Tribute To Former CJN: Late Idris Legbo Kutigi
“Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi was a great man, a wonderful intellect who stood out for his courage and patriotism. Justice Kutigi was indeed one of the greatest men on earth. A great orator, he was an extraordinary judge and exemplary father to all. He never used his position for an unholy cause. This is a tribute to a Jurist who was loved and respected because he used his matchless power for the good of man.”
May his soul rest in Peace… Aamiin!
Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi was born in December of 1939 at Kutigi town in Niger State. He started his educational career at Kutigi Elementary School, from 1946 to 1951. From there, he proceeded to the Niger Middle School, Bida 1952 to 1953. Between 1954 and 1959, he was at the Niger Provincial Secondary School Bida, after which he proceeded to the Famous Government College (now Barewa College), Zaria where he studied from 1960 to 1961.
Between 1962 and 1963, he was at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, after which he studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, between 1963 and 1964. He also attended the Inns of Court School of Law, London, between 1963 and 1965, and the Gibson and Weldon College of Law between 1964 and 1965. He was called to the English Bar at the Lincoln’s Inn, London, on 20th July 1965. He attended the Nigerian Law School between 1965 and 1966 and was called to the Nigerian Bar on 22nd July, 1966.
As a Lawyer, KUTIGI acquired vast experience in the Ministry of Justice. He served at various time as Pupil State Counsel from July 1966 to July 1968; State Counsel, North Western State, July 1968 to July 1970; State Counsel Grade 1, July 1970 to July 1971; Senior State Counsel Grade 1, July 1971 to July 1972; Principal State Counsel, July 1973 to July 1974; Deputy Solicitor General July 1974 to July 1975; Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, April 1975 to October 1975.
Between October, 1975 and March 1976, he served as the Chief Registrar, High Court of Justice, North Western States, Sokoto. Later he became the Solicitor General and Permanent Secretary, Niger State, between April, 1976 and December, 1977. Within that same period, he also served as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Niger State. In the course of his career in the civil service, he attended the Commonwealth and Overseas Legal Officers Course in the United Kingdom between 1970 and 1971. He also served as a member of the North Western States Local Government Reforms Committee between 1969 and 1970.
The judicial career of Kutigi began with his appointment as a High Court Judge in 1976. He served in that capacity until October 1980, when he was elevated to the Court of Appeal bench. In February 1992, he rose to the pinnacle of the judiciary in Nigeria when he was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court.
At the Supreme Court, Kutigi was involved in many landmark judgments. In particular, he delivered the leading judgments of the Supreme Court in the cases of A. G. Abia State Vs. A. G. Federation (2002) 6 NWLR (Pt. 763) 264, wherein the Supreme Court resolved in favour of the Houses of Assembly of the States as against the National Assembly, the dispute between the Federal Government on the elections into Local Government Councils. That decision led to the eventual repeal of the Electoral Act 2001.
Before that landmark decision of constitutional significance, Kutigi had also delivered the leading judgment of the Supreme Court in N.T.C. Ltd Vs. Agunanne (1995) 5 NWLR (Pt. 397) 541, where the Supreme Court held that the doctrine of “common employment” as a defence in an action in negligence under the common law was no longer applicable in Northern Nigeria, by reason of the fact that the Law Reforms Personal Injuries Act, 1948 of England had abolished the doctrine long before the High Court Law of Northern Nigeria, 1955, which by its reception clause in Section 28 adopted the common law, the doctrines of equity, and statues of general application which were in force in England on the 1st day of January, 1900.
Where Justice Kutigi disagree on any issue of law with his brother Justices of the Supreme Court he does so courageously as he did in the cases of Chima Vs. Ude (1996) 7 NWLR (Pt. 461) 379 and Okike Vs. L.P.D.C. (2005) 15 NWLR (Pt. 949) 471.
Between 13th February, 2006 when the profile of Honourable Justice Kutigi was published in the Nigerian Weekly Law Reports and Thursday, 18th January, 2007 when he was appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria, although he was sworn-in as the substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria on Tuesday, 30th January 2007, he had cause to deliver more leading judgments of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in such landmark cases as: Plateau State Government Vs. Attorney General of the Federation (2006) 3 NWLR (Pt. 967) 346 wherein the Supreme Court struck out the suit challenging the declaration of State of Emergency in Plateau State on 18th May, 2004 on the ground that there was no valid authority to institute the action; and Umanah Vs. Attah (2006) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1009) 563 wherein the Supreme Court held that it did not have jurisdiction over election matters in respect of the office of a Governor, even though the claim involved allegation of fraud allegedly committed by members of the Election Tribunal that decided the election petition earlier filed by the appellant.
On the other hand, His Lordship dissented in the case of Attorney General of Abia State Vs. Attorney General of the Federation (2006) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1005) 365 wherein, by the majority decision of the Supreme Court, it was held that the National Assembly lacked the competence to enact law (the Monitoring of Revenue to Local Governments Act, 2005) for monitoring of allocation of fund to Local Government by State Governments and Dada Vs. Dosunmu (2006) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1010) 134 where he presided and dissented on the issue of the identity of the parcel of land in dispute.
