ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION (“NBA”), PAUL USORO, SAN AT THE VALEDICTORY COURT SESSION IN HONOUR OF HONORABLE JUSTICE ZAINAB ADAMU BULKACHUWA, CFR, PRESIDENT OF THE COURT OF APPEAL AND HONORABLE JUSTICE CHINWE EUGENIA IYIZOBA, JUSTICE OF THE COURT OF APPEAL, ON FRIDAY, 24 JANUARY 2020
1. We thank My Lord, the President of the Court of Appeal, Honorable Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa, CFR for the privilege of joining in the celebration of two distinguished jurists who also number amongst Nigeria’s finest trailblazers and role models and I am referring to My Lords, the President of the Court of Appeal and Honorable Justice Chinwe Eugenia Iyizoba, Justice of the Court of Appeal. Judging from My Lord’s spritely and ageless looks and appearance, My Lord, Iyizoba JCA is any age but 70 but here we are to celebrate My Lord at 70, having attained that mandatory retirement age on 19 January 2020. We can only but thank the Almighty for the life and looks of My Lord, Iyizoba JCA even as we wish My Lord a most fulfilling and accomplished life in retirement.
2. In terms of age and appearance, My Lord, the President of the Court of Appeal is not any different from My Lord, Iyizoba JCA. My Lord turns 70 on 06 March 2020, a month and some weeks ahead, and yet, My Lord’s looks and appearance also belie that age. It surely must be the Grace of God, above all, that keeps My Lord, the PCA, looking so ageless and young. But, beyond My Lord’s looks, I must comment on and acknowledge that welcoming smile that My Lord wears so naturally and effortlessly at all times, that smile that puts anyone and everyone at ease when meeting and/or relating with the PCA even at first instance. That is a rare gift and quality that is not given to all; it is a quality that is so very admirable particularly in a country where public office holders mostly wear discouraging frowns and maintain barriers that keep people away.
3. My Lord, Bulkachuwa PCA, will actually retire from the Court of Appeal Bench, not today, but on her birthday which, as earlier mentioned, falls on 06 March 2020. Her being here today, apart from honoring retired Iyizoba JCA also marks the flagging off of her valedictory visits to the various Divisions of the Court of Appeal ahead of the mandatory retirement date. This celebratory session of the Court of Appeal is therefore double-barreled, to wit, it is the definitive and terminal valedictory session for My Lord, Iyizoba JCA while also marking the beginning of My Lord, the PCA’s farewell visits to the Divisions of her Court. I therefore feel particularly privileged and honored to join in celebrating both accomplished jurists. I take delight also in the fact that I number today amongst the first to raise the curtain for the celebration of Bulkachuwa PCA as My Lord rounds up her service to Nigeria not only as the President of the Court of Appeal but as the first Nigerian woman to occupy that high office.
4. The lives of Bulkachuwa PCA and Iyizoba JCA remind us all what the Nigerian girl-child and indeed woman can achieve with her God-given intellect and talents if given the chance and opportunity. We more often than not scoff at the idea that women are naturally gifted in multi-tasking but before us today are two illustrative examples of extremely successful multi-tasking women who have graciously and with great dexterity and enormous success combined their roles as wives, mothers, daughters, aunties and high-achieving career and professional women. Even as she has pursued a most successful professional career, Iyizoba JCA has stayed married to Chief Ossy Iyizoba with whom she has four children and eleven grandchildren as at date. In similar fashion, My Lord, Bulkachuwa JCA has achieved the pinnacle of her judicial career even as she remains married to Ambassador Adamu Bulkachuwa with six biological children of her own and several adopted children.
5. In celebrating these two gender champions, it helps to go down memory lane to appreciate how arduous we have traveled in the road that leads to gender diversity in the Court of Appeal Bench, starting from the elevation of the first female Justice of the Court of Appeal, Honorable Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, GCON in 1987 who was elevated from the Kano State High Court Bench. That was barely 33 years ago. Mukhtar, JCA (as she then was) proceeded from there to become the first female Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and then the first female Chief Justice of Nigeria – again, an illustration of what the Nigerian girl-child and woman can achieve when and if given the chance and opportunity. Prior to the elevation of Mukhtar JCA (as she then was), our appellate courts, notably, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court were all male dominated, and this, in a society where it is believed has a higher population of females, in real terms.
6. Interestingly, after the elevation of Mukhtar JCA (as she then was), in 1987, it took another 6 (six) years before the second female Justice of the Court of Appeal, late Ige JCA was appointed to the Court of Appeal Bench in September 1993. Indeed, the number of female Justices of the Court of Appeal reached 10 (ten) only in 2005 with the elevation of Denton-West JCA – 18 years after the elevation of Mukhtar JCA (as she then was) and 12 years after the elevation of Ige JCA. As at date, out of 86 Justices of the Court of Appeal, only 23 – barely 30% - are female. With such a poor record in gender diversity, the epoch-making achievements of Bulkachuwa PCA and Iyizoba JCA truly call for celebration and corrective steps in enlarging the coast of our diversity and gender inclusion. And I must state here for the records that our icons were not patronized howsoever in their appointments to the Court of Appeal Bench. They earned their elevations fair and square.
