Eric Eweke Yenagoa
Former Nigerian President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, has admonished the political class to allow the judiciary perform its constitutional functions, saying society is dynamic.
Jonathan gave the admonition on Friday during the book presentation/reception that culminated week-long activities marking the retirement of the Bayelsa State Chief Judge, Justice Kate Abiri, in Yenagoa, the state capital.
The former president acknowledged the critical role Justice Abiri played when she swore in the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, thus averting a constitutional crisis and advised politicians not to be blinded by the power they wield.
Jonathan equally cautioned judicial officers to strive to be impartial and courageous in upholding the rule of law, which he noted was significant in the delivery of justice.
He advised politicians that while in office, let us not try to blackmail the judiciary because it is conservative. When we get political power, we get so blinded. Politicians should know that society is changing.
“Today, we are celebrating our retiring Chief Judge because she has served meritoriously. In 2015, she left Bayelsa for Rivers to perform the swearing-in of the governor thereby averting anarchy. It appears that the judicial arm is more functional than the executive.”
In his remarks, the Bayelsa governor, Senator Douye Diri, hailed Justice Abiri for her outstanding achievements, noting that during her 15-year term as Chief Judge, she swore in three governors in Bayelsa and one in Rivers.
They are Chief Timipre Sylva (2008), Senator Seriake Dickson (2012), Senator Douye Diri (2020) and Nyesom Wike (2015).
Governor Diri described Abiri as a legal icon, who rendered unblemished and meritorious service in three decades of legal practice.
He said the state would still require her services due to her commitment and wealth of experience.
Chairman of the occasion and chairman of the Body of Benchers, Chief Wole Olanikpekun (SAN), lauded Abiri as an elegant, brilliant and hardworking jurist, who represents the very best in the legal profession.
Chief Olanikpekun also commended the Diri administration for supporting the judiciary, expressing belief that in a few days a substantive CJ would be appointed for the state judiciary.
Responding, Justice Kate Abiri expressed appreciation to the Bayelsa governor for his support and encouragement.
Three books were unveiled at the event, which include “Kate Abiri: Footprints on the Bench,” “Judges and Judging in Nigeria” and “Bayelsa State Law Reports: Volume One.”
The chief launcher and president of the De Wayles Group, High Chief Emonena Wayles Egukawhore, donated the sum of $100,000 and N20 million for the books while the Rivers State government donated N200 million, the Bayelsa government gave N250 million and Chief Gesi Asamowei N5 million among other donations.
Dignitaries at the colourful event included wife of the former president, Dame Patience Jonathan, wife of the Bayelsa governor, Justice Patience Diri, wife of the first civilian governor of the state, Mrs Margaret Alamieyeseigha, Governor Nyesom Wike represented by the Rivers State Head of Service, Rufus Godwin, and the Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki represented by the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Oluwale Iyamu (SAN).
Others were the Bayelsa Deputy Governor, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, his predecessor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John-Jonah (rtd), members of the National Assembly from the state led by Dr. Fred Agbedi (Sagbama/Ekeremor Federal Constituency), state lawmakers, first military administrator of old Rivers State and immediate past chairman of the state traditional rulers council, King Alfred DieteSpiff, chairman of the state traditional rulers council, King Bubaraye Dakolo, and other royal fathers.
Some of the legal icons in attendance were Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Chima Centus Nweze, retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Francis Tabai, Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, President, National industrial Court, Justice B. B Karnyip, the Chief Judges of Rivers, Edo, Cross River and Zamfara states as well as Justice Daniel Ayah. President, Bayelsa Customary Court of Appeal, and his counterparts in Rivers and Edo states.
Earlier, at a special parade and valedictory court session in her honour, different speakers extolled her virtues and her contribution to the growth of the judiciary in Nigeria.
Governor Diri said her retirement was the beginning of a fresh chapter for the renowned judge, who displayed exemplary character and attracted dignity to the Bench.
He noted that Abiri was soft-spoken and humble but also a personality that carried the full weight of the law, with a balanced approach to leadership.
He assured that his government will continue to respect the rule of law as well as partner the judiciary in delivering the dividends of democracy to all Bayelsans.
Speaking on behalf of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Chief Thompson Okpoko stated that Abiri served well in honour and character, having witnessed her emergence as the third substantive CJ of Bayelsa.
Chief Okpoko said lawyers in the state attest to the fact that she exhibited the true qualities required of a judge while presiding over cases as well as in the administration of justice.
Also, the Chief Judge of Zamfara State and Chairman, Body of Chief Judges, Justice Lulu Aliyu, stated that Abiri had great qualities in temperament, legal knowledge and its appreciation
Responding, Justice Abiri expressed appreciation particularly to Governor Diri for making her experience under his administration seamless, owing to the financial autonomy introduced as governor of the state.
She stressed that the state judiciary now executes quality projects without external supervision or stifling of funds.