From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
A cross section of senior lawyers in the country have paid glowing tribute to the late Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Slyvester Nwguta, who died in the early hours of Sunday.
A statement by the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Hadizatu Mustapha announcing the death of Justice Ngwuta, said he died in the early hours of Sunday in his sleep at his official Abuja residence.
The statement said “He felt sick and was admitted in the last one week in the National Hospital, Abuja, but before he was moved to the intensive care unit (ICU) of the hospital on Friday, March 5 he tested negative to COVID-19 investigative test conducted on him.’
‘Justice Ngwuta was due to retire from the Supreme Court bench on attaining the mandatory retirement age of 70 years on March 30, 2021.
Speaking to Daily Sun on his death, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) said he is saddened by the incident as he offered his condolences to the Supreme Court and his family.
“I did not know Mr Justice Sylvester Ngwuta personally but a death of a Supreme Court Justice , as former President of the bar , leaves me saddened. I offer my deepest condolences to the Jusyices of the Supreme Court and in particular, his family for the loss”, Agbakoba stated.
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a Professor of Law, Chief Awa Kalu (SAN), described the late jurist as a good man of vibrant intellect who will be missed greatly.
Interestingly, Prof. Kalu told Daily Sun that Justice Ngwuta was his former classmate both in the Law School Class of 1978 as well as the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), and has promised to write a tribute on him.
“Justice Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta was my classmate both in the Nigerian Law School class of 1978 as well as the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University).I knew him well and in my view he was a good man and of vibrant intellect,possessed of a calm mien. He will be missed greatly, ” he said.
On his part, a former Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Imo State and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Chukwuma-Machukwu Ume (SAN), lamented that Nwguta, died in protest of the shock and trauma ocassioned by the 2016 midnight invasion of his Abuja official residence, by operatives of the Department of State Security Service (DSS).
“It is unfortunate that what he was subjected to, something unknown in any civilized nation, that he couldn’t recover from that shock and trauma. This is very very unfortunate. That he passed on at the hour and time of the invasion speaks of protest of what he was subjected to. He died in protest of what he was subjected to in the hands of operatives of the DSS in 2016.”
Regardless, Ume described the late jurist as a legal icon who contributed immensely in the development of the nation’s legal jurisprudence.
“It’s most unfortunate to hear about the death of Justice Slyvester Nwguta of the Supreme Court. It is devastating that we lose such a jurist who has played a wonderful role in Justice dispensation in Nigeria.
“While in the High Court bench, he made novel pronouncements, while at the Court of Appeal, he made wonderful efforts and beautiful pronouncements in the judicial jurisprudence of our country. At the Supreme Court, he was an icon.”
Another Senior lawyer, Chief Solo Akuma (SAN), a former Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice of Abia State, described the late Ngwuta as an erudite and courageous jurist who will be missed by all.
“I was shocked when I heard the sad news of the demise of Ngwuta JSC. Justice Ngwuta was an erudite, hard working and courageous Judicial officer. We had expected that he will be celebrated when he will retire from the bench by the end of this month. We shall miss him. May God grant his gentle soul eternal rest and his family the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss.”
Justice Ngwuta was due to retire from the Supreme Court bench on attaining the mandatory retirement age of 70 years on March 30, 2021.
His remains have been deposited in the National Hospital mortuary pending the arrangement for his burial.
The late jurist was born in 1951 Amofia-Ukawu, Onicha local government area of Ebonyi State. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in Law from Obafemi Awolowo University and was called to Bar in 1978 upon his graduation from the Nigerian Law School.
He began his Law career in 1978 as a State counsel in Benue State Ministry of justice, the same year he established his own law firm. In October 1995, he was appointed as a Judge of the Abia State High Court.
On May 22, 2011, he was appointed to the bench of the Court of Appeal and on May 2013, he was elevated to the bench of the Supreme Court as Justice.
Justice Ngwuta presided over the ruling of the Supreme Court that affirmed Olusegun Mimiko as the governor-elect of Ondo State in the May 2013 governorship election.
He also presided over the ruling of the Supreme Court that affirmed Kayode Fayemi as the governor-elect of Ekiti State in the June 2013 governorship election and was supported by Justices Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad and Suleiman Galadima.
He was one of the Supreme Court Justices arrested by the Department of State Security Services (DSS) on October 8, 2016, on allegations of bribery and corruption.
Although he was charged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal and the Federal High Court, both courts ruled that only the National Judicial Council could determine whether or not Ngwata would face trial.
In September 2019, Ngwuta resumed his duties as a Supreme Court Justice after a three-year suspension.