partner. Three years later in 1975, he was re-appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

He shared the Supreme Court bench with notable jurists as Justices William Algernon Holwell Duffus, Edger Ignatius G. Unsworth, John Idowu Conrad Taylor, Vahe Robert Bairamian, Eugene O. Adeyinka Morgan, Louis Nwachukwu Mbanefo, Michael Oguejiofo Ajegbo, George Baptist A. Coker, Charles Dadi Onyeama, Ian Lewis, Atanda Fatai-Williams (CJN), Udo Udoma, Taslim Olawale Elias (CJN), George Sodeinde Sowemimo (CJN), Dan Ibekwe, Darnley Arthur R. Alexander (CJN), Mamman Nasir, Muhammed Bello (CJN), Charles Olusoji Madarikan, Andrew Otutu Obaseki, Anthony Nnaemezie Aniagolu, Buba Ardo, Kayode Eso, Augustine Nnamani, and Muhammadu Lawal Uwais (CJN).

During his tenure on the Bench, he delivered the lead judgements in several landmark cases as Bucknor-Maclean & Anor vs Inlaks Limited; Shitta-Bey vs Federal Public Service Commission; Arase vs Arase; Balogun vs National Bank; Usoro vs Shell Petroleum Development Co.; Atiti Gold vs Beatrice Osaseren; Mutual Aids Society vs Akerele, among others. He also served as Chairman of the Land Use Committee set up to review the land tenure system in Nigeria.

He was a recipient of two national honours, namely Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) and Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON).

Justice Idigbe was a traditional Chief (Olinzele) of Asaba. He also held the highly coveted title of Izoma of Asaba, otherwise called ‘A man of the people.’

He was happily married and blessed with children, among whom are Mr. Victor Idigbe, Jude Obioha Idigbe Esq, Mrs. Uche Idigbe, Chief (Dr) Anthony Ikemefuna Idigbe (SAN), Mr. Amaechi Felix Idigbe, and Mr. Ifeanyi Paul Idigbe (late).

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

Justice Idigbe was a remarkable jurist and a trailblazer in his field, leaving a legacy that continues to inspire generations of legal practitioners in Nigeria and beyond.

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