Ex-CJN, Katsina-Alu, Dies at 77

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  • Buhari, Jonathan, Saraki, Ortom, APC mourn

Tobi Soniyi, Deji Elumoye in Abuja and Gorge Oboh in Makurdi

Former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, died Wednesday in Abuja. He was 77.

Family sources said he died at about 2a.m. at Cida Orthopaedic Hospital, Gudu in Abuja.

Katsina-Alu, who a family source said had been battling serious health complications that affected his internal organs for several years, hailed from Ushongo in Benue State.

He was the CJN from December 30, 2009 to August 28, 2011.

The source said plans were in top gear to fly him abroad for treatment when he passed on.

Confirming the demise of Katsina-Alu from Montreal, Canada, where he is currently attending a conference, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, said it was a sad loss, lamenting that the Nigerian judiciary would surely miss him.

Early tributes poured in from President Muhammadu Buhari, Governor Samuel Ortom of his Benue home state, Senate President Bukola Saraki, former President Goodluck Jonathan and the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Buhari returned to the country Wednesday night and condoled with the family and friends of Katsina-Alu.

A statement by presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, said the president joined the government and people of Benue State, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and National Judicial Council (NJC) in mourning the erudite jurist, whom he said contributed immensely to the structuring of Nigeria’s jurisprudence.

“The President affirms that Justice Katsina-Alu’s knowledge, experience and diligence impacted greatly on governance in Nigeria as he featured prominently in landmark cases.

“President Buhari believes the late Chief Justice left behind a legacy of discipline, brilliance and diligence that younger jurists should emulate.”

Ortom said Katsina-Alu’s death had thrown the state into sadness and mourning, describing him as a peace-loving man, patriot and father, who built bridges for many others to cross.

The governor commiserated with the family of the eminent jurist and prayed God to grant them the strength to bear the irreparable loss.

Jonathan in a statement issued by his media adviser, Mr. Ikechukwu Eze, described Katsina-Alu as a sound legal mind who left indelible contributions to the nation’s jurisprudence.

He said the late jurist would be remembered for his invaluable and indelible contributions to the nation’s jurisprudence.

On his part, Saraki expressed deep sorrow over the death of Katsina-Alu.

In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Alhaji Yusuph Olaniyonu, he described the late former justice as a patriotic and diligent public servant, whose many well-considered judgments enriched the nation’s jurisprudence and contributed immensely to national development.

He commiserated with the immediate family of the deceased, the Tiv nation, the judiciary and the government and people of Benue State on the sad incident.

The APC too mourned Katsina-Alu Wednesday, saying he was an impartial and thorough judge.

“As a jurist, his contributions to the development of the Nigerian legal system cannot be quantified. He delivered numerous landmark judgements, wrote many legal papers and mentored several young lawyers,” it said, adding: “As a statesman, the late Katsina-Alu often put national interest above self and other considerations. We have indeed lost a good man.”

Katsina-Alu was born 28 August 1941 in Ushongo, Benue State.

His tenure as CNJ began and ended with controversies. The first controversy, however, was not his own making. He was sworn in on Wednesday, 30 December, 2009. Whereas Chief Justices are sworn in by the President and Commander-in-Chief, he was sworn in by his predecessor, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, because the then president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was ill and had been flown abroad for treatment.

Had Yar’Adua handed over to his deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the controversy would have been avoided. But the president did not and there was a lacunae.

Kutigi rose to the occasion by personally administering the Oath of Office on his successor. It was a first in the history of Nigeria. Many lawyers argued then that it was illegal. But many more disagreed.

While he was the CJN, he was accused by the then President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, of trying to influence the course of justice in an appeal in Sokoto governorship election tussle.

The NJC did not agree with Salami. The council eventually suspended him. This kick-started a crisis never witnessed before in the history of the Nigerian judiciary.

Salami was first offered elevation to the Supreme Court, which he rejected. He went to court to challenge his suspension.

The NJC initially refused to accept service of the court’s proceedings.

The scandal shook the judiciary to its foundation.

Katsina-Alu would also go down in history as the only CJN who would not show up for his valedictory service. Several times he was contacted that a day had been fixed for the solemn ceremony usually held for retiring justice of the Supreme Court but he told the authorities he was not interested.

Controversies aside, Katsina-Alu was a bold but humane judge who truly believed in the saying “let justice be done even if heavens falls”.

He was also a brilliant judge whose erudite judgments contributed to enriching the nation’s jurisprudence.

Katsina-Alu was one judge who would not allow sentiment to becloud his judgment. As chairman of the Legal Practitioners Privilege Committee (LPPC), he presided over the decision to suspend the then Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Andoakaa, his fellow Tiv man from using the rank of SAN.

The late CJN was said to have enrolled in the army before changing his mind and switching to a career in law.

This was confirmed by President Buhari who narrated his experience with Katsina-Alu and other trainee soldiers during a field exercise in the course of their military training in Jos.

The president had said: “We were in Jos. Again, I was made a leader of a small unit. We were given a map … you find your way from the map; you go to certain points and on those points, mostly hills, you climb them and you will get a box.

“There were five of us: myself, one Sierra Leonean or Ghanaian, one from Sokoto, and one other. I think the other person is Katsina Alu, the former Chief Justice … he was (in the military). He did the training but he was never commissioned. He went to university and did law.”

After quitting the military, he pursued a degree in law at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

In 1964, he proceeded to the Inns of Court School of Law, Gibson and Weldon College of Law, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, in furtherance of his legal studies.

He was called to the English and Nigerian bars in 1967 and 1968 respectively.

In 1979, he was appointed a judge of the Benue State High Court, from where he was elevated to the Court of Appeal in 1985, and was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court in November 1998.

In 2011, Katsina-Alu narrowly escaped death. A branch of a Melina tree was said to have fallen on him and Mimi, his wife, at their country home in Alu, Ushongo Local Government Area of Benue. He escaped but his wife was not so lucky.

He and his wife were reportedly sitting outside their residence, which was surrounded by trees when the incident happened in the night amid a heavy wind.

They were both rushed to the hospital where doctors confirmed his wife dead.

Reacting to his death, Chief Sebastine Hon (SAN), said the sudden demise of the eminent jurist had sent deep shock into those who knew his enormous contributions to justice administration in Nigeria.

He said: “A very upright man, his lordship was the first Tiv-speaking Attorney-General of Benue State, the first Tiv-speaking Judge of the Benue State High Court, the first Tiv-speaking Justice of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, and the first Tiv-speaking Chief Justice of Nigeria.

“In all of these, his lordship left indelible landmarks. Trained in the British legal tradition of brevity, laced with deepness, his lordship’ s judgments on the Bench were brief, incisive and straight to the point, thereby rendering justice without much stress. He played a major role in the ‘resource control’ suits, the Atiku survivalist litigations, the Rotimi Amaechi ‘k-leg’ survivalist litigation that enamoured the National Assembly to reshape the Electoral Act, 2010; and in several other public-interest suits.”