7. Time and space would not permit me to chronicle the lessons that we must draw from the lives and careers of My Lords, Bulkachuwa PCA and Iyizoba JCA but I would highlight a few. To start with, the appointment of Their Lordships satisfied in more ways than one the diversity that the Nigerian Bar Association has always advocated and craved for in our judicial appointments. My Lord Bulkachuwa PCA arrived the Court of Appeal Bench from a sustained and illustrious judicial career that started with her appointment as a Magistrate with the Kaduna State Judiciary in 1980. My Lord, Iyizoba JCA, on the other hand, arrived the Court of Appeal Bench from an acclaimed career in the world of academia as a Senior Lecturer in her alma mater, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, after which she did a stint of public service as the Anambra State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice from which position she was appointed as a Judge of the Anambra State Judiciary in January 1997 and three years later, in July 2010, was elevated to the Court of Appeal.
8. The diverse backgrounds of these eminent jurists have greatly enriched the pool of our Court of Appeal Justices. The diversity in their respective experience and background is obviously and unmistakably infused into their judgments. Bulkachuwa PCA’s experience and depth as a judicial officer is borne out in the judgments My Lord delivered in the Court of Appeal Bench. In like manner, scholarship and knack for research which are hallmarks of great academicians shine through all of Iyizoba JCA’s judgments. Talking about Iyizoba JCA’s record as an academician, I must mention that My Lord’s students still talk about Your Lordship’s evidence law classes in extremely glowing terms.
9. In point of fact, a study of Iyizoba JCA’s academic background, records and achievements not only reveal a highly cerebral and talented personality but, perhaps and on the face of it, a restless soul as well, who was spoilt for choice. Not many today know that Iyizoba JCA has a Masters degree, not, as most would predict, in Law, but, unexpectedly, in Business Administration and yet, she ended up lecturing, not in the Business School but in the Law Faculty. With her MBA degree, Iyizoba JCA could easily have chosen a career in the business or corporate world or in the world of oil and gas or finance, etc. But therein lies the deep thinking that is reflective of the fecund mind of Iyizoba JCA. I venture to believe that obviously playing, consciously or unconsciously, in the mind of Iyizoba JCA in the choice of career courses, at the time, was the need to be educated and have degrees in fields that would give her an array of choices in career pursuit. A law degree just like a Masters degree in Business Administration literally enables you to roam the world and be spoilt for choice in making career decisions. There is no limitation to the career opportunities for lawyers same as there are no limitations in career choices for holders of graduate degrees in Business Administration. A combination of the two degrees makes one extremely formidable in selecting from the endless array of career choices. These coupled with her graduation in the Second-Class Upper Division in her Law Degree definitely placed Iyizoba JCA several notches ahead of her mates in the career options she had. It is a blessing to our profession that she ultimately choose us instead of a business career in the Business School or in the corporate world. We have indeed been greatly enriched with and by My Lord’s luxuriant and well-endowed mind.
10. Still studying Iyizoba JCA with a different lens, I note that it is not common to see political office holders relinquish their offices and opt for a far less lucrative appointment as judicial officers. That is exactly what Iyizoba JCA did in January 1997 when she left her position as the Anambra State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice to take up appointment as a Judge of the Anambra State Judiciary. In terms of financial rewards and lucre, Iyizoba J (as she then was) most definitely did not control and/or command the vote and purse of the State Attorney General not to mention the closeness to power that the office confers on the occupier. Beyond lucre, we must remember that, a State has only one Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice whereas the State’s Judiciary has several anonymous Judges. Iyizoba JCA, as the Attorney General was the only one with that office in all of Anambra State (which incidentally encompassed most of the smaller adjoining States of today) but as Iyizoba J (as she then was), and with no crystal ball to predict her elevation to the appellate Bench, she was merely one other anonymous Judge amongst several other Judges of the State Judiciary. She was not even the Chief Judge of the State! Absolute patriotism and a commitment to service, those are the only two elements that explain the choice that Iyizoba JCA made in 1997 for such a switch in career, to wit, vacating the office of the Anambra State Attorney General and opting for an unpredictable career on the Bench. We can only thank God for those choices that Iyizoba JCA made seeing as we are blessed and greatly enriched by them.
