A Tribute To Justice Philip Nnaemeka Agu

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Come 5 March, 2011, Hon. Justice Philip Nnaemeka Agu will be laid to rest in his Obinagu country home in Udi Local Government Area of Enugu State.

He was born on 28 February 1928 in Ife. He started as a teacher and rose to become the principal of Trinity High School, Oguta.

He later became a lawyer, Chief Law Officer of the defunct East Central State and became a judge of the East Central State High Court.

He was elevated to the Court of Appeal in 1977 and the Supreme Court in 1987, from where he retired at the age of 65 in 1993. After his retirement, he was involved actively as an arbitrator.

The question is: why celebrate a retired judge? It is because he went back to his alma mater, College of Immaculate Conception, CIC, as a teacher. A year after leaving the college in 1945, he passed the higher teachers’ certificate by correspondence. It may be because he made second class upper in History from the University of London by private studies.

Agu won an election into the House of Representatives in 1964. He became the attorney-general of the defunct East Central State (now South-East zone of five states) after he had spent eleven years at the bar at a time the minimum number of years at the bar was ten years.

He became a high court judge in 1974 after 15 years at the bar. After only three years at the high court bench, he was elevated to the court of appeal in 1977 with the likes of Justice Anthony Yema Aseme, Justice Mustapha Adebayo Akanbi, Justice Abdul Olatunji Agbaje, Justice Adenekan Adekunle Ademola and Justice Boonyamin Oladiran Kazeem.

As a justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Nnaemeka-Agu displayed his unique style even before his elevation to the Supreme Court, lawyers were clamouring  and calling on the Supreme Court to have him on the bench.

When he arrived the Supreme Court, his diverse education and experience came to the fore. He invented new rules and redefined old ones. His judgements sounded more like poetry than the drab language of the law. He enriched the judicial precedent in law.

Justice Philip Nnaemeka-Agu is immortalised through the students he taught both at College of Immaculate Conception, Enugu and Trinity High School, Oguta. It will ever remain living testimonies.

His pronouncement as a trial and appellate judge for about twenty years 1974-1993, will bear witness.

Justice Philip Nnaemeka-Agu has given to the world more than he took. As the son of a local customary court judge, he rose to become a Supreme Court judge.

To his widow and family members, may the Almighty God give them the fortitude to bear the loss.

—Barrister Ike Ukor