1. My Lords, today we are gathered to pay our respect and tribute to one of the epochal Supreme Court Justices of recent times, the late Honourable Mr. Justice Francis Ikechi Ogbuagu CON who departed this world on 18th day of September, 2018 shortly after his 78th birthday. Our hearts and sincere prayers go out to His Lordship’s immediate, extended family and the entire legal community. We are aware of the grief that comes with losing a loved one irrespective of their age. We find solace in knowing that Honourable Mr. Justice Francis I Ogbuagu was loved not only by his biological family but by all of us, and particularly by His Lordship’s Legal Constituency. We indeed thank the Almighty for His Lordship’s life and the service that My Lord rendered to the judicial sector and Nigeria in general.
2. In times such as this, it is pertinent to elucidate the life and times of the late eminent jurist as indeed it was a life well lived with major marks made on the legal profession and the Nation at large. His Lordship, Honorable Justice Francis Ikechi Ogbuagu born in the mid 90’s had his early education from some of the best of schools in England before obtaining his Bachelor of Law degree in 1965 at the age of 25 after which he proceeded to the Nigerian Law School and was subsequently enrolled as a Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 1966. His Lordship began his 24 years illustrious legal career as a private legal practitioner where he achieved some feats including being a Notary public, member of Imo state Law Reporting and Law Review Committee, etc. before leaving the bar in 1990 when he was appointed a Judge in the Imo State High Court.
3. On His Lordship’s judicial career, His Lordship was one of the very few Judges to have served in the High Court of two different States having been appointed as a Judge of the High Court of Imo State in 1990 and was later appointed as a Judge of Abia State High Court after Abia was created form a part of Imo State in 1991. At the High Court Bench, the late Hon. Mr. Justice Francis I Ogbuagu was not only known by the legal community for his highly intellectual pronouncements and judgments but also for his role as the Chairman of Judicial Commission of Enquiry into Ariaria Market Fire Disaster in 1992. In September 2002, His Lordship was elevated to the Court of Appeal Bench where he served until June 2005 when he was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court. His Lordship retired from the Supreme Court after serving at the apex Bench for 5 years upon attaining the mandatory retirement age of 70 in September 2010.
4. His Lordship being a prolific writer and a member of the World Jurist Association made landmark decisions that indeed still have impact and relevance in recent times. His Lordship made a valid point in Chief John Oyegun v. Chief Francis Arthur Nzeribe (2010) 16 NWLR (Pt.1220) 568 S.C. when he made pronouncement on the consequences of when issue or issues is or are not distilled from ground or grounds of appeal where he stated thus:
“The consequence is now firmly settled. When any issue or issues is or are not distilled from ground or grounds of appeal, such an issue or issues, will be struck out. There are too many decided authorities in respect thereof. See the case of Ikegwuoha v. University of Jos (2005) All FWLR (Pt. 280) 1573. In other words, issue or issues formulated by an Appellant, must be based on and correlate with the ground or grounds or appeal. See the cases of Alhaji Arowolo C. Akapo & 2 ors. (2003) 8 NWLR (Pt. 823) 451 @ 500 C.A.; Archbishop Jatau v. Alhaji Ahmed & 4 ors. (2003) 1 SCNJ 382 @ 388. In fact, such an issue or issues, is incompetent and must also be discountenanced together with the argument advanced there under in the consideration of an appeal. See the cases of Adelusola & 4 ors. V. Akinde & 3 ors (2004) 12 NWLR (Pt. 887) 295 @ 311; (2004) 5 SCNJ 1; 235 @ 246; Amadi v NNPC (2000) 10 NWLR (Pt. 674) 76; (2000) 6 SCNJ 1; (2000) 6 S.C. (Pt. 1) 66; (2000) FWLR (Pt. 9) 1527.” Per I. F. OGBUAGU, J.S.C. (P.6, paras. A-F
In the instant case, the learned counsel for the Appellant did not and state at the hearing of the appeal, under which ground of appeal, his issues were formulated or raised or distilled from hence the pronouncement above which has indeed guided Lawyers in ensuring their processes for appeal are well detailed and outlined ensuring the issues for determination are clearly stated under a ground of appeal.
In the same matter cited above, His Lordship further made pronouncements on the duty on the Court in exercise of discretion when he succinctly stated:
“It is also settled that the exercise of discretion, is a matter exclusively for the court to do after weighing all the circumstances of the case in the interest of justice. In other words, in matters of discretion, no one case, can be an authority for another and the court, cannot be bound by a previous decision to exercise of discretion in a particular way.”
The above pronouncements of His Lordship, has made it pertinent that the Court is constantly reminded of its prerogative to exercise its discretion as all cases bare unique attributes albeit similar to previously decided cases.
6. In the case of ALLOYSIUS AKPAJI V. FRANCIS UDEMBA (2009) (2009) LPELR-371(SC), the Appealant never filed a defence or reply to the counter claim and lower court ruled in favor of the respondent on the basis that the appellant’s failure to file a defence or reply to the counterclaim amounted to admission of facts contained in the counter claim. On the effect of failure to file defence or reply to a counter claim, His Lordship held:
“I am aware however, and this is also settled, that where a plaintiff fails to or neglects to file a defence or a Reply to a counter-claim, it is of no moment and it is not fatal to the claim. This is because, if the Plaintiff succeeds in his claim, the counter-claim is useless. See the case of Dabup v. Kolo (1993) 9 NWLR (Pt. 317) 254 @ 270, 281; (1993) 12 SCNJ.1. It is not that the plaintiff is deemed to admit the counter-claim as stated at page 166 of the Records by the court below. It is only so, where it relates to the failure of the defendant, to file a Statement of Defence. In that case, all material facts alleged in the Statement of Defence, are put in issue See the case of Akeredolu v. Akinremi (1989) 3 NWLR (Pt.108) 164@ 172; (1989) 5 SCNJ. 71- per Kawu JSC, referred to in the case of Obot v. Central Bank of Nigeria (1993) 8 NWLR (Pt.310) 140 @ 162; (1993) 9 SCNJ. (Pt. 11) 268. See also T.A Aguda paragraph 109 page 101 – 102 Practice and Procedure in Civil Actions in the High Court of Nigeria. ” Per OGBUAGU, J.S.C. (Pp. 19-20, paras. D-A)”.
7. It is invariably obvious from a number of judicial pronouncement by His Lordship at the apex court that he was indeed very particular about the appellate courts critically examining all matters before making pronouncements which was evidenced in his numerous decisions which had high emphasis on the duties of court, mode of expression of discretion, etc which has continued to shape the Judiciary and continue to serve in guiding the court in making its judgments.
8. The Nigerian Bar Association was indeed not left out from benefiting from the eminence of the Late Hon. Justice F.I Ogbuagu as he served as member of the National Executive Committee (2nd highest decision making body) of the NBA representing the NBA Umuahiah branch from 1986-1990 where he indeed made lots of contribution to the growth and development of the Bar we enjoy today.
9. My Lords, the Nigerian Bar Association express its heartfelt condolences to the family of the Late Hon. Justice F.I Ogbuagu and the entire Judiciary particularly the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Mr. Justice Walter S.N Onnoghen, GCON and other Justices of the Supreme Court on such an imminent loss. It is our prayer that the soul of the late jurist rests in peace.
Paul Usoro, SAN, FCIArb
Nigerian Bar Association