A ‘true Bar man and judge’ bows out

By Joseph Jibueze
In Nigeria
Jun 2nd, 2014
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A valedictory court session was held at the Lagos State High Court for retired Justice Adesuyi Olateru-Olagbegi, who served as Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) General Secretary and Chairman, NBA Lagos Branch before his appointment to the Bench. JOSEPH JIBUEZE reports.

Should the retirement age of High Court judges be extended from 65 to 70? Yes, says the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs). It made the call at a valedictory court session held in honour of Justice Adesuyi Olateru-Olagbeji, who retired from the Lagos State judiciary on April 24.

While Supreme Court justices retire at 70, High Court judges bow out at 65. This, to the SANs, is not fair. Besides, state courts lose judges with valuable experience acquired over the years at a time they could still be useful.

Speaking for the senior lawyers, Mr Ebun Sofunde said the constitution should be amended to enable state judges serve till they are at least, 70. He does not see why there should be different retirement ages for judges and justices.

“They (High Court judges) should be there (on the bench) for much longer. Supreme Court judges stay till 70, so I don’t know why there should be a difference,” he said.

Sofunde said although Olateru-Olagbegi is still strong at 65, he would have no further business in the court as he cannot practise again as a lawyer. “He cannot by law appear in court,” he said.

The SAN said judges retire at 70 in England, adding that it should be the same in Nigeria. “l advocate that the retiring age of High Court judges be reviewed,” he said.

Chief Judge of Lagos, Justice Ayotunde Phillips, who will also retire this year, described Olateru-Olagbegi as “a fine gentleman.”

“He has done well. He served the judiciary for a memorable 13 years and we thank God that he is leaving in good and sound physical health,” she said.

Justice Phillips urged Olateru-Olagbegi to remain active. “Please do not go into hibernation,” she said, adding: “We’ll tap into his experience from time to time.”

Lagos Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Mr Ade Ipaye said the task of dispensing justice does not rest with judges alone: lawyers and litigants, he said, must do their part to ensure that justice is not delayed.

He praised the retired judge for “caring for the improvement of the justice system,” adding the “our nation needs upright judges.”

NBA Lagos Branch chairman, Mr Alex Muoka said he was distressed when Olateru-Olagbegi “abandoned the Bar for the Bench.” “I felt the Bar has lost one of its role models,” he said.

His Ikeja Branch counterpart, Onyekachi Ubani said while all judges deliver judgments, not all of them deliver justice.

“All those who sit on the Bench are judges, but not all become benchmarks,” he said, describing Olateru-Olagbegi as a man of “robust competence and robust sagacity.”

Ikorodu Branch Chairman Sahid Shillings said not only is the retired judge a distinguished leader of the Bar, he represents one of the finest members of the Bench.

Olateru-Olagbegi urged the NBA to intervene and deal decisively with “a tiny percentage of lawyers whose conduct bring the profession into disrepute”.

The former judge said the rules of procedure must be strictly and courageously applied by judges to discourage tardiness, indolence, delay tactics and abuse of court process by unscrupulous lawyers.

He urged appellate courts to support the trial courts in the strict application of the rules. “In Nigeria, the constitutional provisions of fair hearing are held up as magic wands by dilatory parties to excuse all forms of indolent conduct. This should be discouraged.

“With the Bench and the Bar working together in partnership, the rule of law will be sustained and justice will reign in the land. So help us God.”

Olateru-Olagbegi is the son of the late Olowo of Owo, Sir James Titus Olateru-Olagbegi. He studied law at the University of London, graduating in 1976, and was called to Bar in 1977.

He served as NBA Financial Secretary when the late Alao Aka-Bashorun was President. He was elected General-Secretary in 1991 and later served as Lagos Branch chairman from 1999-2001. He had 24 years post-call experience before his appointment as a judge on May 24, 2001.

“I am happy to say that under the NBA Constitution, having once served the Bar as a National General Secretary (who was not removed from office), I am thereby a life member of the NBA National Executive Committee.  I look forward to resuming my seat there,” Olateru-Olagbegi said.

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