11. I make these points in order to tame the exuberance of some of our politicians and public office holders who need to be reminded that, amongst our judicial officers are eminent personalities like Iyizoba JCA, patriotic and service-oriented Nigerians who, in accepting appointments to the Bench, sacrificed more lucrative and financially rewarding career prospects. These are very high-minded and service-motivated citizens of our country who should be held up as role models for our youth and who should not and must not be demonized or vilified as a class or as individuals. The dedication to duty and commitment of Iyizoba JCA and others in her class in the Nigerian judiciary should be a touchstone for all of us and a constant reminder that Nigeria could and indeed will be great when our public office holders are driven by service considerations infused with overriding patriotism.
12. There are indeed admirable similarities in the career choices and progression of our PCA and Iyizoba JCA perhaps, unknown to either and/or both of them. Bulkachuwa PCA was elevated to the Court of Appeal Bench in December 1998 from the position of Chief Judge of Gombe State where she directed the affairs and controlled the vote of the Gombe State Judiciary. As a Justice of the Court of Appeal following her elevation in 1998, Bulkachuwa JCA (as she then was) controlled no vote at all. In fact, she could not have foreseen at the time that, in sixteen years, precisely in 2014, she would become the President of the Court of Appeal. All that My Lord did in 1998 was to abandon a reasonably settled, secure and comfortable life of a Chief Judge of a State and join the ranks of fairly anonymous Justices of the Court of Appeal, whose lives are filled with the tedium of reading endless Records of Appeal, listening to the submissions of Counsel and writing Judgments with no immediately discernible prospect of ever becoming the President of the Court of Appeal. Again, it is only a very high standard of patriotism and a sense of duty and service that would inform and drive those choices and we are the richer for them. These are qualities that appear to be in short supply amongst our public office holders and it therefore galls some of us when these same public officers pretend to pontificate against and lecture our judicial officers and the legal profession on patriotism and service to country. The shoe should actually be in the other leg in the sense that it is our judicial officers, in the mold of Bulkachuwa PCA and Iyizoba JCA who have the right to pontificate and lecture these public office holders on patriotism and duty to country, having so glaringly earned their stripes in the career choices that they made and in the quality of the services they have provided in the course of their judicial careers.
13. There is plenty more that we could write and say on our distinguished jurists, but time and space would not permit. We however thank the Almighty for the lives of our eminent jurists, Honorable Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, President of the Court of Appeal and Honorable Justice Chinwe Iyizoba, Justice of the Court of Appeal. We thank Him in particular for keeping Your Lordships alive, well, in good health, with great and enduring looks, of sound minds and, I dare add, with good humor, at 70. As I mentioned earlier, Your Lordships’ brilliant minds and intellect not to mention the enduring girlish looks belie My Lords’ respective 70 years of age. At a time that being a lawyer not to mention, being a judicial officer, is becoming an extremely risky enterprise given the contrived minefields and boobytraps that are deliberately and mischievously placed on our way by those who seek to demonize the profession and the judiciary, it is remarkable and indeed, calls for celebration and thanksgiving that Your Lordships have served our nation as high-ranking judicial officers without blemish and now retiring unscathed and spotless. Indeed, God has been kind and faithful.
14. The Nigerian Bar Association indeed rejoices with Your Lordships over your retirements and wish Your Lordships a most restful, fulfilling and enjoyable post-retirement period. We wish Your Lordships continuing good health, in sound mind, with God’s continued blessings and protection. We know that Your Lordships still have considerable energy and drive and even though retiring are most definitely not tired. Your Lordships remain of sound mind and body, and we thank God for that, and we firmly believe that there is room for us, as a nation, to still tap from Your Lordships’ fountain of formidable knowledge, experience and skills. As I have consistently mentioned, we can never have enough hands in and for the gigantic task of nation-building and we encourage our official institutions, including the three arms of government – the judiciary, the legislature and the executive – to invite and make use of dedicated, experienced and knowledgeable retired but still able and healthy jurists like Bulkachuwa PCA and Iyizoba JCA, as required and necessary. In particular, we, the NBA, will continue to knock on Your Lordships’ doors for those pieces of advice and nuggets of wisdom not to mention the welcoming smiles that are the hallmark of Your Lordships.
15. This Address will not be complete without my congratulating and extending our sincere gratitude and appreciation to Your Lordships’ immediate family who have, over the years, borne rather patiently, the harsh brunt and reality of Your Lordships’ punishing judicial schedules – and I am referring in particular to those long, arduous and lonely days, nights and weekends when Your Lordships forfeited family time in order to ponder over those arcane legal issues, researching law reports and judicial texts for the determination one way or the other of knotty and troubling issues on which rested the hopes and rights of litigants and by extension our people.
16. Now, My Lords’ growing brood of grandchildren are likely to and may have Your Lordships mostly to themselves, subject of course, to the caveat that I have already entered, to wit, the fact that, Your Lordships, by God’s special Grace, still being of sound mind and good health, remain on the country’s reserve bench and may be called to national duty in the continuing task of nation-building. I thank My Lord, the President of the Court of Appeal, for the privilege of this Address.
Paul Usoro, SAN