Vanguard (Lagos)

19 October 2008

Nigeria: Justice Olatawura's Death - Belgore Weeps; Akinjide, Governor Oni, Others Mourn

FORMER Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Alfa Modibo Belgore, betrayed emotion over his former colleague in the Supreme Court, Justice Olajide Olatawura, who died, Friday, at the age of 79, as he broke down in tears when he saw Ronke, the widow of the late eminent jurist.

Belgore, in company of three others, rushed down from Ilorin to Ikole Ekiti, the country home of the Olatawuras, yesterday, to commiserate with the family of the retired judge of the apex court. He described Olatawura as one of his best friends in the judiciary who excelled in any form of assignment given to him.

Former justice minister, Chief Richard Akinjide, SAN, said the deceased was one of the finest judges Nigeria has ever produced while Mr. Tayo Oyetibo, SAN, described him as "a very brilliant judge." Governor Segun Oni of Ekiti State was among those who visited the Olatawuras, yesterday, to condole with the family.

The former Chief Justice, who arrived the Imikan Lodge residence of the Olatawuras at about 12.14 p.m yesterday in a black SUV, with registration number BX 846 ABJ, tried in vain to hide his emotion but on seeing the widow of the late jurist, he held the native attire he put on otherwise known as agbada to wipe his face and that of the widow.

Belgore described the late Olatawura in the condolence register opened in the compound as one of the rare Nigerians who had excelled in their chosen careers, saying: "Very few people in life you give assignments and excel,. He excelled in all the assignments he was given. As a court registrar, many people praised him till he died.

As a lawyer, he excelled and, as a judge from High Court to Supreme Court, he excelled. Above all, as a human being, he excelled. He is one of the best human being we can find, he was a good Christian and I believe God will receive him kindly. He will rest in peace. I will dearly miss him and may God continue to bless all of us he left behind.

"I received the death of Justice Olatawura with shock and mixed feelings because we were very close. But because I knew that he lived a useful life and died at the ripe age of 80, l cannot but say Glory be to God. He was a man of many parts. The Judiciary, Nigeria and mostly Ekiti State will definitely miss him dearly".

In his tribute, Akinjide, yesterday, said the late Olatawura was well educated, impartial, cultured and believed very well in the rule of law. He told Sunday Vanguard: "Justice Olatawura was one of the finest judges this country has ever produced. He was well educated, impartial, cultured and believed very well in the rule of law. "He has made us proud in the landmark judgements he delivered on the Bench. I have the greatest respect for him. He was in the High Court, then the Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court. I commiserate with his family, the judiciary and the media on his death."

Oyetibo said the deceased jurist would be remembered for his sound judgements. The words of the member of the Inner Bar: "His death is very unfortunate. He was a very brilliant judge, he was level-headed. He had a cordial relationship with the bar. "He was not the type that would talk down on lawyers, there was that mutual respect. He will be remembered through his sound judgements." The Nigerian Bar Association, Ado Ekiti Branch described Olatawura as one of the best jurists Nigeria has ever produced. A statement by the chairman of the association, Mr Dele Omotoso, noted that the late jurist was very versatile in his knowledge of law and had "delivered several notable judgements which remain unassailable".

Ekiti State Governor Segun Oni, who was said to have cut short his trip to Lagos and headed to Ikole Ekiti upon hearing the death of the late jurist, described him as a wonderful creature, specially designed and produced to serve humanity to the highest levels. "Baba, you were such a wonderful breed specially designed and produced to take humanity to highest level. This you did with outstandingly purity, integrity and uncompromising professionalism. Your departure has left a deep void in us. You have challenged us by your exemplary life and efforts to be the best in every circumstance you found yourself. We will miss you greatly", the governor wrote in the condolence register.

Also at the Olatawuras residence was the Oluyin of Iyin Ekiti, Oba Ademola Ajakaiye, who was the pioneer chief judge of Ekiti State. He expressed the condolence of the entire Iyin Ekiti people. On behalf of the old students of the famous Christ's School, Ado Ekiti, a former principal, Chief Kehinde Ojo, described his passage as that of the saints. "As your passage coincides with our home coming and 75th anniversary, yours was a glorious life and end, Christ is our cornerstone", he wrote in the register.

In the same token, the former minister of aviation, Prof. Babalola Borisade, lamented the death of Olatawura. "It was a shocking news to me when l heard about the passage of the late judge. We have lost a very role model, to some of us in Ekiti. He was a self made man, he reached the peak of his chosen profession without a blemish", the minister said in the condolence register.

Speaking on the last moments of the deceased, the younger brother, Bisi Olatawura, said the late judge woke up, Friday, and dressed for a meeting of the Old Students Association of his alma mater, Christ's School, Ado Ekiti, preparatory to the 75th anniversary when suddenly he felt uncomfortable and uneasy by 8.00 a.m. The deceased, according to the brother, immediately called his doctor who rushed in and tried all he could, but Olatawura later died despite all help. He was 79 years on May 3.

The late Supreme Court judge was born in Ikole Ekiti in 1929. He started his elementary school at Saint Paul's School, Ikole Ekiti in 1935-1941 and later proceeded to Saint Andrew's School, Usi Ekiti in 1942-1943. He was at Christ's School, Ado Ekiti for his secondary school from 1944-1948. Olatawura later studied overseas at University of Hull, Yorks, England for his LLB [Hons] from 1957- 60 and Council of Legal Education Middle Temple for his barrister-at-law in 1960. He enrolled at Supreme Court as a solicitor and advocate in 1960. After working in a private legal firm, he was appointed a judge of the High Court in the then Western Region and elevated to the Court of Appeal in 1980 and later a justice of Supreme Court until his retirement in 1994.

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