For the legal icon, eminent jurist, author and Professor of Law, Justice Adolphus Godwin Karibi-Whyte his journey of 88 years through mother earth ends today as he is lowered to his final resting place. While on this side of the divide, he did his best to improve humanity and make it better than he met it. The late Justice of the Supreme Court ranks in stature with his contemporaries like Justices Niki Tobi, Kayode Esho and Chukwudifu Oputa in that eminent era of a glorious apex Court.
All that had the opportunity of coming in contact with this legal colossus attest to the fact that his contributions to the adjudication of justice will remain a reference point for students, researchers and all interested in the study of law generally.
His professional career took him through the Nigerian and international judicial systems. From being a mere court clerk, Justice Karibi-Whyte, after a commendable academic pursuit, got appointed Legal Draftsman in the Rivers State Ministry of Justice from where he attained the ranks of Solicitor-General in that Ministry and Associate Professor of Law, University of Lagos.
When the news of his passing broke, President Muhammadu Buhari, on behalf of a grateful nation he served so well, extolled his virtues and role in the nation’s legal system. The jurist made some distinguished contributions that strengthened democratic institutions, helped in shaping the policy direction of many governments and international agencies.
In 1976, he was appointed a Judge of the Federal Revenue Court and thus began an illustrious judicial career, which took him through the Court of Appeal from 1980, and the Supreme Court of Nigeria from 1984, thus making him the second Nigerian after Dr Teslim O. Elias, to move directly from academia to the judiciary. During this time, he also served as Chairman of several Commissions of Inquiry including the Counterfeit Tribunal and the Inquiry into the Nigerian Agricultural and Co-operative Bank. He was also appointed as Judge, International Criminal Tribunal on November 7, 1993, and Chairman Nigerian Constitutional Conference between 1994/95.
For so many, years with him as a prominent member of the bench, his judicial pronouncements continue to resonate in Nigeria and beyond espousing the legal technicalities that beamed powerful light on the nation’s legal labyrinth enhancing, in the process, not only administration of justice, jurisprudence but also the study of it. Experts in the learned profession attest to the fact that Justice Karibi-Whyte’s dissenting opinions in obvious opposition to the decision of the majority justices are not only legendary and seminal but unparalleled in the country.
For many who belong to his school of thought, his dissenting opinions have become illuminating judicial guides for the Supreme Court in subsequent similar cases and the basis of legislative interventions. Unarguably, the consummate judicial officer was a man driven by his passion for justice according to law, firmly undergirded by his resolute and reputed integrity.
His other appointments off the bench have been no less inspiring. He, at various times, served as Chairman, Counterfeit Currency Tribunal, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Committee of Pro-Chancellors of State-Owned Universities, Law Report Committee of the Federal High Court, Civil Disturbances Tribunal, Committee for the Unification & Reform of the Criminal Code, Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Act & Criminal Procedure Code, Nigerian Constitutional Conference of 1994-1995.
His services were also required when he was appointed a Judge and Vice-President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, sitting at The Hague. He is an author of thirteen books and 55 academic publications in local and international learned journals, and is very much in demand for speaking engagements in his field.
Justice Adolphus Karibi-Whyte was born in Abonnema, Rivers State, on January 29, 1932 and began his long career in the legal profession from the post of a lowly court clerk between 1951 and 1957 before he headed for the University of Hull in the United Kingdom for his legal training. He obtained his law degree in 1960 and was called to the Bar in 1961. He subsequently enrolled in the University of London for his Master’s degree in 1962. He obtained his Ph.D. in law from the University of Lagos
Highly regarded as a gentleman of indisputably stellar accomplishments, Hon Justice Karibi-Whyte was a Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) (1998), and also Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) (2008). He was married to Mrs. Faith Asareme Karibi-Whyte. They were blessed with six children. This newspaper joins his family, relations, friends, professional colleagues and, indeed, other Nigerians in wishing him a peaceful repose in the bosom of the Lord.