The death of The Hon. Justice Anthony Nnaemezie Aniagolu (rtd) certainly marks the end of an enthralling chapter in the history of the Nigerian Supreme Court.
The late Justice Aniagolu, who hails from Eke, Enugu State, the same town as the late Justice Daddy Onyeama, (the first Nigerian judge to the International Court of Justice at The Hague) and Justice Nnaemeka-Agu, died on June 28. He was aged 89.
The late Aniagolu was not just any Justice of the Supreme Court: he was simply a shining star, a veritable symbol of judicial excellence at the Supreme Court and a man respected not only for the clarity of his jurisprudence but also for his strength of character.
Outstanding for his intellectual versatility, lucidity of his philosophical mind and for his unimpeachable dissenting judgments, Justice Aniagolu was a scion of the old stock of retired Supreme Court Justices comprising Kayode Eso, Chukwudifu Akunne Oputa, Andrews Otutu Obaseki, Augustine Nnamani and others.
In fact, the era of Justice Aniagolu at the apex court is usually referred to as the golden era of the Nigerian Supreme Court. Among those icons, Justice Aniagolu stood out for his profound philosophical forensic legal enunciations.
Throughout his illustrious stint on the Bench, Justice Aniagolu was also distinguished by his exceptional brilliance in expounding and expanding the law in accord with substantial justice. Through his profound judgments and scholarly seminal lectures and incisive essays, the late Justice greatly contributed to the development of the legal profession in Nigeria.
The very height of his contribution was demonstrated in the often-cited case of EZOMO V OYAKHIRE where he enunciated the principles guiding slander and service of court process out of jurisdiction.
Perhaps the late Justice Aniagolu will be most remembered for being a very conscientious and ethical judge. Pained by the corruption afflicting the Nigerian judiciary, he spoke several times in condemnation of corrupt judges and compromised judicial positions for which he had nothing but contempt.
He believed that no efforts should be spared in rescuing the judiciary from such unscrupulous men. He also took strong public positions on the issue. He warned that judges should desist from anything which robs the judiciary of its impartiality, fairness and independence which, as he argued, were the only ways the judiciary could protect its integrity.
He said that of all arms of government, the one nearest to God is the judiciary. According to him, justice represents the Almighty God himself. It touches the heart of God and any judge who is corrupt is unworthy to sit on the Bench.
Aside his many interventions in the development of the legal profession in Nigeria, Justice Aniagolu contributed immensely to the political development of the country.
He was the chairman of the 1989 Constituent which produced the 1989 Constitution which became a reference point in the future Constitutional development of Nigeria. He was also chairman of many commissions and tribunals including that of the 1981 Kano Maitasine disturbances.
Born in 1922, the late Justice Aniagolu graduated from Cambridge and Bristol Universities in England with flying colours. Before his elevation to the Supreme Court, Justice Aniagolu had served as a High Court Judge and even a Chief Judge. He was a visiting Scholar in the International Jurists Programme at Capital University, Columbus, Ohio.
He was also the Pro-Chancellor of the University Ife, (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife) and the Enugu State University of Technology. Justice Aniagolu was a recipient of the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), an honour bestowed on him in recognition of his contribution to the legal profession in Nigeria.
The late Justice Aniagolu was a good Christian gentleman. His humility, moderation, grace, serenity and comportment endeared him to the hearts of many. He was a Papal Knight of St. Sylvester and Knight Commander with the star of St. Sylvester.
While we commiserate with the Bar and the Bench and all members of the Aniagolu family for this great loss, we urge that the ideals for which Justice Aniagolu lived and died should be emulated by people in both the Bar and Bench, and indeed by Nigerians.