29 January 2002

Nigeria: Justice Adolphus Karibi-Whyte: 26 Years of Judicial Activism

Hon. Justice Adolphus Godwin Karibi-Whyte, one of the foremost judicial titans ever to tread Nigerian judicial universe clocks 70 on 29th January, 2002. By virtue of S 291 (i) of 1999 constitution, he therefore retires from the Supreme Court. The Bar, the Bench and the entire oppressed masses all of who have benefited and will continue to benefit from this rare breed of a judge must be made to understand the quintessence of this jurist.

Justice Karibi-Whyte was born on 29th January 1932. He attended Kalabari National College Buguma, Rivers State, 1946 - 1950 and worked as a clerk of court from 1951 - 1957, he was admitted to the University of Hull, England in 1957 where he obtained LL.B Degree, Upper Division in 1960. He was called to the Bar in the Middle Temple a year afterwards, and in September, 1962, obtained LL.M Degree of the University of London, and also Ph.D of University of Lagos in 1970.

Obeying his didactic nature, he lectured for some years at the Faculty of Law of University of Lagos where he taught various courses. In July 1976, he was appointed a judge of the Federal Revenue Court (now Federal High Court) after he had served for several years in the public service of Rivers state. He joined court of Appeal in 1980 and was appointed the justice of Supreme Court in 1984. He retires on January 29. 2002 at the age of 70 having served for 4 years in Federal High Court, 4 Years in Appeal Court and 18 years in Supreme Court.

The judicial life of Hon. Justice Karibi-Whyte is an epic narration of a gifted man who like hurricane, made indelible impact in all the paths he trod. Thomas Hobbes, at pages 146 - 147 of his classical book - Leviathan - (1651), contended that "the quality of a good judge; is an appreciation of scientific method and a mastery of the relevant results of scientific inquiry as well as an informed concern for the social objectives which law serves". Hobbes went further to summarise four qualities of good judges thus: First, right understanding of equity. Second contempt of unnecessary riches. Third, ability to divest himself of fear, anger, hatred, love and compassion. Lastly, patience to hear, diligent attention in hearing, and memory to retain, digest and apply what he had heard.

These Hobbesian qualities are found in Justice Karibi-Whyte. This was why he was able to make a landmark impact during his judicial years, especially at the Supreme Court. Karibi- Whyte, manifested himself as an apostle of Roscoe Pound and Lord Denning, he looks at the law as an instrument of social justice. He believes that law must be more of reformative than punitive. Commenting on the Nigerian Criminal Policy. Justice Karibi-Whyte said in his book Criminal Policy: Traditional and Modern Trends 1986 at p. xiv.

"The law punishing anti-social conduct should not be draconian. Criminal Policy should also be directed towards the rehabilitation of criminals and their integration into the society to which they properly belong".

Channeling a future for criminal policy in Nigeria, Karibi-Whyte adumbrated seriously on prison congestion and its attendant dehumanisation.

The learned law Lord proffered a way out:

"The issue of prison decongestion can be achieved essentially by adopting a new policy towards the sentencing of convicted persons. Imprisonment should only be inflicted as punishment as a last resort. On no circumstances should drug and alcohol addicts be sent to prison. . . " Ibid at p. 125.

The fear of Justice Karibi-Whyte is genuine and tenable in view of the present state of prisons in Nigeria. Karisha Iyer of Indian Supreme Court put it graphically in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration (1978) 4 SCC 494 where he said: "In our world, prisons are still laboratories of torture, warehouses in which human commodities are sadistically kept and where spectrum of inmates range from drift-wood juveniles to heroic dissenters."

The judicial life of Justice Karibi-Whyte was quite spectacular that he is frequently quoted in virtually all aspects of law. Truly, he was comfortable and also at home in all gamut of law. In Tort, Justice Karibi-Whyte put his judicial imprimatur on the hallowed maxim of Ubi jus ibi remedium in the notorious cases of Federal Minister of Internal Affairs v. Shugaba Darman (1982) 3 N.W.L.R. 917 and in Aliu Bello v Att. Gen. Oyo State (1986) 5 N.W.L.R. 828 (pt. 45) In Bello's case Karibi-Whyte insisted on widening the coverage of this maxim. He said:

"I think it is erroneous to assume that the maxim: Ubi jus ibi remedium is only an English Common Law Principle. It is a principle of justice of universal validity couched in Latin and available to all legal system involved in impartial administration of justice.

