ABUJA (Sundiata Post) On the 20th of October 2018, Nigeria lost one her most accomplished legal luminaries, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi.
Justice Kutigi, who died at 78 after a brief illness, had lived to the fullness of age and served his country diligently, rising to become the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), the highest office in the third arm of government.
In 2014, the Former CJN was appointed by Former President Goodluck Jonathan as the chairman of the National Conference (CONFAB) to steer discussions on national issues and present viable solutions on the way forward. With 494 delegates across the country, Kutigi presided over the confab for four months, even when he lost his wife in the process.
In his report presentation, he said, “Mr. President, when you inaugurated the 2014 National Conference on 17 March, 2014, we knew that we were taking on a tough assignment.”
Justice Kutigi took on the assignment with so much passion that he didn’t find time to mourn his wife. One of his dying wishes would have been for the report of the Confab to be implemented but sadly the government of President Muhammadu Buhari did not show any believe in the conference and its widely applauded recommendations.
Background and Educational History
Justice Idris Kutigi was born on December 31, 1939 in Kutigi, North-Western State (which is now located in the Lavun Local Government Area of Niger State).
He attended elementary school in that town and middle and secondary school in Bida. He then moved on to Government College (now known as Barewa College), and then to Ahmadu Bello University (both in Zaria, Kaduna State).
He left the country for England, where he studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and Gibson and Weldon, before returning to attend the Nigerian Law School in Lagos, Lagos State. He was called to the bar in 1964.
Justice Kutigi served as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Niger State until 1976, when he was appointed high court judge.
He served with honour in that position for more than a decade, and later joined the Supreme Court in 1992.
After 10 years at the Supreme Court, based on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, Former President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him to the position of Chief Justice to succeed Justice Salihu Alfa Belgore, who retired on January 17, 2007.
By January 30, 2007, Kutigi was confirmed by the Senate and took over as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Chairman of the Federal Judicial Service Commission and Chairman of the National Judicial Council. He occupied these offices simultaneously between January 30, 2007 and December 30, 2009.
Kutigi retired on 30 December 2009, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. He swore in his successor, Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu. The President of Nigeria usually swears in the Chief Justice, but President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was not available on this occasion due to ill health.
In 2014 he was appointed chairman of the National Conference on constitutional matters by President Goodluck Jonathan. His appointment was widely welcomed by those on all sides of the Nigerian political spectrum with praise coming for his impartiality and fair handedness.
On 12 June 2014 he stepped in to separate northern and southern politicians who almost came to blows during a conference meeting over a disagreement on holding a one minute silence to honour those that died during the 1993 presidential election.
Kutigi later described the conference as the “most arduous” to have been held in Nigeria’s history due to the short length of time, four and a half months, that had been allowed for it. By its conclusion more than 600 resolutions had been addressed covering points of law, public policy and the constitution. The findings were presented in a 22-volume, 10,335-page document.
Afterwards, he returned to serve as a high court judge until his death in October 2018. Kutigi also continued to attend Council of State meetings held at the decision of the president.
In 2011, SaharaReporter published a document it said emanated from the US embassy. The document disclosed how an aide of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and a businessman offered a bribe of N200 million to Kutigi to compromise 2007 presidential poll by excluding Atiku Abubakar, former vice president, from the race, but the judge asked them to leave his office.
The report also unearthed how a foremost traditional ruler from Kutigi’s home state of Niger offered him another bribe of N400 million which he also rejected. As CJN, he was said to have publicly criticised the practice of retired justices of appellate courts working as “consultants” to election petitioners and their lawyers at election tribunals.
Kutigi had 18 children and more than 40 grandchildren.
In 2010, the children of the former jurist put together a private ceremony to celebrate his successful tenure as the CJN. The ceremony in his official residence, chaired by his predecessor Alfa Belgore, was kept secret until the previous day as they knew their father would object it.
At the occasion, he stated that he was only informed late about it because his children knew that he would not have given his consent for a dinner as he is not used to partying.
He died in a London hospital on the 20th of October 2018 after a brief illness.
In his honour, a street in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja was named after him in April 2015.
The Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi International Conference Centre in Minna was also named in his honour.
As a mark of honour following his death the Nigerian flag was ordered to be flown at half-mast at the Supreme Court, the official residence of the Chief Justice, all judicial institutions and courts of records for seven days. A book of condolence was opened at the premises of the Supreme Court.