Guest Columnist: By Justice Emmanuel Ayoola, JSC (rtd)
“Kayode Eso was born at Ilesa on Friday, September 18, 1925.” Those were the opening words of his biography “KAYODE ESO: THE MAKING OF A JUDGE” first published in 2002. On Friday, November 16, 2012, he passed on at the age of 87.
It would be futile in a brief tribute to capture the action-packed and truly memorable events of the 87 years from his birth to his demise. No single author can do so. We must, therefore, be content with glimpses from here and there of his life and the virtues which nurtured him to greatness, from personal experience of the great man which we can share in order to capture, as much as possible, of the vibrancy and action packed life of Justice Kayode Eso.
When sometime in 2001 he asked me to contribute an appendix to the wonderful book, “KAYODE ESO: THE MAKING OF A JUDGE”, authored by Professor J. F. Ade Ajayi and Professor Yemi Akinseye-George and I was put under pressure to submit the piece to meet the publisher’s deadline, I discovered that the easiest thing for me to do was to write, not from ‘cloned’ or second hand experience of him but out of my direct knowledge of him from the time I was as young as 10 year old. I wrote on that occasion as follows:
“Very seldom will you find a man whose life shows so much consistency as Kayode Eso. Picture him at every stage of his life, you find the same person! Some show promise early in life only to fall by the wayside as they go along.
Others are written off at the early stages only to pick up somewhere along the line and to everybody’s surprise make a success of it. The saying that ‘morning shows the day’ is not always true, idiomatically or literally. For Kayode Eso, it is true in every respect. Kayode Eso at every stage of his life challenges you. He seems to challenge you to emulate him as a youth. He seems to challenge you to emulate him if you dare! Who dares, succeeds. To have known him as a youth is a privilege some of us dare to claim. Perhaps it says something eloquent of the luster of his excellence, if I, as a 10 year old boy, could have noticed him, not for the way he dressed or for loud manners, but for his intellectual strength. At that age and stage in life, a 10-year –old boy does not define the quality that attracts him to a man in such terms. Yet the attraction is there, even thought he may not be able to put it in intelligent words. And so it was with my impression of Justice Kayode Eso in those early years of my life.”
Eleven years after I wrote that piece, my opinion has not changed. Kayode Eso was a man whose passion was justice. Integrity was his watchword. In these days when justice and integrity are words merely used as slogans and to create a favourable impression, Kayode Eso strove to live and practice integrity, both in his public and private life, to the extent that the only source of sadness that he had to his dying days was Nigeria’s descent from the glorious path of justice and integrity to that depth where both do not seem to matter anymore. Kayode Eso was a truly virtuous person - reliable, dependable and honest. Therein lay his strength.
Many would describe Kayode Eso as stern. Those of us who had the privilege of knowing him would describe him as extremely pleasant, truly principled and uncompromisingly disciplined. Many would rightly described him as a man of tremendous courage. Those of us who truly know him would agree and reveal that the source of his courage was that he was prepared to stand by the virtues he believes in and practices, whatever it may cost him. He had the inner strength of martyrs; but it is by the abiding grace of God that he did not have to suffer as martyrs did, as a grateful nation celebrates him. The truth that must be revealed is that Kayode Eso’s strength came from God. I had occasion to write about him and I repeat here: “He believes and trusts in God to the utmost. He does not flaunt his belief. But it is there. It rules him, and that is why his heart is guided by justice. Therein lies his strength.”
I had the privilege of being a judge in the High Court of the old Oyo State when he was a Chief Judge. I can attest to the fact that, as a leader not only did he lead by example, but also he was accessible, just, compassionate and caring.
Kayode Eso was endowed with prodigious intellect and memory to the end. As someone who had the privilege of sharing his company on several occasions I could not but be amazed by his power of reasoning and analytical mind, ready to understand the other man’s point of view and ready to explain his position without controversy. His mind was always engaged with lofty thoughts. He had a dream of a Nigeria that would practice integrity and justice as a culture. It was a painful thing for him, to the end, to realize that restoring that culture was going to be an uphill task. However, also to the end, he did not give up.
Notwithstanding, that pain and disappointment, Kayode Eso lived a happy, full and fulfilled life. Surrounded by a loving wife and successful children, he never ceased to give God the glory. The son of an illustrious father from whom he inherited the virtue of discipline, it is not surprising that he left surviving him two children who, on their own, are successful in their several chosen careers and are as principled and well mannered as he was.
In days to come, many pleasant things will be said about Kayode Eso. Profuse tributes would be paid to him. A grateful nation would, no doubt seek to perpetuate his memory. However, I know, having shared his thoughts on many occasions, that what would have delighted him most was for our nation to become truly restored to the virtues that were the foundation of our nation.
No celebration of Kayode Eso would be satisfying without that national restoration, where lip-service will not merely be paid to integrity and justice, but those virtues would become our national articles of faith as they were to Kayode Eso.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Ayoola is Pioneer Chairman, ICPC