Justice Adolphus Godwin Karibi-Whyte, retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, died a fortnight ago in Port Harcourt. He was 88. His passing was a shock to many of his colleagues in the legal profession to whom he represented more than an excellent lawyer. He was a model. He was also a judge and a prolific academic with many books and scores of articles in learned journals. He was the quintessential scholar and jurist and many tributes were paid him for his manifest hard work and intellectual contributions to the practice of law and Nigerian jurisprudence.
He was born in Abonnema, Rivers State, on January 29, 1932 and began his long career in the legal profession from the post of a lowly court clerk between 1951 and 1957 before he headed for the University of Hull in the United Kingdom for his legal training. He obtained his law degree in 1960 and was called to the Bar in 1961. He subsequently enrolled in the University of London for his Master’s degree in 1962. He obtained his Ph.D. in law from the University of Lagos.
He joined the Rivers State Ministry of Justice in 1973 as a Draftsman. He was later promoted to the position of Solicitor General of the State. He was also appointed Associate Professor of Law in the University of Lagos. His service in the Bench began in the Federal Revenue Court, later re-named the Federal High Court. He was president of the court till 1980 before he was promoted to the Court of Appeal. There, he served for four years before his eventual elevation to the apex court. The late jurist also served as chairman, Nigerian Constitutional Conference (1994-1995), Counterfeit Currency Tribunal, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and Committee of Pro-Chancellors of State-Owned Universities. He was in the class of eminent Nigerian legal luminaries such as Justices Conrad Idowu Taylor, Chukwudifu Oputa, Kayode Eso, Ekundayo Ogundare, Andrew Otutu Obaseki, Anthony Aniagolu, Chukwuwike Idigbe, Nnaemeka Agu, Lawal Uwais, Udo Udoma, Mohammed Bello, Niki Tobi and many others.
His intellectual bent was so noticeable that even when his position appeared unpopular, he would marshal his arguments to support his decision and reasoning in the most eloquent and professional manner. His dissenting judgements, which are legendary, have contributed immensely to the development of the nation’s law and jurisprudence.
In appreciation of Justice Karibi-Whyte’s meritorious service, he received the national honour of the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) in 1988. Ten years later, he was awarded the Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR). He was the Principal Consultant for the law firm Kanyi, Karibi-Whyte and Harstrup. In 1993 he was appointed to the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia Republic where he served as Vice President of the Tribunal (1993-1907).
Among his books were History and Sources of Nigerian Criminal Law (1993), The Federal High Court: Law and Practice (1982), Criminal Policy Traditional and Modern Trends (1988), The Relevance of the Judiciary in the Polity in Historical Perspective (1987), Re-shaping our criminal law (1990), Groundwork of Nigerian Criminal Law (1986), Sanctions in Nigerian Customary Criminal Law (1992), Private Contractual Obligations and the Nigerian Civil War (1974), The Reception of English Law in Sierra Leone, a Historical Treatment (1966) and Problems of Transnational Criminal Law in some African Countries (1992).
Without doubt, Justice Karibi-Whyte was a courageous judge. He was indeed a role model. We urge those aspiring to the bench to emulate his shining examples. We laud his immense contributions to law and jurisprudence in the country and elsewhere. In his death, Nigeria has certainly lost a gifted lawyer who should be celebrated and memorialised. We commiserate with his family, friends, the judiciary and the Federal Government over the irreparable loss. May God grant his soul eternal rest.