Tribute to the Late Justice Dennis O. Edozien By NBA President, Paul Usoro SAN
1. We thank My Lords for the privilege of paying tribute to and celebrating one of the finest Supreme Court Justices of our time, the late Honourable Mr. Justice Dennis O. Edozie who departed this world on 18 August, 2018 at the age of 82. Our hearts and prayers go out to His Lordship’s immediate
and extended family. We know how sorrowful it is to lose a loved one, no matter how old. Your consolation should be in the fact that Honourable Mr. Justice Dennis O. Edozie was loved not only by his biological family but by all of us, and particularly by His Lordship’s Legal Constituency. We indeed thank the Almighty for His Lordship’s life and the service that My Lord rendered to the justice sector and Nigeria in general.
2. At occasions like this, there could be the temptation to view His Lordship’s life and times only
from the prism of His Lordship’s judicial career. That would not do justice to His Lordship’s variegated background both at the Bar and the Bench. His Lordship, Honorable Justice Dennis Edozie had a rich and fairly extended practice at the Bar, albeit, the Official Bar, prior to joining the Bench. Upon My Lord’s enrolment as a Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 1964, His Lordship in May 1965 switched over from the Administrative Officer Class in the defunct Government of Eastern Nigeria to the role of a State Counsel in the same Government of Eastern Nigeria, and steadily rose to the rank of a Legal Adviser before leaving the Official Bar in August 1982.
3. As it relates to His Lordship’s judicial career, His Lordship spent most of his judicial life at the Court of Appeal where he served from 1990 until his elevation to the Supreme Court in 2003, a period of 12 years. Prior to then, His Lordship served from 1982 to 1990 as a Judge of the High Court of Anambra State. In point of fact, His Lordship spent the shortest period of his judicial career at the Supreme Court – from January 2003 when His Lordship was elevated to the apex Bench to November 2005 when he retired upon attaining the mandatory retirement age of 70 – a period of about 2 years 10 months.
4. Notwithstanding the brevity of His Lordship’s tenure at the Supreme Court, Honourable Justice Edozie left us with indelible and ageless pronouncements and decisions that are captured in our various Law Reports. His Lordship started his working career as a Teacher of Latin and Mathematics between 1956 and 1958 before joining the services of the Government of Eastern Nigeria as an Administrative Officer between 1962 and 1965. Little wonder that His Lordship’s decisions, as captured in the Law Reports have the trademark structure and lucidity of a teacher and an administrative officer of former times.
5. As an illustrative example, I cite His Lordship’s concurring judgment in Ojukwu v Obasanjo & others (2004) LPELR-2400(SC), an appeal, the facts of which uncannily mirror today’s political
circumstance. The 1st Respondent in that Appeal had served as Nigeria’s Military Head of State and Commander-in-Chief in 1976 and also as the elected President of the country in 1999 and the Appellant was, in that Appeal, challenging his eligibility to contest for a second term of office as the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2003 pursuant to Section 137(1)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) which limits the term of office of a President to only two. In resolving that issue, these were the pronouncements of Edozie JSC on the matter:
“From the wordings of the section, it is plain that for a person to be disqualified to contest a particular election into the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it must be shown (1) That the person was elected to the office of President on two previous occasions prior to the particular Presidential election in question. (2) That he was appointed into that office on two previous occasions by the process of an election and additionally, that the provisions of Section 137(1)(b) of the 1999 Constitution applied to the elections of the two previous occasions.
“These three conditions must co-exist before a person is disqualified to contest a Presidential
election. From this guideline, it seems to me that for the 1st respondent to be disqualified to contest the 2003 presidential election it must be shown that his ‘1999 appointment’ as well as the ‘1976 appoint’ relate to the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; that he was elected or appointed by a process of election into that office and that Section 137(1)(b) of the 1999 Constitution applied to the two appointments. There is no dispute over the ‘1999 appointment’. It is common ground that the 1st respondent was elected or appointed by an electoral process or elected into the office of the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1999 under the 1999 Constitution. The bone of contention in this appeal relates to the ‘1976 appointment’. Was it an appointment into the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; and if so, was he so appointed by the process of an election and finally, is the 1999 Constitution applicable to that appointment. My short answer to the three questions is in the negative.”
6. That decision is clearly an echo from the past that may have present-day application. That simply shows how prescient His Lordship may have been!
