Andrews Otutu Obaseki, former Justice of the Supreme Court, died peacefully in Benin, Edo State, after a brief illness on Wednesday, July 12. He was 93. His transition brought to an end a most distinguished legal career which started from the State High Courts in Benin.
Obaseki incidentally did not start out as a lawyer. After his elementary education in Benin City, he studied at Hope Waddell Training Institute, Calabar, before proceeding to the School of Agriculture, Moore Plantation, Ibadan, where he obtained a certificate in Agriculture. It was only after this that he sought admission into the London School of Economics to train as a lawyer in 1948. It was as a lawyer that he distinguished himself and got to the pinnacle of his career at the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
It was, indeed, to the like of this departed jurist that the maxim, “as sober as a judge” rightly applies. For all of the 16 years (1975-1991) that he was at the apex court, he was unassailable for his integrity, flawless erudition and intelligence. He belonged to the golden generation of Supreme Court justices which had the distinguished Justices Kayode Eso and Chukwudifu Oputa, both now of blessed memory, as members.
Obaseki’s judgments, it must be recalled, were brilliant. This was captured for posterity and the present generation to learn from by the inimitable but also now late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, in a publication entitled: Justice Obaseki: Supreme Court Years (1975—1991) His Notable Pronouncements. In all of his active years on the bench, Obaseki emphasised the importance of the rule of law, and this can be discerned in some of his more notable judgments like the cases involving the Governor of Lagos State Vs. Ojukwu; Garba Vs. University of Maiduguri; and in the 1979 presidential elections involving Candidate Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) Vs. Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). On the rule of law, he had this to say: “In the area where the rule of law operates, the rule of self-help by force is abandoned…”
So profound and rigorous are his reasoned judgments that some of them are referred to in the annals of law as locus classicus. In the ordinary man’s language, the judgments are considered so sound that they remain a final authority on the matter so decided.
Obaseki definitely impacted his country and world profoundly. His time at the Supreme Court will forever be remembered with nostalgia, given his deep understanding of law. He was a chief advocate for morality, integrity and excellence. For all of his great exertions on behalf of the country, he was invested with the national honour, Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON). He was also honoured in his hometown with the very important traditional title of the Obaseki of Benin Kingdom.
We express our heartfelt sympathy to the Obaseki family which counts amongst its numbers the current Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki. We also commiserate with the people of Edo and the country at large who the honourable jurist served with distinction and courage. We, however, take consolation in his rich and timeless legacies and commend his exemplary life of service to all Nigerians.