News of the transition to glory of Justice Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu, who was committed to mother earth, recently, in Tse Alu,Ushongo local government area of Benue state, has left an indelible gap that will be difficult to fill in the legal profession. He died in the early hours of Wednesday, July 18, at an Orthopaedic hospital in Abuja after a brief illness. He was aged 76 and would have been 77 on August 28.
Born 76 years ago, exactly on the 28 of August, 1941, in Ushongo local government area of Benue State, the late statesman and legal luminary started schooling at a tender age, first with the St Anne’s primary school, Tarungwa and later moved to St Patrick’s Primary school, Taraku, from where he proceeded to Mount St Michael’s secondary school, Aliede.
Unknown to many, the late Katsina-Alu would have been a soldier, but as fate will have it, he ended up being a legal luminary. On completion of his secondary education, he enrolled at the Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna between April and October 1962, from where he moved to the prestigious Mons Military Training College, Aldershot, England from November 1962 to January 1963.But on his return to the country, he abandoned this career line for law as he quickly enrolled at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he studied law, before proceeding to the Inns of Court school of law and the Gibson Weldon college of law, and later the school of Oriental and African studies of the University of London. On October 1967, he was called to the English bar and a year later on the 28th of June 1968, he was called to the Nigerian bar.
Justice Katsina-Alu began his legal sojourn in July 1968 as a private legal practitioner in Lagos, and later between 1969 and 1977, he became a legal officer with the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA. In 1978, shortly after leaving the NPA, he was appointed as the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Benue State, a position he held until 1979 when he was appointed a Judge of the state High Court. It was from here that he was moved to the Court of Appeal in 1985, where he served until his appointment and swearing-in as Justice of the Supreme Court on the 25th of November, 1998.
After 11 years as Justice of the Supreme Court and unqualified service to the Bench, he became the 11th Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), on December 30, 2009, a position he held with great wit and intellectual romance until his gracious retirement on August 26, 2011. The late former CJN, Katsina-Alu, was an erudite and passionate jurist, who used his wealth of experience to serve his people, country and helped to shape and defend the constitution, rule of law, due process and democracy. For instance, we recall when he brought his judicial intelligence to resolve the prickly constitutional issue over the removal of governors under section 188 of the 1999 constitution and his milestone pronouncement which ended the reckless impeachment of governors by the then government of Olusegun Obasanjo.
We also recall his contributions to the nation’s jurisprudence. Particularly, he helped to reshape the 2010 Electoral Act as well as many others. As a Justice of the Supreme Court, he sat on over 406 cases, delivered 56 lead judgements, while he concurred with other judges in 346 judgements, and delivered four dissenting judgements.
Late Katsina-Alu, was a man of peace, selfless, sincere and generous. Aside being reputed to be a man with a large heart and accommodating to all, he was non-partisan and very bold when it comes to issues pertaining to constitutionalism, rule of law and rights of all. He was just not only an asset to Benue people, but to Nigeria and the global legal community. His death has no doubt created a wide vacuum that will be difficult to fill.
We, therefore, join the lagal community in sending our condolence to his family, the good people and government of Benue state, and particularly Nigerians .His sterling qualities is worthy of emulation, and this is one of his numerous attributes that endeared him to all. We pray that God will grant his gentle soul eternal rest. Amen.