Today, 22 March 2021 is to me the greatest, most fulfilling day in my life. It is indeed marvellous in my sight.
I was admitted to read law at the University of Lagos in 1971. I graduated LLB Hons second class lower Division in 1974. I was called to the Bar in 1975 and joined the Ministry of Justice as a State Counsel after participating in the National Youth Service Corp.
In the Ministry of Justice, I was at one time Director of Legislative Drafting. Most of my stay in the Ministry was spent prosecuting High Crimes. I ended up as Director of Public Prosecutions a post I held for four years.
I spent eighteen years in the Ministry and eleven years as a High Court Judge, five years as a Court of Appeal Judge and eleven years as a Supreme Court Justice. I have a testimony, not once was I ever absent from work as a judge due to illness. I did have health challenges, but they were resolved during vacation. All medical procedures were uneventful. It is with humility that I have and will continue to give thanks praise and glory to the Almighty God. The Lord has been good to me, and I will forever be thankful.
I was born on 22 March, 1951. My birth certificate attests to that fact. My parents were the Hon Justice (Chief) Akinwumi R.W. Rhodes-Vivour and Mrs. Majorie Rhodes-Vivour. My great uncle i.e. my father’s uncle was Hon. Justice Bankole Rhodes. He lived at No 38 Igbosere Road, where the Lagos City Hall stands today. He was called to the English Bar in 1923. Those called to the Bar with him were Justice Olumuyiwa Jibowu, and Sir Adeyemo Alakija. Justice Olumuyiwa Jibowu was the first Nigeria Judge. He was appointed judge on 1 September 1944. Justice Bankole Rhodes was the second Nigeria Judge. He was appointed Judge on 8 November 1945, while Justice Adetokunboh Ademola who later became the first indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria was appointed Judge on 22 April 1949. My great uncle’s daughter Gloria Jackman nee Rhodes was the first female Chief Registrar of this Supreme Court and she was called to the Bar in 1953. Justice Bankole Rhodes was a Judge of the Federal Supreme Court and the West African Court of Appeal. My father on the other hand was called to the Bar in 1946. His colleagues, and those who were called to the Bar around that time were Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Fani Kayode, Justice C. Idigbe, Justice Atanda Fatayi-Williams.
I grew up in the Western Region of Nigeria. My father was a Chief Magistrate in Ibadan, Akure, Warri and Sapele. In 1963 he was appointed a Judge on the Creation of the Midwest Region, present day Delta and Edo States. He was transferred frequently, as a Magistrate so I ended up attending several primary schools in different towns in the South West. I attended Maryland Primary School in Ikeja.
At that time Ikeja was part of western Region. The other schools I attended were St. Mathias Primary School and Ibadan District Council School Oke Ado, Ibadan. I was in primary two then when Chief Ladi Williams SAN and my elder brother were in the final year. I concluded my primary education and was admitted to St. Gregory’s College Lagos. At St. Gregory’s I distinguished myself in sports, Cricket, and Athletics, the 100 metres Hurdles.
I did so well in the Hurdles event with little or no training. I ended up representing Lagos at the Hussey Shield. That was in 1970. This was a competition where the best athletes (Secondary School) participated. I came second to Aboyade Cole of Hussey College Warri. He beat me simply because he was taller than me. He had longer legs.
I did the West Africa School Certificate Exams in 1968 and the Higher School Certificate in 1970, and went on to read law at the University of Lagos in 1971. Secondary School was great fun. I was in the Boarding house. The usual pranks of teenagers was very much around, breaking bounds etc. Some of my colleagues in Secondary School were, Mr. Steve Oronsaye who became Head of Service of the Federation, Dr. John Abebe who was one time President of the Old Boys Association, Mr. Ken Oboh a businessman, Mr. Patrick Solomon, an Engineer, Mr Y. Njie, and Mr. P. Okoh both Oil Executives. For the Higher School Course St, Gregory’s College had girls for the frist time in 1969. In that class with me were Ms Chibututu and C. Obiyan, both lawyers.
Lola Alakija, a former Broadcaster with the NTA, to mention a few. At the University of Lagos the Dean of Law was Professor Elias who later became the second Chief Justice of Nigeria. Professor A.B. Kasumu SAN. He taught evidence. Professor Jadesola Akande and Dr Nylander SAN; they taught Tort. Professor Jegede SAN – Equity and Trust. Professor Omotola SAN – land law. The years went fast, I became a law graduate in 1974. Then on to the law School I graduated in 1975. Those called to the Bar in 1975 with me were Hon. Justices M. Owoade, Tinuke Akomolafe-Wilson, Ekpe all of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Adebisi Ogunmekan of the High Court of Lagos State. Mrs. Funke Adekoya, SAN and Mr Chidi llogu SAN. Since 1976 after completing the National Youth Service Corps it has been a long journey in the legal profession. It ends today as I retire as a
Justice of the Supreme Court.
I intend to comment on some issues in the law and related matters.
Genesis 6:12 reads: “And God looked upon the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.”
Corruption exists in all the countries of the earth. Nigeria is no exception. What should be done is to reduce it drastically thereby making our dear country an exception by building credible and transparent systems.
