Epiphany Azinge (SAN): A worthy fellow
With an insatiable quest for knowledge, and ever probing and questioning the law, he proceeded to the University of London for his Master’s degree studies in 1983, specializing in comparative constitutional law and shipping law. He graduated with a distinction. Azinge again, proceeded to the highest academic qualification at the London School of Economics, and staying true to his academic dexterity, he delivered a genius Ph.D thesis on Electoral Laws in Nigeria.
His thirst for the academia began as a lecturer at the University of Benin, where he taught over eight courses and supervised several projects including PhD thesis. He lectured at the University of Abuja, where he introduced the information technology law in Nigeria in 1996. He also lectured at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, and was an external examiner of Ph.D dissertations at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, the University of Jos in 2006 and the University of Kwazulu, Natal Durban in 2008.
He served as the Director of Research and Studies at the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies before his elevation as the Director General, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies from 2009 to 2014. He continued his teaching career briefly at the Baze University and later served at the US State Department as part of the International Visitors Leadership programme on Judicial Independence and Human Rights.
He currently holds an elected position of the Commonwealth Arbitral Tribunal sitting in London, where he represents Nigeria and Africa as a whole. He is a member of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee and the principal partner, Azinge and Azinge. Flowing from the above, there is no doubt that he is a legal scholar of high cranial capacity.
This versatile genius is further illuminated by his interest and excellence at almost every branch of law. His contribution to law surpasses those of narrowly specialized lawyers. He is a distinguished scholar, a legal luminary of national and international repute and easily, a leading authority in Constitutional and Electoral Law.
This was well shown by his stewardship as the Director General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies from 2009 to 2014, where he pursued vigorously with enormous strides and mastermind innovations, the mission of the institute to make it “world class” and he naturally came up with the motto “Knowledge that makes the difference.”
As the past Director General of the Institute, his dexterity were exemplified by his achievements. Under his administration, Prof Epiphany Azinge made countless innovations. He introduced the Ph.D and Postgraduate programme in Legislative Drafting at the Institute in 2009 to fill the knowledge gap and to seek to redress the shortage of skilled and motivated drafters in the country. It is worthy of mention that during his tenure, he graduated 21 LL.M Students; six Postgraduate diplomas and two Ph.D students.
Similarly, to drive research and training, he also provided excellent research centers named after prominent Nigerians who demonstrated interest and commitment in the subject areas, including Mohammed Lawal Uwais Center for Judicial Integrity Assessment; Gani Fawehinmi Centre for Human Rights; George Etomi Center for Strategic Investment and Corporate Governance; Wale Olanikpekun Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution and Corporate Affairs Commission Centre for Regulation of Corporate Power, amongst others.
Prof Azinge was also very passionate about immortalizing great scholars of our time.
In the first year of his tenure, he named structures within the institute after great personalities such as Akinola Aguda Lecture theatre – named after Dr. Akinola Aguda, the first Director General of the Institute; Ajo Ajomo Auditorium – named after the second Director General of the Institute; Taslim Elias Memorial Library – named after His Excellency, Judge Taslim Oluwole Elias; Michael Agbamuche Lecture theatre – named after the former Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Michael Agbamuche.
Similarly, in order to take research to another level, he instituted a number of professorial chairs designed to open up new frontiers and vistas for research findings.
He inaugurated nine professorial chairs after great scholars, including S.M.A Belgore Professorial Chair of Law and Development, Gani Fawehimi Distinguished Professorial Chair on Human Rights, Taslim Elias Professorial Chair on International Law, Nabo Graham Douglas Professorial Chair on African Comparative Law, Akinola Aguda Professorial Chair, Ademola Edu Professorial Chair, Ben Nwabueze Professorial Chair, Chief Chike Chigbue Professorial Chair and Jadesola Akande Professorial Chair.
His publications in their quality and content and even quantity attest to a continuously active legal mind.
Throughout his administration, he published a total of 70 publications comprising journals, books and monograms, and also introduced some ground-breaking research projects relevant to MDAs, the judiciary, legislature and the Federal and State Government in general.
Worthy of mention are the Nigeria’s Judicial Performance Evaluation (Vol 1-7); Unification of Penal and Criminal Law; Annotation of Treaties in Force; NIALS Laws of Nigeria (Annotated); The Supreme Court of Nigeria 1990 – 2012; Review of Yobe State Laws and the Handbook on Rules of Engagement for the Nigerian Military.
He pioneered field research in Traditional Administration of Justice in Nigeria and the Restatement of Customary Law, amongst others. In addition, he introduced 13 highly specialized journals.
In order to sustain the tempo for continuous legal education, he introduced the Specialized Judicial Track Training Programme, specialized training course for judges of the customary courts; the African Moot Court Trial, roundtables that cantered on national and international discourse as well as ground-breaking lecture series, including the New Frontiers Lecture, Diasporas Scholars Lecture, State of the Legal Profession Lecture, Chike Chigbue Memorial lecture, Jadesola Akande Memorial Lecture, Akinola Aguda Memorial Lecture, Felix Okoye Memorial Lecture, Gani Fawehinmi Distinguished Professor of Law Lecture, Inaugural Lecture Series and the Valedictory Lecture.
In addition to these, he successfully organized the Centenary Law Summit in 2013 to celebrate a century of constitutional evolution and legal development in Nigeria, which was an opportunity to take stock of how well Nigeria has utilized law as an instrument of social change in the last 100 years.
