Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, a former justice of Nigeria’s Supreme Court and one of the most eminent jurists in the history of his country’s judiciary, has died.
Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, a former justice of Nigeria’s Supreme Court
A family source as well as a prominent Nigerian lawyer disclosed news of Justice Oputa’s death to SaharaReporters.
The family source confirmed that the jurist died today at 3.30 p.m. at his Abuja home, shortly after he was discharged from hospital. Justice Oputa had struggled with failing health for several months, culminating in a stroke he suffered in February 2014.
Justice Oputa, whose official birthday was listed as September 22, 1924, once told an interview that he was really born in Oguta, Imo State, in 1920, at a time when births were hardly officially registered.
Widely respected by other judges and lawyers for his self-discipline, extraordinary work ethic, and the rigor of his judicial opinions, Justice Oputa was endearingly called the Socrates of the Supreme Court.
He had his early education in Oguta and Christ the King College, Onitsha before briefly attending Yaba Higher College. He transferred to Achimota College in Ghana, earning a BSc in economics in 1945. Returning to Nigeria, he taught at a secondary school and also served as an assistant district officer.
After earning BA in history at home, he relocated to London where he studied law and got called to the Bar in Gray’s Inn. Once back in Nigeria, he set up a thriving legal practice. He accepted a judgeship in 1966, becoming a Judge of the High Court of the then Eastern Nigeria.
He rose steadily, finally earning elevation to a seat as a justice of the Nigerian Supreme Court. As a jurist, his verdicts were remarkable for their intellectual versatility, often sprinkled with references drawn from history, religions, philosophy and classical literature.
The dexterity and depth of this judgments inspired former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammed Bello, to describe him as Cicero, the classical orator. After his retirement from the Supreme Court in 1989, Justice Oputa maintained a public profile.
He headed a panel instituted by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to investigate human rights abuses in Nigeria from 1979 to 1999. The panel, known as the Oputa Panel, featured many high-profile revelations of assassinations, tortures and other human rights abuses, but the panel’s report was cast aside by the Obasanjo presidency.
In his last few years, Justice Oputa divided his time between Abuja and his country home in Oguta. He is survived by a wife, Mrs. C. Oputa, and several children and grandchildren, among them his son, Charles Oputa, an eccentric entertainer. The family source stated that the family was yet to decide on funeral arrangements.
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