Elections in Nigeria are protracted. The stakes are too high. Conseguently most elections are usually resolved by the Courts, simply because most politicians are never satisfied with the results announced by the Regulatory body charged with the conduct of Elections (INEC). In Udom v Umana (No1) (2016) 12 NWLR (Pt.1526) p. 179 this is what I has to say:
“A careful reading and understanding of decided authorities show that a petitioner has an uphill task proving his petition in accordance with the Electoral Act. The Petitioner is always saddled with difficult requirements and procedures…. It is suggested by me that the Electoral Act should be amended to shift the burden of proof to INEC to prove that it conducted a fair and reasonable election.”
- NATIONAL SECURITY
In Dokubo-Asari v FRN (2006) IINWLR (Pt.991) p.324. As a Judge of the Court of Appeal I said that:
“Where National Security is threatened or there is the real likelihood of it being threatened Human Rights or the individual rights must be suspended until the National security can be protected or well taken care
National security must be visibly threatened before anyone is denied his rights. No one should be denied his rights on the whims and fancy of anyone in authority.
THE DOCTRINE OF PRECEDENT The Supreme Court has held on several occasions that it is absolutely bound by the doctrine of
Precedent or stare decisis. That in effect means: “Stand by your decisions and the decisions of your predecessors, however wrong they are and whatever injustice they inflict.”
There are some precedents that are clearly out of date, and should no longer be followed. I am of the view that Precedents that no longer make sense anymore or are out dated should be laid to rest and never followed.
LIMITATION LAW: In JES Investment Ltd v Brawal Lere Ltd & ors (2010) 18 NWLR (Pt.1225) p.495. On the need for reform of Limitation Laws I said that:
“There has been no reform of Limitation Laws in Nigeria. The general Limitation periods for some actions are too short. Judges should be conferred with discretion to extend Limitation periods when it is just and equitable to do so. Actions that readily come to mind are sexual abuse cases. The victims are usually too traumatized, under intolerable pressure, grief stricken and depressed for long periods. Consequently, when they eventually regain their composure, it is too late to file action in court, because of the short limitation periods provided by the law. This also applies to personal injury cases. Injuries that occur in a factory. The victim is usually a poor factory worker drawn into endless negotiation by a boss much aware of the Limitation period. Time to file action runs out, when the poor factory worker realizes he has been taken for a ride. He has a cause of action but sadly one that cannot be enforced.
To my mind reforms are required with an urgency that makes delay an accessory. We should reform our Limitation Laws as has been done in the United Kingdom (UK).
Numbers 27:7 reads:
“The daughters of Zelophehad speak right. Thou shall surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their fathers brethren; and shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them.”
And Job 42:15 says that:
“And in all the land were no woman found so fair as the daughters of Job and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren.” The above informed my reasoning in Ukeje v Ukeje (2014) 11NWLR (Pt.1418) p.384. Where I held that a customary law which disentitles a female child from partaking in her deceased fathers estate is in breach of section 42 (1) and (2) of the Constitution, a fundamental rights provision guaranteed to every Nigeria. The said Customary Law is void as it conflicts with section 42 (1) and (20 of the Constitution. Female children are entitled to an inheritance.
GOVERNORS IN BREACH OF ELECTED LOCAL GOVERNMENT TENURES.
In Eze & 147 ors v Gov Abia State & 2 ors (2014) 5-7SC (Pt.1) p.171. On Section 7(1) of the Constitution I said that: “On a careful reading of the above it becomes clear that it is the duty of the Governors to ensure that the system of Local Government continues unhindered. Dissolving Local Government Councils and replacing them with caretaker committees amounts to the Governor acting on his whims and fancies unknown to our laws, clearly illegal. It is the duty of the Governor to ensure their existence rather than being responsible for destroying them. It amounts to executive recklessness for the Governor to remove from Office democratically elected chairmen and councillors under whatever guise. It is illegal and wrong.”
I am of the view that certain convicts should be allowed to serve their prison terms only after their appeals are exhausted. The reason being that some convicts serve several years in prison before their appeals are heard and decided. Their appeal may be found to be meritorious. They are then released. No compensation paid for the time spent in prison.
My wife Mrs Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour (SAN) has indeed been extremely supportive and a Pillar in my life, always wanting to see me excel. As I retire now, I shall spend more time with her at home in Lagos. My children, now, all well over thirty years have also been very supportive. I wish them the very best in their chosen careers. The Supreme Court as presently constituted consists of the finest, knowledgeable and well informed Judges that any country would be proud of. I consider myself very privileged to have worked with them. All that I can say to the public is, always respect their judgments. They are very well researched.
Now, to my Staff, my very reliable secretary, Ms. Adebowale Oguntuga, my research assistant, Bar Hadiza Bamaiyi, my supporting staff, Danjuma Onu, Temitope Akanni, Kehinde Lawal, my orderly, Sanusi Giade and my drivers: Adebayo Amidu, Filibus Ishaya. I thank you all. Without you all it would have been impossible to function properly.
Ensure that you perform at your best ability when you work with any other Judge. I say a very big thank you to the Secretaries of the Justices of this court who were kind enough to present me with a very nice painting of myself. I also thank all staff of this great court for their support. I conclude by referring to chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes:
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die….
– A time to weep and a time to laugh.
A time to mourn and a time to dance”. And I say a Time to be appointed a judge and a time to retire.
May the Lord Bless you all.
*SPEECH DELIVERED ON 22 MARCH 2021 BY HON. MR. JUSTICE OLABODE RHODES VIVOUR JSC, CFR, LIFE BENCHER AT THE VALEDICTORY COURT SESSION HELD IN HIS HONOUR AT THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA, ABUJA.