A TRIBUTE DELIVERED BY CHIEF GEORGE UWECHUE, SAN, FNIALS ON THE OCCASION OF THE SPECIAL COURT SESSION IN HONOUR OF LATE HONOURABLE JUSTICE P.K NWOKEDI, CON, FORMER JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT AT THE SUPREME COURT ABUJA ON 25TH OCTOBER, 2017.
- My Lord, Honourable Justice Walter S.N. Onnoghen, G.C.O.N, the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria.
- My Lords, Honourable Justices of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and other superior courts of record here present
- Please permit me to adopt the order of protocol already established.
It is with a deep sense of grief that I present this tribute in memory of Late Honourable Justice P.K. Nwokedi, CON, former Justice of the Supreme Court, who transited to eternal glory on the 3rd day of September 2017.
For us, his friends and members of the legal profession, his demise at the ripe age of ninety years, painful as it was, provides us the opportunity to join his family to celebrate his most accomplished life of an upright, erudite legal luminary and a judicial icon.
The Late Honourable Justice Paul Kemdilim Nwokedi was born on 3rd November, 1926 to Chief Joseph Ndubuisi Nwokedi, Uthoko III of Achalla – a court interpreter, who rose to become a Customary Court Judge in former Eastern Nigeria and was later made a Warrant Chief in 1921.
Late Honourable Justice Nwokedi attended St. Gregory’s College Lagos, 1944-1945, for his secondary school education and passed the Cambridge Senior Schools Certificate in 1945, in Division 1, with exception from London Matriculation. As an external candidate, in 1951 he passed the BA degree examination from the University of London in Division 2.
In 1957 he enrolled at the famous London School of Economics and Political Science (University of London) (LSE) and graduated in 1959 with the LLB (Hons) degree second class. I first heard about his academic excellence from Professor B.O. Nwabueze, SAN, LLD, NNOM in 1961, when he was preparing me for admission into the LSE (also his Alma Matar). I later enrolled at the same LSE in 1962, where I graduated in September 1965 with LLB (Hons) degree, second class.
Late Honourable Justice Nwokedi was called to the Bar at the Lincolns Inn in April 1959. After a successful legal practice, he was elevated to the Judicial Service, in 1974. He was appointed a Judge of the High Court of East Central State of Nigeria, where he served until 1976, when he became a Judge of Anambra State. He was appointed the Chief Judge of Anambra State in 1985 and in 1991, he was elevated to the apex judicial office of Justice of the Supreme Court.
While serving as the Chief Judge of Anambra State and until he retired from the Supreme Court on the 2nd of November 1991, he served as a member of the Body of Benchers.
Late Honourable Justice P.K Nwokedi made very outstanding contributions in several areas of the law. Please permit me to refer briefly only to two of his judgments at the Supreme Court. In AREMU vs STATE (1991) 7 NWLR (part 201) page 1 at 16 F-H, the learned jurist illustrated the significance of the doctrine of “recent possession” in evidence in these terms:
“ He was on the evidence accepted by the trial court in possession of the stolen vehicle with the first appellant. Section 148(a) of the Evidence Act is above reproduced. A trial court may in the circumstances above outlined, presume that the appellants found in possession of a vehicle stolen about 12 hours earlier were the persons who stole the vehicle in question.”
In Agbai v Okogbue (1991) 9-10 SC, page 57 at page 73, late Hon. Justice Nwokedi emphasized the superiority of fundamental rights over other laws when, delivering the leading judgment, he held:
“ Much as one would welcome development projects in the community there must be caution to ensure that the fundamental rights of a citizen are not trampled upon by popular enthusiasm. These rights have been enshrined in a legislation, that is, the Constitution, which enjoys superiority over local custom. Freedom of association and of religion are enshrined in Sections 24(1) and 36(1) of the 1963 Constitution as amended respectively which is applicable in this instance.”
On occasions like this it is customary to use a tribute to such a legal luminary to address some issues that deserve the attention of members of the Bench and the Bar, with particular reference to the service of the deceased jurist. In the case of Late Honourable Justice P.K Nwokedi, there is the need to revisit the current practice of not elevating serving or retiring Chief Judges of the “High Courts”, who had served commendably, directly to the Supreme Court, instead of the Court of Appeal which is the current practice, to complete their service until they attain the age of seventy.
Late Honourable Justice P.K Nwokedi was succeeded at the Supreme Court by Late Honourable Justice Anthony I, Iguh, JSC, who came direct from his office as the Chief Judge of Anambra State in 1991, where he had served most diligently. Also, from the same South Eastern zone, much earlier, Late Honourable Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, JSC, of renowned fame, was elevated directly from the office of Chief Judge of Imo State to the Supreme Court in 1984.
From the South West Zone, Late Justice Kayode Eso, JSC, was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court directly from his office as the Chief Judge of Oyo State in 1978. Also Hon. Justice E.B. Craig, JSC, was elevated from the office of Chief Judge of Ogun State to the Supreme Court in 1987. From the Northern Zone, Late Hon. Justice Saidu Kawu, JSC, rose to the Supreme Court from his office of the Chief Judge of Kwara State. All these direct appointments where made after the creation of the Court of Appeal in 1976!
The urgent need to resume a discussion on this issue, was underscored by the recent “Guidelines for the Conferment of the Rank of Senior Advocates of Nigeria”, published on 12th October, 2017, which placed much greater emphasis on a candidate’s “Final Judgments” of the High Court (20) than the Court of Appeal (5) and the Supreme Court (4) only. This is most appropriate, in my view, because it is at the High Courts that the witnesses are examined and cross examined and the major legal tussle between the parties and their counsel is engaged.
Throughout his career, in private practice and as a judicial officer, Late Honourable Justice P.K. Nwokedi exhibited the highest level of honour, dignity and integrity and his legacy as a lover of peace and transparency lives on!
We commend his soul to God and pray that He grants the entire Nwokedi family of Achalla and his five children, three of whom are lawyers (including our distinguished colleague, Uche Nwokedi, SAN) , Phyllis Obiageli Nwokedi (who recently retired as a Federal Permanent Secretary) and Afam Nwokedi, the fortitude to bear this loss.
Chief George Uwechue, SAN, FNIALS