On a different note, the Nigerian Bar Association has had cause in recent times to deprecate the vilification of Judges by the Nigerian elites without taking note of the fact that Judges make decisions based on the facts before them. In my Inaugural Address as the President of the Nigerian Bar Association that was delivered on 31 August 2018, I had stated as follows:
“. . . Judges and the Courts are not enemies of society simply because they discharge and or acquit persons who are charged before them for criminal conduct. Courts, the world over, make decisions based on the facts presented before them and based on applicable principles of law. Courts do not manufacture evidence and do not descend into the arena to prosecute or defend persons charged with criminal conducts. Judges remain impartial arbiters, even in criminal matters and our Nigerian Courts have in the main carried out these functions in a most exemplary manner. It therefore pains us, as lawyers, when the Judiciary is erroneously perceived
and characterized as the problem in Nigeria. It pains us when they are vilified and demonized in a manner that would tend to cow and intimidate them.”
7. I could very well have lifted those sentiments, notably the aspect relating to the duty of a Court, from the lucid and eloquent lead judgment of His Lordship, Honorable Justice Dennis Edozie in Nigerian Bank for Commerce and Industry v Integrated Gas (Nigeria) Limited & Another (2005) LPELR-2016 (SC) whereat His Lordship stated the principle succinctly thus:
“A court is not competent to make a case for the parties different from the case they made for themselves. This principle was recently restated by this court in the case of Spasco Vehicle and
Plant Hire Co. v Alraine (Nigeria) Limited (1995) 8 NWLR (Pt.416) 655 at 669 where Iguh, JSC observed – ‘It is an elementary and fundamental principle of the determination of disputes between parties that judgment must be confined to the issues raised by the parties in their pleadings. It is not competent for the trial court suomotu to make a case for either or both of the parties and then proceed to give judgment on the case so formulated contrary to the case of the parties before him . . .’ This principle of law is, without doubt, in accordance with common sense as to permit trial courts to wander out of issues raised by the parties in their pleadings and to found their judgment on such issues would not only take parties by surprise and make nonsense of pleadings, it might well result in the denial to one or the other of the parties of the right to fair hearing pursuant to the audi alteram partem rule as enshrined in the 1979 Constitution of Nigeria . . .”
8. To make the point even more manifest and succinct, His Lordship in Stirling Civil Engineering (Nigeria) Limited v Yahaya (2005) LPELR-3118(SC) affirmed the principles that guide and gird the Courts further thus:
“There can be no doubt that an Appeal Court is entitled, in its discretion to raise some points suomotu if it sees fit to do so, but that discretion must be exercised sparingly and in exceptional circumstances only. Where the points are so raised, the parties must be given the opportunity to address the Appeal Court before decision on the points is made by the Appeal Court. This Court has warned time without number against decisions of Court being founded on any ground in respect of which it has neither received arguments from either of the parties before it nor even raised by any of the parties . . .”
9. His Lordship’s pronouncements afore-quoted are very wise words with universal application and particularly germane and applicable today as Nigeria and its people journey into another season of very contentious and controversial elections-related which would be brought before Their Lordships of the various court hierarchies for adjudication. His Lordship’s pronouncements are reminders that Their Lordships must bear in mind in consistently resisting the temptations and baits, sometimes if not oftentimes thrown by the parties, for the Courts to stray into issues that have not been placed by the parties before the Courts for determination. Conversely, these pronouncements also serve as education for the Nigerian elites and politicians as to how the Court system works and how Their Lordships arrive at
the Courts’ decisions, not whimsically, not subjectively, but based on the facts presented by the parties to the Courts. With some more of such education through the pronouncements of our Courts as illustrated by the afore-quoted dictum of Honorable Justice Dennis Edozie, the decibel of unjustified and unmerited vilification of our Courts and Judges will reduce if not totally abate.
10. My Lords, this is but another way of stating the obvious, to wit, that His Lordship, Honorable Justice Dennis Edozie, lives on with us through His Lordship’s decisions and pronouncements, despite his
departure from this world. The Nigerian Bar Association condoles with My Lord, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honorable Mr. Justice Walter S. N. Onnoghen, GCON and all Their Lordships of this Honorable Court and of course, His Lordship’s family, immediate and extended, over the loss of Honorable Justice Edozie and we pray that His Lordship finds peace and rest.
Paul Usoro, SAN, FCIArb
Nigerian Bar Association
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