Upon His Lordship becoming the Chief Justice of Nigeria, many more landmark cases, mostly involving constitutional issues, have been decided by the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Some of the cases include: A. G. Kano State Vs. A. G. Federation (2007) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1029) 164 where the Supreme Court held that it did not have original jurisdiction with respect to a criminal matter: A. G. Abia State Vs. A. G. Federation (2007) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1029) 200 where it was held that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), as an agency of the Federal Government, cannot be sued by an original action before the Supreme Court; Abubakar Vs. A. G. Federation (2007) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1031) 626, which His Lordship read the leading judgment, it was held that the reference of constitutional issue in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, because there was no proceeding before the Court of Appeal, and the reference was struck out.
In Inkoju Vs. Adeleke (2007) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1025) 427, the Supreme Court gave its reasons for its earlier decision setting aside the impeachment of Senator Rashidi Ladoja as Governor of Oyo State. Also in Dapianlong Vs. Dariye (2007) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1036) 332, it was held that the impeachment of Governor Joshua Dariye was invalid, and was accordingly set aside by the Supreme Court.
Other notable constitutional cases decided by the Supreme Court under Kutigi’s tenure include Lufadeju Vs. Johnson (2007) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1037) 535, where it was held that remand proceedings in Magistrates’ Court are constitutional. While in A. G. Federation Vs. Abubakar (2007) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1041) 1, it held that Vice President Atiku Abubakar did not vacate office by reason of his defection to another political party. There is also the case of Global Excellence Vs. Duke (2007) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1059) 22, where the Court settled the issue that immunity from suit conferred by Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution does not preclude a beneficiary of the provision from instituting an action.
There are other important cases involving election matters such as Ugwu Vs. Ararume (2007) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1048) 367, where the Court held that a political party cannot substitute its candidate within 60 days to an election, except for cogent and verifiable reasons under Section 34(2) of the Electoral Act, 2006.
Similarly, in Amaechi Vs. INEC (No. 3) (2007) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1065) 105, the Supreme Court applied its earlier decision in Ugwu Vs. Ararume (supra), and went further to order the incumbent Governor to vacate his seat and that the appellant be sworn in as Governor immediately. While in Action Congress Vs. INEC (2007) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1048) 222, the Court held that INEC cannot disqualify a candidate for an election either under Section 137(1) (i) of the 1999 Constitution or Section 32 of the Electoral Act, 2006.
Following the same trend, in Obi Vs. INEC (2007) 11 NWLR (Pt. 1046) 565, the Supreme Court held that the term of office of a Governor is four years certain and begins to run from the date the occupant is sworn in. But in Ladoja Vs. INEC (2007) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1047) 119, the Court held that it could not extend the term of office of a Governor to compensate for period of unlawful impeachment. While in A.G. Anambra State Vs. A. G. Federation (2007) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1047) 4, it was held that a State Government has no locus standi to sue in respect of personal right of the occupant of the office of a Governor.
A widely travelled man, he was awarded the prestigious National Honors of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) in 2001. In December 2008, he was listed for the award of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON). He was a past Chairman of the Body of Benchers and was a Life Bencher. He was also a Member of the World Jurists Association and of the Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges Association.
Idris Legbo Kutigi, Former C.J.N. G.C.O.N was happily married with 18 children. Two of the male children are Judges of Superior Courts of records in Nigeria, namely Honourable Justice M. B. Idris of the Court Of Appeal, Abuja Division and Honourable Justice A. I. Kutigi of the F. C. T. High Court, Abuja. He also had as his son, Honourable Kutigi, a former member of the House of Representatives, Abuja.
All his children are educated and married and he had more than 40 grandchildren.
Kutigi describes himself as a farmer’s son who prefers to live life as an ordinary man.
Kutigi says in their time, camera was only available in Bida and that is why he does not have early photographs as he was living in Kutigi village in Niger State.
Kutigi advice hard work, patience and perseverance for young people. In his very words he says “do not be in a hurry”.
The Former Chief Justice of Nigeria says the work of Chief Justice of Nigeria is mainly administrative and very tasking. The Chief Justice of Nigeria is the Chairman of National Judicial Council, the Chairman of Federal Judicial Service Commission and the Chairman of National Judicial Institute etc.
Hon. Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, CJN saw Lord Denning as his role model. Lord Denning was of the Lincoln’s Inn and the Chief Justice of Nigeria was also of Lincolns Inn. Kutigi said he was inspired by the dissenting judgments of Lord Denning at the Court of Appeal which was always upheld at the House of Lords. The Late Former Chief Justice of Nigeria recalls with excitement the way Lord Denning preferred to move down from the House of Lords back to the Court of Appeal in order to enjoy the freedom of giving dissenting judgments so that the House of Lords can make pronouncements on them. It is a historical fact that most of the dissenting judgments of Lord Denning at the Court of Appeal were upheld at the House of Lords and they proved the basis of so many landmark judgments in our legal literature in the Common wealth law jurisprudence.
A thorough bred public servant and astute Judge, his professional life had revolved around service to the Nation through the law. Idris Legbo Kutigi served in all the professional strata of the Ministry of Justice and adjudicated at the following superior courts of records in Nigeria, namely the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Upon his retirement, Kutigi was the Chairman of the National Constitutional Conference convoked by the Administration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. The Kutigi Report will provide an answer to the vexed question of the restructuring of Nigeria.
The Great Jurist died on Sunday, 21st October, 2018 at a London Hospital after a brief illness.
Adieu, Father of Judicial Activism