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CJN, lawyers, Ijaw mourn eminent jurist, Niki Tobi

By Joseph Onyekwere, Bertram Nwannekanma, Godwin Dunia and Oludare Richards, Abuja
21 June 2016   |   1:29 am
Encomiums yesterday began pouring in for legal luminary and former Supreme Court Justice, Niki Tobi who died over the weekend at the National Hospital, Abuja aged 76.
Justice Mahmud Mohammed

Justice Mahmud Mohammed

Encomiums yesterday began pouring in for legal luminary and former Supreme Court Justice, Niki Tobi who died over the weekend at the National Hospital, Abuja aged 76. Chief Justice Mahmud Mohammed expressed shock as did his Ijaw ethnic nationality, which has been “thrown into grief.”

The CJN, in a statement issued yesterday, expressed shock but also gratitude to God on Tobi’s passing on. On behalf of himself, the Justices, staff members of the Supreme Court and the entire Judiciary of the country, he commiserated with the immediate family, relations as well as friends and associates of the respected deceased jurist.

The CJN said: “The deceased Justice indelibly contributed to the development of jurisprudence in Nigeria and will be greatly remembered for his assiduousness in reviewing the draft 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria under the Military Administration of General Abdulsalam Abubakar.

“His Lordship urges members of the deceased’s family to be comforted by the knowledge that the departed jurist served his country with commitment, dedication ‎and honesty.

“The CJN‎ prays that Almighty God will receive his soul and grant him eternal rest,” he added.Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) spokesman, Eric Omare described Tobi as a world class judge and one of Nigeria’s best: “He was a very knowledgeable judge with flair for property law. The law reports are replete with several of his landmark judgments.

“The legal community and Nigerians in general would miss his judicial erudition.“Justice Tobi would forever be remembered for the critical roles he played in the evolution of constitutional democracy in Nigeria.”

Also, Lagos-based lawyer and National President of the Igbo Think Tank, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, described the late jurist as “a judge in word and deed who bestrode the academic and judicial arms of law like a colossus.”

According to him, Tobi gave the law faculty a gigantic status in the University of Maiduguri.“As a Justice of the Supreme Court, the law reports will guarantee him immortality. Fare thee well, great jurist,” he added.Renowned constitutional lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ahamba, who said he received the news of Tobi‘s death with sadness could only add :“May his soul rest in peace”.

Similarly, Professor Fabian Ajogwu (SAN), said: “We have lost a great jurist, a professor of law and outstanding intellectual.“My Lord Justice Niki Tobi JSC understood clearly the role of the apex court as a policy court and fountain of justice for the society. He was a tolerant man, but he knew when to be intolerant and of what. He was intolerant of anything that was not excellent, and of people who were not honorable. He has a very critical sense by which he knew could dispense justice without the rigidities that the technical approach to that created.

“Although we have lost a great jurist has, we take solace in knowing that Justice Tobi lived an honest and forthright life as a judge – he has moved to the banks of memory. May his soul rest with the Almighty God.”Tobi retired from the Supreme Court on July 14, 2010 and lived the rest of his life in quietude.

He was the chairman of the Constitution Review Committee under the Abdusalami transition regime in 1998. The panel worked on the draft document before the then military government decreed it into law as the 1999 Constitution.

Tobi chaired the Commission of Inquiry into Plateau State Riots of September 2001 before he was promoted Justice of the Supreme Court in 2002 following the retirement of Justice Aldolphus Karibi-Whyte.

In February 2005, former President Olusegun Obasanjo named him the chairman of the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC). Tobi was also the chairman of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal that validated the April 2007 election of Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan.

He is known for his legal eruditeness and wide knowledge of legal principles.He came into the nation’s judicial system with the highest credentials ever paraded by any judicial officer dead or living in Nigeria – a professorial status in law. He simplified judgment writing; made it readable and elaborate for research purposes.

Tobi, Commander of Order of Niger (CON) was born on July 14, 1940 in Esanma, Bomadi Local Council in what is now Delta State.He obtained his law degrees at the University of Lagos between 1966 and 1977 as well as the University of Nigeria Nsukka (1979-83).

Prior to his career on the Bench, he was the Dean of Faculty of Law and Deputy Vice-chancellor, Academic Services, University of Maiduguri from 1982 to 1985.

Karibi-Whyte reportedly invited and encouraged Tobi to leave the academic world for the judiciary and he joined the Bench in 1985 as a Judge of the High Court of Rivers State where he served till 1990.

Tobi was elevated to the Court of Appeal, Lagos in 1990 and served there till 1993. In the same year, he was moved to Enugu Court of Appeal.