I am native of Agbede in Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State. I was born into a Muslim family. My father Alhaji A.R. Ali, was a Public Servant with the Federal Ministry of Labour; my mother,AlhajaAminat Ali, was a full time house wife. She devoted all her time bringing up all her children with moral chastity.My father worked in many states of the Federation; Ibadan, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Sapele, Jos, Akure, to mention just these few. He eventually retired in Lagos State as Principal Labour Officer.
My parents had nine (9) children – four (4) boys and five (5) girls. I am the 5th of the nine children. Sadly, and may their souls rest in peace, three of us are no more. God knows the best always and we must always submit to Him in all circumstances be it good or bad, favourable or unfavourable, for He is our Maker. Most of my siblings were born in Ibadan and Lagos. I was born in Ibadan where I spent my early, formative years including attending my primary education. When my father was transferred to Lagos, we moved with him and it was there, I had my secondary education.
I attended Ansar-ud-Dean Primary School, Oke Ado, Ibadan, and later, Aunty Ayo Girls’ Secondary School, Lagos. I did a one-year Higher School Study at St. Gregory’s College, Lagos, before I gained admission to study Law at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, from where I graduated with a degree in Law in 1978. Thereafter I proceeded to the Nigerian Law School, Lagos, and I was called to Bar in 1979.Between the period of my birth and when I was called to the Bar in 1979, I had not lived in my State. We only visited my home town occasionally when my father was on leave. Therefore, after my call to the Bar, my father insisted that one of us must go to our State of origin to work, it became natural that the one to go home was me since I had not lived there.
Looking back, it would appear that the unseen hand, some call it fate, for the first time after I had become a Lawyer, took me back to my State of origin where I worked briefly, at the then Bendel State Ministry of Justice as a State Counsel.
It was during my stay in Benin that I met my husband, Lt. Col. (Dr.) Philip Iyayi (late), then a young ArmyOfficer. My husband was not only a fine medical doctor, he was also a trained combatant soldier. He underwent several military trainings both locally and abroad.
Being from a muslim home, my parents forbade me from marrying him because he was a christian. However, I had always known what I wanted, especially in matters of the heart. So I stood my ground. The rest is history as Iyayi and I became husband and wife with lovely children, living happily thereafter until the Grim Reaper took him away in his prime in the C-130 military plane crash at Ejigbo, near Lagos, in 1992, amongst other fine military officers who were on training for Senior Military Officers at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Jaji. Till date, I still regard my late husband as a rare gem of unfinished greatness, knowing his competence and intellect, each time I reflect on how he was cut down in mid passage, in his prime. He was a devoted, loving husband and father, kind, compassionate, and would leave no stone unturned to ensure that Officers and Men received the best medical care. Again, as always, the Creator knows the best and we His creatures, must continue to lovingly submit to Him as no one knows the mind of God.It was after I had children with my husband that my parents came around and accepted him, long before his passing.
All Judges of Rivers State origin in the service of the Rivers State Judiciary, and Federal Judiciary, serving and retired, have been given retirement accommodation on owner-occupier basis by the Rivers State Government. Similar provisions for all the Magistrates are in the offing
After our marriage, we lived in Benin City for about two years and my husband was posted to 3 Battalion Nigerian Army EffurunBarracks, Warri. I had to leave my job as State Counsel in the Ministry of Justice, Benin, to join him in Warri. It was exactly the same way I was following my dad to wherever duty called, that I was also following my husband, to wherever duty called. I had been both a loyal daughter and a loyal and submissive wife. It was clear that my father and my husband were nudging fate in the right direction.
In Warri, I worked with the Delta Steel Company, OvwianAladja, as a Legal Officer.We were in Warri for about 3 years when he was posted to Elele Barracks i.e Air Mobile Brigade Field Ambulance, Nigerian Army Medical Corps Elele in Rivers State. I could not immediately join him at Elele because of my job, at Aladja. But I ultimately did so later.
While in Rivers State, I was miraculously, in 1986, appointed a Magistrate in the Rivers State Magistracy. It was miraculous indeed because I was not one of the candidates selected to be sworn-in but was placed on the reserved list. There was delay in the swearing-in but unfortunately one of the candidates to be sworn-in passed on. That was how I was called upon to replace her. God had destined me to be appointed a Magistrate that time. This signalling, unknown to me, that this was my last bus stop in my movements from city to city first with my father, before my marriage, and later with my husband, after marriage.