Also, in collaboration with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), he organized the Hon. Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais Public Service Award, which encourages work and reward, excellence, national progress, patriotic commitment and selfless discipline.
He also organized the NIALS Festival of Legal Scholarship, which fostered a gathering for diverse intellectually curious people to learn, listen and debate.
The Festival was unique in its dedication to dialogue and exchange and in its commitment to bringing ideas to the public at large.
He organized the Stakeholders Summit and he faithfully continued the tradition of conferring the institutes prestigious Fellowship on a select few of Nigeria’s leading legal scholars and jurists, who have demonstrated outstanding qualities and excellence in scholarship, practice and in the legal profession in general.
He conferred a total of 26 fellowships throughout his tenure. However, one of the most ground-breaking achievements was his establishment of the NIALS Hall of Fame for the purpose of honouring individuals that made monumental contributions in the field of law.
In 2010, the late Justice P.N Bhagwati of India was the first inductee of its Hall of Fame, for his role in recognizing the justiciability of Economic and Social Rights.
To strengthen capacity within the Institute, Azinge strategically collaborated with other institutions such as the Chariton Resources LLC, Texas, U.S.A; China Law Society, Beijing; The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS); Heinrich Boll Foundation, Nigeria; Justice for All; Indian High Commission; Business Recovery and Insolvency Practitioners Association of Nigeria. Others are, Ford Foundation; Creative Common (CC) Nigeria; University of Cape Town and Osgoode University.
In furtherance of his desire for capacity building, he has extensively granted full scholarships for higher degrees both locally and internationally, sponsored staff to conferences and training both home and abroad.
Also, as a way of encouraging hard work and diligence, he deemed it fit to present awards to deserving members of staff who have proven themselves in their various departments. This he faithfully carried out on monthly basis and also as an end of year reward.
In 2014, he launched the online pro bono clinic which was fully committed to the implementation and development of a law clinic as an integral part of the Institute. He also established the e-learning portal to create an accessible, user friendly web environment to support e-learning and the ease of delivery of course materials for the Postgraduate school.
He secured the approval of the Federal Government to establish six regional offices of NIALS to further ensure the application of the research results in the interest of the nation. The offices were located in each of the six geo-political zones of Nigeria (Asaba, Maiduguri, Kano, Enugu and Makurdi).
Prof Epiphany Azinge’s ability is further demonstrated not only by the academic degrees which he obtained but also by several awards which he has achieved over the years such as the special commendation for an excellent dissertation for award of PhD, Best Student in Law of Evidence, International Law and Jurisprudence; Best Youth Corps member in 1980. He was admitted into the Hall of Fame of the Human Rights Writers Association.
Some of the awards credited to him include the Award of Excellence by St. Patrick College, Asaba, Old Boys in 2010; Taslim Elias Gold Medal of Excellence Award; NALT 2010, Kwame Nkrumah Leadership Award 2014, Officer of the Order of the Niger 2014; Nominated by the US State Department as part of International Visitors Leadership programme on Judicial Independence and Human Rights, 2016 and listed in Who is Who in Africa and Who is Who in Nigeria 2018, amongst others.
In addition to his prestigious awards, he is also a humanitarian as the founder and sponsor of Sojourners Medicare Foundation, which provides ambulance services; founder and chairman, Epiphany Azinge Foundation, which holds its annual lecture series and he is passionately pursuing the establishment of a private university in Asaba, Delta State. The foundation has also awarded scholarships to indigent citizens from all parts of Nigeria.
He is the National President, St. Patrick’s College Old Boys Association 2018, and the President General, Asaba Development Union Worldwide 2018, and it also worthy of mention that Prof. Azinge engages in pro bono advocacy on “culture of work ethics” with parastatals.
Outside his normal practice of the academia, he has demonstrated a very social and enviable side to him; some of his hobbies include dancing, singing and meeting people. During his tenure at the institute, he introduced and started his very own choral and cultural dance troupe.
Interestingly, he is also a composer, as he composed the Institutes Anthem. I recall our end of year parties, where Professor Azinge brought all staff together to celebrate, wine and dine to our hearts’ content.
This was significant because this is where he rewarded staff for all their hard work with prizes that have lasting memories. I for one have been a recipient as the best staff of the year 2012 and 2014, respectively.
Prof. Azinge was always very thoughtful as it was also his tradition to ensure that every staff of the Institute is given a customized birthday card and a cake on their birthdays.
Prof. Epiphany Azinge is an example of thoroughness, complete dedication to duty and above all, has demonstrated the highest standard of integrity.
His mental power and fertility is a sheer quality of his personality and intellectual drive that has impressed those who come in contact with him.
No wonder this ‘great thinker’ was bestowed by the Asagba of Asaba, Obi (Prof) Chike Edozien, the chieftaincy title, ‘Okailolo of Asaba’ along with his beautiful wife Dr. (Mrs) Valerie Azinge, the ‘Odoziaku of Asaba’ in 2011, thus elevating him to the prestigious council of the Olinzele Asaba.
He is also very blessed with a family that is a shining example of moral rectitude, he is blessed with four children – three females and a male who have emulated his great strides.
Today, we celebrate this five-star legal scholar as he is admitted into the fellowship of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.
Together, we acclaim that he is a worthy fellow indeed. Congratulations Prof. Epiphany Azinge, the Okilolo of Asaba.
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