Transition of an incorruptible Judge
Justice Pius Olayiwola Aderemi, who died on 18th June 2018, just a few weeks to his 79th birthday, was an excellent example of commitment to one’s calling, hard work, dedication and perseverance. Incontestably an incorruptible Judge, Justice Aderemi contributed immensely to the development of the Judiciary at the levels of the bar and bench in Nigeria and beyond.
Educated at Ibadan Grammar School where he was taught Latin and English by the late Chief Bola Ige, former Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Pius Aderemi read Law as one of the pioneer students of the University of Lagos where he enrolled in 1962.
After his graduation in 1965 he proceeded to the Nigerian Law School and was called to the Bar in 1966. Thereafter he began his private practice and in the process served as Treasurer, later Vice-Chairman and Chairman of the Ibadan Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association. He was equally active at the national level where he was a member of the National Executive of the Nigerian Bar Association for a decade.
After twenty years of private practice, he was made a Judge of the High Court of Oyo State where he served with integrity at the judicial divisions of Ibadan, Ogbomoso, Eruwa and Oyo. He was later appointed to the position of Justice of the Court of Appeal, serving at the Divisions of Lagos, Port Harcourt and Benin. His commitment and transparency continued to draw the attention of the judicial authorities, who appointed him in 2007 as Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (JSC).
Always eager to develop himself professionally, Justice Aderemi invested immensely in continuing education, involving the collection of relevant literature and attending seminars and conferences locally and internationally including the Commonwealth Law Conference in Scotland, Hong Kong and Nigeria, the Conference of the World Peace through Law in Brazil, and West Germany and the Maritime Law Conference in South Africa.
As a practicing lawyer, he remained “a stickler for professional etiquette” and was never known to be part of shady deals nor support any conduct that would violate the tradition of the Bar. He remained faithful to the duty of the lawyer, “to state his client’s case as strongly as he can, without fear, but not with dishonesty; without a distortion of the facts, but with emphasis on the facts favourable to his clients; with respect and courtesy to the court, but not with cringing subservience or a submerging of his client’s interest; with fairness to the opposing side, but not with a compromise of his own position; with decorum, yet not without effectiveness”.
As a judge, Justice Aderemi was known for many landmark judgments and he handled over 700 cases in his lifetime. He consistently submitted that Judges should not be swayed by social or political considerations but be guided by the dictates of the Law. He once argued that the task of a judge must not be confused with the duty of the legislator and that even if defects are detected in laws passed, it remains the responsibility of the legislator to correct such defect, and that on no condition must the judge compound his own problems by deciding what the law should be. As he forcefully contended, “in my humble view, the judge is far better employed if he puts himself to the much simpler task of deciding what the law is”.
Justice Aderemi was consistently guided by his conviction that law is just a means to an end and that the end itself is justice. In the determination of cases at all the levels, both lower and appellate, Justice Aderemi was eager to ensure that the duty of the courts is to protect the rights of the citizens. This point was eloquently made in his judgment in the case of the acquisition of a plot of land, which belonged to a Permanent Secretary in the Rivers State Government.
The Permanent Secretary had been granted a Building Lease of a plot of land in 1975 but the same plot was granted to General Sani Abacha as a private citizen two years later and a Certificate of Occupancy granted to the General. Abacha erected a massive building on the land and the Building Lease of the Permanent Secretary was revoked without any notice to him. The Permanent Secretary took a writ of summons against the Military Administrator of Rivers State and the Attorney General of the State. When the case finally reached the Supreme Court Justice Aderemi in his lead judgment rose to the defence of the Permanent Secretary, stating that “it will be most unconscionable to allow the provision of Statute Limitation to apply in a situation such as this where the allottee was fraudulently denied the service of notice of revocation and more importantly where his application for building approval was never attended to”.
He observed: “it is those who denied him all these that now want to reap the fruits of their fraudulent misdeeds”. And the judgment went in favour of the Permanent Secretary.
Justice Aderemi was influenced by the virtues, which he acquired in the educational institutions which he attended, the home of his Agbaje roots at Ibadan and the demands of his faith as Christian of the Catholic denomination. He firmly believed that one must be conscious of where one would spend Eternity and that one should spend quality time to serve humanity and do God’s will. To this end he was active in the Church holding key positions of service to the poor and needy and building a healthy relationship with the Catholic priests, and ending in being made a Papal Knight of St Gregory by the Catholic Church.
Justice Aderemi, who was born on 22 July 1939 on the eve of the outbreak of the Second World War, lived a professionally productive life during which he was made a Commander of the Order of the Niger, CON. He was devoted to his wife who died a decade earlier than himself and he spent quality time raising the children, many of whom have become successful legal practitioners. He left a legacy that he could not be bought and he did not consider material acquisition desirable in the furtherance of his work. Living a simple life, he remained throughout his life in the humble bungalow, which he built while in private practice. His life teaches lessons required at this moment in the nation’s development.
Michael Omolewa is Emeritus Professor at the University of Ibadan and Babcock University.