We lived at the Elele Barracks for about 3 years, from where I was commuting to work at Elimgbu Magistrate Court where I first understudied Hon. Justice Mary Peter Odili, JSC who was then a Senior Magistrate. Later the Nigerian Army provided accommodation for us at the Zuru Estate, Obi Wali Road, Rumuigbo, when my husband was posted to Military Hospital, Port Harcourt, where we lived until that day when the sad news came that my husband was no more.My movement within city this time, not across states – resumed in course of my service, as a Magistrate, to the people and Government of Rivers State. I worked at Elimgbu Magistrate Court for about 4 years and thereafter, at Isiokpo, Emohua and Port Harcourt Magisterial Districts. Port Harcourt was my last Magisterial District. Literally and figuratively, this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.
In 1998, it pleased God and He made it possible that I was divinely appointed a Judge of the High Court of Rivers State, along with my Brother Judges – Hon. Justice E.O. Agbara (Rtd.) now late), Hon. Justice Joy Akpughunum, Hon. Justice S. Iragunima (Rtd.) Hon. Justice B. Ugbari (Rtd.) and late Hon. Justice A. Wodu.
Judging whether as a Magistrate or a Judge, is challenging, tasking and exhausting. I was committed to my work, irrespective of all the challenges I faced whether from the Bar, colleagues, staff or even litigants. Many of those challenges border on irrelevances and trifles, rooted, I must confess, on resentments that one is a non-indigene. As all of us know, this is a Nigerian challenge, although its occurrence and severity varies from place to place. All the same I thank God and the people of Rivers State for the opportunity to serve first as a Magistrate, a Judge and a Chief Judge. Indeed Rivers State is exceptional and accommodating.
Howbeit, I was not deterred, indeed, nor discouraged because I always remembered how miraculously and divinely I became a Magistrate and later, a Judge. Moreover, there was work to be done which I had sworn to do. A military officer, Admiral Nelson of Her Majesty’s Navy in England, became famous for his now popular statement that “England expects that Each man would Do His work”.
I was expected to do my work which I had sworn to do and neither discouragement nor sentiments, or even resentment, from any quarters should stand on the way. Being the daughter of a Federal Civil Servant, who had lived and schooled in several cities across Nigeria, having received education at different environments away from mine, and being the wife of a military officer who had lived in different cities, I was naturally equipped, as I was, to work with and find my way around people who, for no reason but as evidence of our being imperfect humans, saw me as a stranger. With tenacity and perseverance, I thank God I succeeded.
Although initially I had challenges all because I was seen as a non-indigene,I did not allow any trifle or sentiments or prejudice, no matter how magnified to be an important issue by its sponsors, to hold us down in our genuine quest to improve on what we met on ground in aid of justice delivery
It was challenging, I must confess. I state that I was despised, neglected, even refused all forms of benefits apart from my salary, all because I was seen as a non-indigene. What helped me greatly to adjust was my background as I stated, and the fact of the inherent zeal to work, whether as Magistrate, or as a Judge, it was not about the money because the salary was really nothing to write home about then. There is something sacred about passion to work for the State, for the people, for humanity through Judgeship. This I did with all my heart. Being a Judge is a position of honour, not money. In this position, honour triumphs wealth. It triumphs over every other consideration as it seeks only to enthrone justice and justice is an attribute of God, our Maker.
SOARING EVEN HIGHER
No one can accurately foretell the future in details. That is certainly beyond human ability. Only God, the Creator of the universe, possesses all the necessary facts and can control events. God is spoken of as the one who tells the beginning, the finale, and from long ago, the things that have not been done. God knows the end from the beginning and the beginning from the end.And so it was that being a non-indigene, as I was always referred to or described even by my colleagues, the thought of becoming a Chief Judge never crossed my mind, not even in my wildest dream. Only God knew it to be a possibility, a reality, someday.
I never knew God’s ways and thoughts are quite different from those of humans. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD” Isaiah 55:8. The day God destined finally came. He made available His instrument, His Excellency, the Governor of Rivers State, Chief (Barr.) NyesomEzenwoWike, CON, GSSRS, POS (Africa), who has a determined heart and does not discriminate. Not standing on ceremonies and putting aside all the sentiments and prejudices that have hobbled this otherwise great Country of ours since its founding. His Excellency, as if against the run of play, appointed me the Chief Judge on 8th day of March, 2016, making me the second non-Rivers indigene, after the White South African Michael Holden CBE, to be so appointed the 8th Chief Judge in the history of Rivers State. His Excellency is fully aware that I am eternally grateful for the honour of the momentous appointment and he needs no telling to know the depth of my gratitude.There is no error in God’s word. No man can stop the Hand of God. It is an act of God through the instrumentality of His Excellency that I was made the Chief Judge of Rivers State.
