The man Chukwudifu Oputa
Hon. Justice Chukwudifu Akunne Oputa,CFR and a retired justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, was a legal icon, Chukwudifu Oputa, as he was fondly called in the judicial circle, was born into the family of Chief Oputa Uzukwu and Mrs. Nwametu Oputa on September 22, 1924.
Justice Oputa was born into a polygamous family at a time that a man’s wealth was measured by the number of wives in his harem. His father, Chief Oputa Uzukwu had ten wives, and Chukwudifu Oputa was the last of his children. Pa Oputa Uzukwu passed on when Chukwudifu was only three months old. His mother died when he was barely six months old.
The task of his welfare and education passed onto his grandmother who laid the foundation for his up-bringing.
He attended Sacred Heart School, Oguta; Christ the King College (CKC), Onitsha for his Secondary education and later, High College, Yaba. He was a student of Achimota College, Ghana from where he proceeded to the University of London, England. He was called to the English Bar, the Gray’s Inn, London in 1953. Ten years later, he was appointed a judge of the then Eastern Region of Nigeria.
Chukwudifu Oputa set up a private legal service. He was Principal, National College, Buguma beiween 1945 and 1948 and was Administrative Officer, Nigerian Secretariat between 1949 and 1951.
The late Justice Oputa served the country diligently in many capacities even before the attainment of independence. He was a member of the University of Nigeria Governing Council between 1959 and 1966; counsel Harcourt Inquiry 1959; Counsel Oguta Chieftaincy dispute; Counsel, Nembe chieftancy dispute; Counsel, Obudu chieftaincy dispute in 1960; Chancellor, Imo State University and was member, former Eastern Nigerian Marketing Board between 1958 and 1965.
Justice Oputa was appointed Chairman, Commission of Inquiry into Structure of Customary Courts in former Eastern Nigeria in 1967; Chairman, Commission of Inquiry into Abakaliki Nkpuma Akpatakpa Disturbance in 1973.
Justice Oputa was appointed to investigate abuses that took place in the country during the 15 years of military rule, which ended when President Obasanjo took office as elected president on May 29, 1999. The Oputa Panel was required to examine human rights abuses from 1976 to 1979.
The quest followed demands for a thorough investigation of rights abuses in Nigeria since independence in 1960. He was also a delegate representing Imo State at the National political Reform Conference in 2005.
The judicial career of Justice Chukwudifu Oputa spanned 26 years through four regions, states and territories until his retirement from the Supreme Court in 1989 at the age of 65.
Before becoming a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Justice Oputa served as a Judge in the defunct East Central State between 1971 and 1976; High Court Judge, Imo State and was Chief judge Imo State Judiciary between 1976 and 1984.
At Oputa’s valediction, then Chief Justice, Mohammed Bello, himself an outstanding judicial figure, described him as “the Socrates of the Supreme Court”.
Author, Ikeazor Akaraiwe’s seven-volume collection tagged Oputa Law Reports reveal a unique judicial experience told through the texts of 358 judgments and rulings, most of which were published for the first time. It was said that these volumes cover Oputa’s years on the High Court Bench before his elevation to the Supreme Court in 1984.
Akaraiwe said Justice Oputa became known as “Socrates of the Supreme Court” during his time as a Supreme Court Judge and “deservedly too, because his judgments at the apex court were a compendium of well-researched and deep philosophical thinking”. The judgments reported in these volumes, he said showed the makings of a hard-working judge well on his way to greatness well-ahead of his time.
In appreciation of his meritous service to his fatherland, he was conferred with the National honour, commander of Federal Republic (CFR) by the federal government.
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