Justice Odili’s Footprints and Ink Prints in A. I. Iyayi-LamikanraJudiciary

Five books on the retired, Justice Mary U. Peter Odili, who sat on the High Court bench in Rivers State, the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court of Nigeria until her retirement on May 12 after she attained the constitutionally-prescribed retirement age of 70 years, have elicited so much interest among legal practitioners. 

The first book, Legal Essays in Honour of Mary Odili, Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, is a collection of legal essays in honour of Justice Mary Ukaego Peter Odili, Nigeria’s Amazon of Justice. The 48-chapter book is meticulously arranged into 18 thematic parts numbered as Part A to Part R. Consequently, each part has a number of chapters dealing with various aspects of a particular theme.

The thematic parts reflect the various areas in which Justice Odili has made her mark in Nigerian jurisprudence. Of particular note is Part M, entitled “Judges, Courts, and the Law”. The essays in this part focus on the role of judges in law-making and the limits of judge-made laws in Nigeria.

Part R, entitled: “Women, Children and the Law”, is another area in which Justice Mary Peter Odili has made special contributions in Nigerian jurisprudence. As Chairperson of the Juvenile Court and inaugural Chairperson of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) in Rivers State, Justice Mary Peter Odili played an active role in the development and protection of the rights of women and children in Nigeria.

It is an outstanding contribution to Nigerian jurisprudence, which every law library must have. The title of the book is apt, and it will imprint the name of Justice Mary Peter Odili as the Amazon of Justice in Nigeria.

The same can be said about the second book, titled, The Judicial Journey of Honourable Justice Mary U. Peter-Odili, which tells the story of the jurist’s contribution to the understanding of legal principles and the development of legal science in Nigeria.

A complete, albeit nutshell, picture of the journey necessitates the structuring of the book. It is structured into four parts, selected from a large volume of decisions written and delivered by my noble Lord across the different levels of court she sat.

Altogether, the various decisions cover 558 pages. However, as earlier stated, these decisions represent merely a bird’s eye view of the spectacular volume of decisions written and delivered by His Lordship in the various superior courts where she sat in 44 years of service in the judicial service of Nigeria.

As for the third book, Essays in Honour of Hon. Justice Mary Peter-Odili, it is a compilation of essays in honour of Justice Peter-Odili, in celebration of a long, distinguished and meritorious career as a jurist who has sat on the bench at all hierarchical levels of the judiciary in Nigeria. The book has been conceived to address topical gender and legal issues, a number of which she would have dealt with in her career. Contributors come from the bench and bar, academia, and gender development law experts in Nigeria and beyond, and it’s worth noting that some of the contributors are accomplished men. This provides the basis for the notion that tender activism for the protection and enforcement of the rights of women is not for women alone.

The essays deal with human rights at all facets and stages of a woman’s life, contemplating and analysing rights protection under customary law, Islamic law, rights arising in the workplace, in marriages, concerns about domestic violence, women in crisis situations, reproductive rights, evolving rights of women and children, etc., and, without limiting the scope of enquiry to our local jurisdiction, even taking international perspective into consideration. 

The fourth book, Understanding the Administration of Criminal Justice in Nigeria Through the Eyes of Hon. Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, is a selected judgement on criminal cases (Journey from the Magistrates’ Court to the Supreme Court of Nigeria), is a specialised publication of the Rivers State Judiciary.

This 820-page and 14-chapter book is a tribute by the Rivers State Judiciary to the Honourable Justice Peter-Odili. The choice of the title of the book and its concentration on criminal matters is intended to convey to the public the avowed area of interest and passion where My Lord has made so many contributions to the growth of the law and in shaping the judicial process.

However, Justice Peter-Odili did not only give judgements on criminal matters; she also handled civil matters and gave laudable judgments in that area. This book, though a specialised publication, would have been most useful if My Lord’s Civil Judgments were also captured in this book, especially in her sojourn at the Magistrate’s Court of Rivers State. I hope the Rivers State Judiciary will do a further edition that will cover this area.  

Then, there is the fifth book, “Icon and On,” which can be described as both poetic and prophetic. Part of the prophecy was fulfilled when she was elevated to the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Although the book’s publication is only being realised when she is taking her bow from the Supreme Court and an illustrious career on the bench spanning over five decades, there is still much that she can offer to the world.

Her elevation to the Supreme Court also engendered a review of the book so that the volume consists of only judgments of the apex court. This is not because the finest and boldest of decisions on the rights of women emanated from the Supreme Court, but because the decisions of the apex court are final and stand a minimum risk of being overturned.

The books are highly recommended to both law students, legal practitioners, and judges of both the lower bench and the higher bench as they will serve as good reference materials for all and sundry. It is indeed rare to see works of this nature that capture judgments from the lower bench.

 Justice Iyayi-Lamikanra is a retired Chief Judge of Rivers State.

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