As Chief Judge of the State, we continued with the traditions we met, making improvements here and there and discarding whatever was no longer working or serving us. Although initially I had challenges all because I was seen as a non-indigene,I did not allow any trifle or sentiments or prejudice, no matter how magnified to be an important issue by its sponsors, to hold us down in our genuine quest to improve on what we met on ground in aid of justice delivery. As a wife to a Military Officer and moreover as a Judge, I have always known that you yield to nothing and refuse to be cowed or blackmailed or derailed or intimidated in the honest discharge of your duty. Trifles or sentiments therefore, could not qualify to hobble or deter me in the honest discharge of my duties, although sometimes one is misunderstood and derided.I focused on how to improve justice delivery, how to quicken it, knowing as all of us do, that it is never an ending quest, it is a continuous work in progress.
It is tempting to begin to catalogue what one was able to contribute and achieve in the office one is leaving or retiring from 8/3/2016 to 25/5/2021. I have successfully resisted that temptation and would rather leave it to history, who is a better Judge. All my previous addresses during the legal year ceremonies of the Rivers State Judiciary of 2016/2017, 2017/2018, 2018/2019, 2019/2020 and 2020/2021, contain catalogues of the landmark achievements during my tenure, all enabled by His Excellency’s Government.
According to Ellison Shoji Onizuka, the American Astronaut of the US spacecraft, the challenger fame, “Every general has the obligation to free men’s mind for a look at new worlds…. to look out from a higher plateau from that of the last generation”. We did so. Each Chief Judge is in charge of a generation in the life of the Judiciary he heads and should look from a higher plateau than the last. We did so, and it is my hope and prayer that succeeding generations of Chief Judges of Rivers State, in particular, my worthy successor will look from even higher plateau than mine, since it has to be one of successive improvements away from deterioration and backwardness.
The office of a Chief Judge is a University of its own where one learns the salutary lessons of a life time; the strengths, weaknesses, predilections, prejudices and bias of Brother Judges, Magistrates, Judiciary Staff, the members of the Bar, the litigating public and other stakeholders in the administration of justice. That is human nature which every man or woman must acknowledge and cope with in the management of men and materials in any organization or society.At all times, and in all things, the common good of all and benefit of Administration of Justice prevailed and all and sundry contributed to our success story in the Rivers State Judiciary.
My tenure enjoyed robust and cordial relationship and co-operation from the leadership of the entire Bar in Rivers State, the Rivers State Police Command, the Federal Correctional Centre in Port Harcourt, the Press and other agencies.
It bears repetition for the sake of record, that all the achievements of the Rivers State Judiciary during my tenure, I owe them to the boundless benevolence of His Excellency in particular and the regular unhesitating release of funds to the Judiciary for human and infrastructural developments.
All Judges of Rivers State origin in the service of the Rivers State Judiciary, and Federal Judiciary, serving and retired, have been given retirement accommodation on owner-occupier basis by the Rivers State Government. Similar provisions for all the Magistrates are in the offing.
For me as the retiring Chief Judge of Rivers State, I am proud and exceedingly happy that His Excellency built a palatial residential accommodation for me. This was also replicated in kind to my predecessors in office. What space and time will not permit to recount, we leave to History and Historians to tell as in the case of Rivers State Judiciary.
From all accounts, Rivers State Judiciary is second to none in human capital and infrastructural developments in Nigeria. I am very proud to say that Rivers State is not bewildered with the problems many State Judiciaries are facing like non-payment of salary, lack of funds to run the Courts, poor welfare packages for Judicial Officers and Staff, poor infrastructure, etc. The Judiciary Staff Union of
Nigeria (JUSUN) embarked on nation-wide strike from Monday, 5th of April, 2021 to press for the implementation of financial autonomy of the Judiciaries of the States of the Federation of Nigeria. To all intents and purposes, this is a well-intentioned agitation for the good of the JUDICIARY. Also, gratifying is the usual supportive protest by the Nigerian Bar Association, both at the National and State Branches for the financial autonomy of our Judiciaries.
But here in Rivers State, regrettably, the JUSUN Rivers State Branch or Rivers JUSUN and its self-serving leaders took their agitation and their luck or opportunity too far as they exposed their worst instinct in resorting to name calling and denigration of the office of the Chief Judge of Rivers State. And when my office extended official invitation to them for explanation of the financial autonomy status and level of compliance by the Rivers State Government, the JUSUN Rivers leadership bluntly rebuffed me and turned down the invitation. They used the media to down play or deny some laudable achievements of the Judiciary of Rivers State.
Administration of justice suffered set-back, generally in Nigeria during the strike; lawyers and litigants were the worst-sufferers. Judges and Magistrates of the Rivers State Judiciary generally had no access to case files and Exhibits in Chambers for judgment writing.
