By Amb Iyorwuese Hagher
Justice Katsina Alu, the 11th Chief Justice of Nigeria is no more! He left the earth yesterday Wednesday morning and returned to eternity. Even as his family and friends mourn his departure, he stands before his maker to give an account of himself. Of this final judgment before his God, Justice Alu had all along been all too keenly aware; as it ordered his life as a foremost jurist. Every judgment he wrote and gave here on earth, and even every word he uttered (he was a man of very few words) were uttered on the belief that he would also be judged by the Highest Court of Heaven. I believe he now rests from all strife and is indeed judged as innocent to receive the crown of glory he so labored for.
Justice Katsina Alu will be remembered as a rare gentleman and an uncommon jurist. This immense icon of the Nigerian Judiciary and foremost defender of Nigeria’s democracy will forever be remembered in the annals of our national history as the defender of democracy, the pillar of the rule of law, the sacred defender of the Nigerian Constitution and due process, and an excellent jurist with the best evidence based policy; avidly cultivated by a career of listening and analyzing.
Lavishly handsome and elegant, jovial, sartorial, compassionate and firm His Lordship Justice Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu CON, GCON, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, was a man of few words and few passions. He was passionate about his God, his country his profession and his family in this order. He was all too self-effacing and literally ran away from people who sought to honor him in or out of service career not from arrogance, nor hubris, but from a deeply imbued humility. He hated to draw attention to himself unduly for acts that he considered were merely an answer to God’s call of duty for humanity.
The 11th Chief Justice of Nigeria was sworn as Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on 25th November 1998 and Chief Justice of Nigeria on December 30, 2009. He retired from this exalted position on August 26, 2011. No other Nigerian jurist has firmly put footprints in the sands of Nigeria’s emerging democracy as Justice Katsina-Alu. When the nations democracy was in grave danger and the nation’s Constitution was at risk, it was Justice Katsina-Alu’s inexhaustible wisdom that helped resolve issues. The Nigerian weekly Law reports part 225 page 332 tell us vividly, how he resolved the constitutional thorny issue of the pre-conditions for the removal of the Governor of a state under section188 of the 1999 constitution. His pronouncements ended the reckless impeachments of state governors by an overbearing and imperial presidency.
During the Atiku-Obasanjo feud, Justice Alu contributed to incisively interpret the constitution in the celebrated land mark case of Attorney General of the Federation verses Atiku Abubakar. The supreme court upheld that the President of the country automatically vacates the office by resignation from the political party on whose platform he/she was elected. This judgment brought a truce in Aso rock as the feuding leaders came together and their party got re-elected.
Justice Alu’s contribution to democracy in landmark cases on whether the tenure of a state governor can be extended due to impeachment or whether a governorship election petition should end at the court of appeal or rise from there to the supreme court and the establishment of the principle that where time is of the essence the court will not grant any stay of proceedings, cannot be forgotten. The Law reports diligently give honour to this active learned mind and his courageous stands against overbearing executive power in defense of the independence of the judiciary.
Other land mark cases that the nations democracy hangs on and have advanced jurisprudence in Nigeria are Obi verses INEC 2007 in which the Supreme Court once again interpreted the Constitution to establish a precedent on when the tenure of office of a governor begins to run. It was inconceivable before the time of Alu’s sojourn at the Supreme Court to imagine that different states could have their elections at different timelines from the nation’s general elections. Even more inconceivable was it possible for the judiciary to stand up and uphold the constitution against imperial presidential powers and the biggest party in Africa when Justice Alu and the supreme court ruled in favour of Amechi in Amechi and INEC that political parties had limited powers in nomination of candidates for governorship within a time frame. Amechi was sworn in Governor because Alu exerted judicial authority and asserted the decisional independence of the judiciary from politics of the majority party and resisted pressure to be influenced in all parameters.
The Law reports of the Supreme Court between 1999 and 2011 are full of courageous land-mark decisions that upheld justice over political and material might. These decisions range from emphasis on unchallenged evidence, legal principles and distribution of an estate of interstate deceased person to political cases. The historical memory of the nation should always remember that Justice Alu was a courageous jurist of uncommon pedigree. Katsina-Alu was too aware of the duty of the Nigerian judiciary not to impede social justice and social transformation but lead the change process and be the true engine of societal transformation.
THE MAKING OF JUSTICE KATSINA ALU
A cursory look at the picture of Justice Alu among other judges wearing their robes, he is hardly distinguishable. There is the secret that the judges’ robes hide. Individuality is inadmissible in the court-room! Yet it is an inescapable fact that each judge is an individual and all lawyers and judges are products of their backgrounds. Justice Katsina-Alu is no exception. He was born on august 28 1941 in Tivland and acquired the legendary courage of the Tiv and their indomitable spirit of freedom. He was bred and weaned by the very stringent Catholic Doctrine in his early education at St Anne’s Primary School Tarungwa and St. Patricts Primary School Taraku, before he went to Mount St. Michaels Secondary School Aliede. All in Benue State. It was under the Catholic upbringing that Aloysius Iyorgyer developed his strong personal morality and values as well as his personality. He acquired from these institutions, fairness, patience, humility, industry, and an analytical mind. Because of his height, athletic frame and love for discipline he enrolled in the Nigerian Armed forces at the same time as Nigeria’s President Buhari. But his love of freedom, independence, and justice did not allow him to accept his commission as a military officer. His destiny was elsewhere in the campuses of the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, the Inns of Court School of Law, and the Gibson Weldon College of Law, University of London. He chose to pursue a legal profession where he hoped to establish a just order in society where all the people share a common humanity and stood before the law as equals as created by God.