Shugaba and Bello's case were cases where justice was manifestly slapped. Karibi-Whyte is one of the judges that made sure that justice prevails on the side of the cheated. In Shugaba's case Karibi-Whyte JCA (as he then was) said: inter alia:

"given the temperate political climate constitutional guarantees of individual rights can lend useful support to the position of minorities without arousing communal antagonism."

In Labour Law, Karibi-Whyte made a clear and brilliant distraction between contract of personal service and contracts of service in the case of Olaniyan and Ors. V. University of Lagos (1985) 2 N.W.L.R. 599 (pt. 9). It was a case in which the university sacked six professors without recourse to the rule of law. In Agbanelo v. Union Bank of Nigeria Ltd (2000) 7 N.W.L.R. 534 (pt. 666), he ruled that a corporation is answerable on the ordinary principle of vicarious responsibility."

In Fakuade v. O.A.U.T.HC (1993) 5 NWLR pt. 291 pg 62-63, he stated in a clear manner what constitute an appointment with statutory flavour.

In criminal law Justice Karibi-Whyte is like a duck in the water. In Ijioffer v. State (2001) 9 NWLR pt. 718, he laid down the condition upon which court will resort to circumstantial evidence. In Durowode v. The State (2000) 15 NWLR pt. 691 he analysed what constitutes circumstantial evidence in criminal matter.

On constitutional law he reiterated the sancrosanctity of the right to fair hearing in Awoniyi v. Registered Trustees of AMORC (2000) 10 NWLR pt. 676, while the inviolability of the citizen's right of access to court was maintained in Amadi v. N.N.P.C. (2000) 10 MNLI: pt. 674. The principle of separation of power was judicially considered in Balarabe Musa v. Auta Hamza (1982) 3 NCLR at 125.

In civil case, Karibi-Whyte reiterated the avowed principle of our law that "he who asserts must prove" and also answered the question on whom onus of proof lies in civil case in Anaese v. Anyaso (1993) 5 NWLR pt. 291

By more of fate than design, Justice Karibi-Whyte was always positioned at a vantage point where his judicial resoluteness was always at work. He was involved in epochal cases like Akilu v Fawehinmi (No. 2) NWLR pt. 102 and Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs v. Shugaha Darman (Supra).

In the areas of scholarship, Justice Karibi-Whyte made an imperishable impact. Apart from various lectures he has delivered, he has also written some books, which remain reliable authorities especially in criminal law. Prominent among these are Groundwork of Nigerian Criminal Law (1986), Criminal Policy: Traditional and Modern Trends (1988) and History and Sources of Nigerian Criminal Law. Also. his book The Federal High Court: Law and Practice (1984) hitherto remain a core guide to both the students of 1aw and legal practitioners in Nigeria.

The contributions of Justice Karibi-Whyte to the sacred course of justice are so vast and expanse that constraint of space may not allow us to do justice to this gargantuan jurist in this forum. This is however being done in Karibi-Whyte and The Law, the book which will be released soon.

In summary, the life of Justice Karibi-Whyte, either as a lecturer, as the judge of Federal High Court or Justice of the Appeal or Supreme Court, is a testament to the best attribute of beau ideal of a judge i.e. independence of action, erudition, courage, eloquence and uprightness. When the chroniclers will compile the roll of honour of judges across the world, Justice Karibi-Whyte will be in the same chapter with people like Lord Denning of Britain, Krishna Iyer of India. Alfred Marshall of U.S. and of course our own, Justices Oputa and Eso of Nigeria.

As Justice Karibi-Whyte celebrates his 70th birthday today and also taking his bow from the apex court, we wish him long live and more rewarding years.

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