I must not fail to place on record the maturity and self-restraint exhibited by the leadership and members of the NBA Rivers State Branch over their responsive and responsible support for the agitation for judicial autonomy, especially when my office later availed them with the compliance status of the Rivers State Government. But same cannot be said of the Chairman, Governing Council of the Eastern Bar Forum, Mr. S. Long-Williams, who taking shelter under his office, threw ethics at the Bar to the wind, through the media used the occasion to issue a 24-hour ultimatum to the Chief Judge of Rivers State to explain or confirm compliance status of the Rivers State Judiciary. History, they say, will vindicate the right and just in all human affairs.
Financial autonomy for Judiciary is good but from the posture of JUSUN Rivers, especially and my impression is that they do not really understand what it stands for and do not appreciate the commendable compliance by the Rivers State Government.
All factors considered, let me declare for the avoidance of doubt that the Rivers State Government is already complying with the financial autonomy for Rivers State Judiciary before the JUSUN strike and we are assured of continued greater and total compliance.
Considering that we are imperfect humans, it is not possible that there will be contact or discharge of official duty without conflict. Conflict, like contact, is inevitable in human affairs. And with it comes the giving and taking of offence. It is not possible to please everybody. If you want to be liked by everybody, then you cannot be a leader. Here, it is appropriate that I ask for forgiveness from all those it was our inexorable duty to offend in line of duty.
Your Excellency, my Lords, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, having forgiven each other we must also now praise and thank each other for successfully working together.
I thank sincerely, my staff in my court and chambers: Nyengibi, Lizzy, Confidence, my hardworking and diligent Registrars of court, Veronica (my Secretary and prayer partner), Kelechi, (my very hardworking P.A.) Sunny, Jennifer, Ibiso (my Legal Assistants), Henry (my protocol officer), Michael and Hector (my drivers), Monday (my trustworthy Orderly), Nengi and Mangibo, who worked with me diligently, many times late and not sulking when sometimes I shouted at them. It was because I wanted them to be up and doing. Because I was punctual, they were also expected to be punctual. I thank them immensely for their support.
All my Brother Judges of the High Court and Customary Court of Appeal, I thank you all. In particular, My Lord Justice Enebeli, my Brother Judge and friend, permit me to say I am very grateful. In times of difficulties, I call on you, you are always willing to render advise and help. I also thank my Lord Hon. Justice O. Gbasam. The Chief Registrar, the Deputy Chief Registrars and the entire staff of the Judiciary, you all supported me and made my tenure successful.
I thank all the members of Branches of our Bar in the State for their support. I thank the Hon. Speaker, Rivers State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Ikuinyi-OwajiIbani for the cordial relationship between the Legislature and the Judiciary. My friends in the Executive Arm of Government; the Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Tammy W. Danagogo and the Hon. Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Z. Adangor, SAN – I thank you so much. I thank all the members of the Judicial Service Commission and the Secretary and Staff for their team work and support.
I thank the Special Assistant to the Governor on ICT, IbifuroAsawo and his team and the Rivers State Judiciary Information Technology Committee headed by my Lord Hon. Justice E.N. Thompson for their hard work and for the success of the E-Filing and other automation of the Rivers State Courts Management Information System. Thank you for making Rivers State Judiciary the first to fully embrace E-filing of court processes.
I thank all the members of the Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Council for their hard work and contributions towards the Administration of Criminal Justice in the State. Now the Magistrates visit police stations regularly to inspect their detention centres. Also we have an office at the court complex for Correctional Officers to help supervise and enforce non-custodial sentences issued by Magistrates and Judges.
I thank the Chairman and all the members of the planning committee of the valedictory ceremonies. I am grateful to you all. God bless you.
My family, my children, my grandchildren, my in-laws, today is a special day and you have always been there contributing to making it so. I thank you and I love you all.
I cannot thank you enough, the courageous and very focused Governor of our State, together with his wife, my Brother Judge, Her Excellency, Hon. Justice Eberechi Suzzette Nyesom-Wike, I thank you both. I have already stated that His Excellency already knows fully well that I am grateful to him. Because of that, I just want to say thank you and to pray for your continued success and that God continues to hold you securely in the palm of His hands.
Looking back, it is evident that God guided my steps up to this day. I am eternally grateful to Him, Owner of life. I am so far, pleased with my years. I could not be more grateful to all. I have now been listed in the roll of not just a fulfilled woman but a woman blessed by God – I have the gift of life, good health in retirement, illustrious children, son-in-law, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, supporting in-laws as well as all the wherewithal as Constitutionally guaranteed, to make my retirement peaceful and joyful, courtesy of the Government of Rivers State under His Excellency.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great thinker, aptly stated thus “if we are related, we shall meet again”.And so if we are truly related, whether in service or upon my retirement, we are related, and shall continue to meet in life after now.
We shall continue to meet again and again because we are, I believe, related.