Katsina-Alu began his legal career in July 1968 as a private lawyer in Lagos, then he became a Legal officer with the Government and climbed up steadily to become the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Benue State in 1978-79. He became a judge of the Benue State High Court in 1980, and in 1985 was promoted to the Court of Appeal. He served in different places as judge of Court of Appeal and interacted with a diversity of Nigerians and watched Nigerian society slowly decay as breakdown of justice, law and order and resentment of diversity grew.
It was at the full maturity of the man Katsina-Alu, fully armed with experience in his long legal career, with a sound knowledge of the law and practice of courts that he was promoted to the Supreme Court first as judge and then as the Chief Justice of the Federation.
THE MEASURE OF THE MAN
We thank God almighty for Justice Katsina-Alu. God created him for his times. He was a great man. He was incorrigible and forthright. He was rigid and stubborn for justice. The texture and depth of character that defined him is the fabric of greatness of people who change destinies of nations and they become greater for choosing right over wrong. This great jurist was a role model in humility, elocution, and sartorial elegance and more! My Lordship Justice Katsina Alu dedicated his entire life to pursue justice for all without fear or favour. He was a huge reservoir of wisdom and common sense. Apart from a deep knowledge of the principles and practice of law, he had high premium on integrity. He had a keen understanding of people. He lived among the highest but also among the poorest of the poor. He helped many young people to get education and to excel in their careers. His actions of benevolence, peace-building, and community organizing were legendary. These actions spoke louder than words; perhaps this is why he was a man of very few words both in his private and public life. He was a decent man who was very controlled with his emotions and was never known to be ruffled by high attainments nor disappointments in life.
He won the respect of all his colleagues not only because of his eloquent elocution and lucid learned and persuasive judgments, but also by treating his colleagues with deep respect and kindness and understanding even whenever disagreements rose on the legal principles. He was never a rant and rave judge. He was patient and never discourteous while maintaining order and dignity in all court proceedings. In his career he worked long hours in the evenings after work and at weekends to produce minimum delay in court.
Beneath the robes, justice Alu was a warm and charming personality. His engaging humor was infectious. Alu was a deeply committed family man and cared for his children and could go to great lengths of discipline and love to help them be who they wanted to become. His many children are successful in their careers and provided him company along with his grandchildren in his last few years when his health began to fail him. Alu made his own fun-times. He was a formidable table tennis player and, when he was not having fun reading weekly law reports, he played table tennis and watched fast action films.
JUSTICE ALU’S FAllIBILITY.
Like all human beings Justice Alu was not perfect. He was personally acutely aware of his fallibility. He constantly warred between his personal morality and the need to balance justice with mercy in his use of his discretional power as judge. As a human being therefore he was fallible in circumstantial mistakes. He had a higher moral order to which he answered all his actions on the bench. He was aware of Gods injunctions to judges in Leviticus19: 15 that
“ You shall not do injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but judge fairly.”
And was worried in each judgment delivered if it was not just in Gods eyes and he could go to hell. Matt. 7 : 1
“ For the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and the measure you use it will be measured to you.”
As a fallible man Katsina -Alu was in the eye of the storm at the very end of his tenure in what has become known as the Katsina- Alu/ Salami saga. This very private man became the subject of very vicious press attacks. He did not reply his attackers. He knew that what he stood for by asserting the supremacy of the Supreme Court as the pillar of the entire justice system would be contested by the larger society that wanted to penetrate the judiciary and rob it of decisional independence. In trying to assert the supremacy of the Supreme Court he stepped on powerful toes. His belief that the duties of the lower courts were to obey the upper courts and the Appeal court was to obey the Supreme Court was trenchantly challenged. He rode the storm, but regrettably had hurt the very institution he was dying to protect from partisanship even though he was vindicated as he retired at the end of his tenure as the 11thChief Justice of the Federation.
In retirement, Justice Alu slept peacefully every night. He was not overburdened by the guilt of living with errors of wrong judgments. Everyday the judges of the land refer to his landmark cases, which reverberate in the justice courts of the land and beyond. He served humanity with commitment, integrity and with great distinction.
The world has lost a great man and Nigeria has indeed lost a formidable icon, am exceptional brilliant mind, a God fearing jurist and a courageous fighter for justice and truth. Adieu My Lord, my mentor, my leader, my friend my confidant and my benefactor. Great Jurists never die. They pass judgments and live in law statues and our grateful minds forever.
Hagher, Nigeria’s Former Envoy to Mexico, Canada is Presidential Aspirant of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP)