KWENU: Our Culture, Our Future

Book Review

Judging "The Great Judge"


M. O. ENE, Ph.D.


Monday, September 21, 2009 


The Great Judge

Biography of Hon. Sir Justice Anthony Nnaemezie Aniagolu

Edited by Philip U. Effiong & Charles C. Aniagolu

Original Research by Dan Chima Amadi.


(ISBN: 978 978 484 555 7: St Paul’s Publishing House, Ibadan, Nigeria, 2009; p.340)


I was not half-thrilled when Loretta told me this past summer in New York City of her father’s in-the-works biography; I was excited. Coming from someone who delighted us with her no-holds-barred autobiography (Unbroken Spirit) in 2002, you can imagine how I waited patiently with great expectation for Justice Anthony Nnaemezie Aniagolu’s biography. I wanted to read all about the people he had met in his event-full life, what informed certain decisions concerning Enugu (city and state), how did people “catch fun” in the Enugu of his days, and who did what, to whom, and why.


There is something truly fascinating about biographies. As Ralph Waldo Emerson succinctly put it, “There is properly no history; only biography.” Those who do not tell their life stories deny future generations the history of their era. Without telling about our lives, especially those in public eyes for long durations, there will be no history to tell. Now you know why the history of the Igbo is sparse: They did not build stories around heroes – unlike the Hebrew (Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Esther, Herod, Joshua, Jesus, etc.), the Yoruba (Oduduwa, Ogun, Moremi, Afonja, etc.), and the Fulani in Nigeria (Usman dan Fodio).


For this simple gesture, therefore, Justice Aniagolu has joined the ranks of those who made history and told it to generations yet unborn. His amazing story is not even half-told, but the amazing collection being launched this week is simply priceless. It will open up so many doors for so many people to peep into our yesterday and appreciate our present in preparation for the future. Who would have known that this renowned jurist wanted to be a medico? Who would have guessed that Justice Aniagolu dabbled into politics and found out too quickly that it was the hiding place of many scoundrels who can never play by the rules. Who would have known that a "rags-to-riches" multimillionaire lawyer drifted to the bench and made marvelous marks!


Holding the book in my hands felt like getting an award. I needed to know certain aspects of Justice Aniagolu’s background, especially as it intercepts with the great King Onyeama n’Eke and Justice Dadi Onyeama, the first Nigerian World Court Judge at The Hague. I was not disappointed. It was right there on the first page. I dug in and read on with earnest expectations. I was on Cloud 9, coasting to read the volume in one sitting. It did not take too long before I returned to reality. In 25 pages flat, the story was told! In 25 of 340 pages, the aspect of Justice Aniagolu’s biography I was expecting was over -- his ancestry, childhood, education, marriage, children, “life at the Bar” (both boozing and lawyering very successfully in Enugu), moving to the Body of Benchers,  and the Nigeria-Biafra War. The rest of the book is dominated by Bench and beyond, hence the title of the book: “The Great Judge.”


The book reveals that Justice Aniagolu legal career “was heavily informed” and probably influenced by arguably the greatest English judge of the 20th Century, Lord Alfred Thompson Denning. If so, Aniagolu’s life also followed Denning’s. He was born as Denning was being beckoned to the English bar. In 1944, when Denning became a high court judge, Aniagolu took his Cambridge School Certificate exam, which situated him on the road to Denning’s England. Ten years before Denning rose to the House of Lords, Aniagolu was called to the Bar in Gray’s Inn and headed home to Nigeria the next day. Like Denning in his later years, he saved no tongue-lashing for those who subscribe easily to judicial capital punishment, crime, and corruption.


Justice Aniagolu was destined from childhood to survive and be great. Aficionados of Nigeria’s hip pop will think D’Banj had him in mind when he proclaimed, “O si na nwata buru ogaranya.” Nothing could be further from the truth; Aniagolu was not born into riches, and he makes no bones about it. Charles Chuka Aniagolu possibly got it right when he rendered a translation of his father’s traditional title as “the good seed fell on good ground and germinated into a mighty tree” (x)… even if that is not exactly what the name conveyed. Aniagolu is indeed a miracle child, a good seed that refused to buckle to bad conditions of the ground on which it was planted and blossomed to become the crème de la crème of his generation, hence: “Oshishi dị mma n’ana a kụrụ ya” translates as the tree that blossomed on the land it was planted.


It is indeed amazing that the young nephew of the great King Onyeama n’Eke (whom his grandson Dilibe Onyeama dubbed an “African God”) struggled so much to rise to the top of society. We would not have had a Justice Aniagolu if not for the support of a much-loved mother. It is no wonder Igbo men call their daughters “Nneka” (mother is supreme) and endear their first daughters with such names as “Nnenna” (father’s mother). His uncles who valued education and the Greater Udi community that embraced Western education without reservations eventually helped to produce four Supreme Court justices (including the first Nigerian judge at the The Hague) and the first Western-trained Igbo medical doctor.


Justice Aniagolu’s choice of career was informed by his observation of an autopsy by Dr. Onwu (p. 14). He could not stand the scene. This reinforces a crazy theory I have been pushing to whomever will listen: high school students should not be allowed to proceed to university after graduation; they should take off one year or even two and work, travel... anything but proceed to the university. In my many years of campus career, I have noticed that many students start getting their acts together in their junior year. Few freshmen function at the top of their games. Nigeria got a great jurist because a medico showed him that medicine is not about a white coat and a stethoscope. He went on  to handle such historic cases as the Idah Treasury robbery and many other cases around the country. By the time he was reluctantly ready for the bench, no thanks to Chief Justice Sir Louis Mbanefo, he had become a millionaire in the ranks of Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, the father of Biafra's General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. 


The Great Judge dwells fleetingly on Justice Aniagolu’s early life; it is almost as if it is secondary or by the way. I was thinking that in this centenary of Coal City, the biography would have done a whole lot more background-grabbing and less on laws and legalities. Then again, the biography is about a great judge and what made him great. This, I think, informed the focus on his career onthe bench and beyond, titling the scale to his later life and excluding his great relationship with his children and grandchildren… one of whom has penned and published her owned biography and covered some of the midlife era left out in the book. {See “Unbroken Spirit” by Loretta Aniagolu}


Mary Cable is quoted as saying: “The best biographies leave their readers with a sense of having all but entered into a second life and of having come to know another human being in some ways better than he knew himself.” Aniagolu’s biography does not allow such luxuries. The book gave an insight into his early life and his legal legacy—which is mostly in public domain, but one will have to do more searching “to know [him] in some ways better than he knew himself.” Unfortunately, the G. C. M. Onyiukes, Dadi Onyeamas, Bishop Anyiogus, etc. are all gone, leaving his friend Dr. M. S. C. Nwariaku, the builder of famous "Ojukwu Bunker" at Umuahia, to fill in some blanks.


I still believe that Justice Aniagolu owes us a lot more on his recollection of the persona of King Onyeama. He is probably one of the few living persons to have seen Onyeama at close quarters, albeit it with a child’s eyes. After all, Olaudah Equiano left Igboland at 10, same age Aniagolu was when Onyeama expired. One thing that wwe see revealed about Onyeama “better than he (Onyeama) knew himself” is that he was probably more into power than money. The Great Onyeama who visited London the year Justice Aniagolu was born, who gave the Igbo their first Western-trained medical doctor, who controlled the supply of labor to the coal mines, should have had the resources to support his brother’s widow and only nephew much more than we read.


The book is more than a biography; it is a gem of resources. It has a complete compendium of all Supreme Court justices past and present. Of the 78, only Justice Augustine Nnamani had a doctorate degree, and he was a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). There are currently 17 justices, which is surprisingly a large pool. Interestingly, no easterner has been Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). {Read how Justice Udo Udoma missed the slot in OSeloka Obaze: The Eagle in its Flight ]    The Great Judge traces Nigeria’s battle with drafting constitutions. It is a submission that any serious student of law and political science must read. In addition, we are given on a platter of platinum the names of Nigeria’s senior advocates – all 300 of them (p 327-330)!


There are several other gems in the book. In addition to reliving the position and persons of such eminent jurists as Justice Adetokunbo Ademola (CJN: 1958-1972), you browse with nostalgia through Justice Dadi Onyeama (#11), Justice Udo Udoma (#17), Justice Ayo Irikefe (#22), Justice Chukwudifu Oputa (#36), Justice Nnaemeka-Agu (#39), Justice Uchemefuna Omo (#44), Justice Paul Nwokedi (#46), Justice Maryam Muktar (first and only female member at #67) and then you also come across Justice Chukwuma-Eneh!


 Justice Aniagolu’s report on the Maitatsine (Malam Muhammadu Marwa) is for the archives, as is his chairmanship of the 1988-89 Constituent Assembly. The account of 1983 Onoh vs. Nwobodo revealed that Justice Aniagolu withdrew from the panel rather than take the chance on his conscience of impartiality. This is laudable, but I find it curious coming from a man who asserted that the bench


 “…is the only profession created by God when he asked for twelve judges to be appointed for the twelve tribes of Israel. He did not ask for teacher, doctors, or engineers to be appointed, but judges who will help him administer justice on earth. You must deliver justice as if it were God that is sitting on the bench. Justice must be your focus and the rule of law your guide…”  (xv)


This reminds me of Justice George Sodeinde Sowemimo who sent Awolowo to jail for championing Nigeria’s first attempted coup d’état. Should Justice Aniagolu have stayed put on that panel, considering that Justice Augustine Nnamani was also in the panel? Consider his argument:


“Natural justice demands that a judge should not hear a case if he is prone to partiality owing to consanguinity, affinity, friendship or enmity with one of the parties" (p. 253).


It could be easy to fault Justice Aniagolu in this matter of voluntary withdrawal from the panel because the book did not reveal the strong ties the Justice had with the main actors. First, C. C. Onoh’s father Gabriel was a henchman of Aniagolu’s uncle, Onyeama. C.C. himself is married to a cousin of Aniagolu … something the book again failed to reveal. In addition, CC’s lawyer, Tony Mogbo is close to the Aniagolus. All these people are from a five-mile radius in Udi area of Enugu State. This makes my point that Justice Aniagolu’s background was given a fleeting treatment, “a snapshot,” (page 318) and must be revisited either by the publication of his “unpublished letter to his children,” from which the book’s part one  quoted copiously, or by sitting down with the Justice to talk about his recollections of early years and nothing more.


The Great Judge is a great book that must grace the chambers of Nigerian lawyers and every political pundit. It lists many of Justice Aniagolu’s famous cases including those who appeared before him: Gani Fawehinmi, R. A. Akinjide, Ikemba Nnewi Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, etc. About Ikemba Nnewi and his senatorial fight against Dr. Edwin Onwudiwe, one would wonder why Justice Aniagolu did not withdraw from hearing the case. We learn that not only was he a friend of Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, he was also  a friend of Ikemba's senior half-brother Dr. Joe Ojukwu, and with the ex-Biafran leader himself from way back when he was Assistant District Officer at Udi. If it is any comfort, Justice Aniagolu delivered a telling minority report which history has sustained because we now know that Odumegwu-Ojukwui was railroaded by his party, NPN, not that a relatively unknown medico and ex-state commissioner under Governor Jim Nwobodo called Edwin Onwudiwe beat the Great Ikemba in then Anambra State.




The Great Judge is nicely put together in an eye-catching, textbook shape with readable font and font sizes. It is organized in four parts and comes with a useful index. The index should be rearranged with last names, not titles. Anyone looking for former President Alhaji Shehu Shagari would look under "S" for Shagari -- not "A" for Alhaji; ditto for Gani Fawehinmi: "F" -- not under "C" for Chief!  The cover is surprisingly superior; surprising because Nigeria’s publishers are not yet known for great deluxe covers.


Of course, typical of Nigerian books, the book's packaging has some post-printing flaws that should be fixed in overseas edition, as well as very few minor, non-distracting typos that an eagle-eyed editor should have caught. In page 325, Justice Salihu Moddibo Alfa Belgore was listed as “Present CJN”; he is not.  Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi is rightly listed as CJN, as of May 2009,  on Page 322. This is a direct result of change of chair at the apex court while the book was being put together. Putting books together is challenging; I know, I have four of my own to prove it.  Justice Aniagolu middle name was misspelt on Page 318, and Bishop Anthony Okonkwo Gbuji was “Ogbuji” on Page 146 and 151. Also, the “who’s/whose” and “it’s/its” switch should be monitored more carefully. Then again, there is still such a thing as printer’s devil…. or is it “computer glitch.”


I still take particular exception to editors misrepresenting simple Igbo expressions. Besides Justice Aniagolu’s traditional title, which could have been better written even in Eke dialect, the Igbo expression on page 11 needs to be revisited. “Nwa nkea” should be “Nwa nke a” (This boy); “Uzo ajolaghi njo” sounds more like “may this road not be bad for you; “ghi” is used in standard Igbo to realize negation. However, from the translation ("This way has gone bad for you”) the Igbo expression should be “Ụzọ a ajọọla gị njọ.”


The author’s assertion that “in 1933, Onyeama, forced into exile by the British colonialists, committed suicide…” (page 5) is not supported by Dillibe Onyeama’s account. If Onyeama was being forced into exile, why was he headed north to Lagos via Kaduna by rail and on his own? And why would the Brits want to exile him when he is pursuing a court case in a colonial-constituted court of law? It is most likely that the probably apocryphal rumor triggered his decision to commit suicide ( a la Chinua Achebe's Okonkwo) rather than confront the possible humiliation (a la real-life King Jaja of Opobo).


The Great Judge is another very easy read bearing the imprint of Charles Chuka Aniagolu, who worked here with Dr. Phillip U. Effiong, son of the Biafran military legend. It is a well-researched book with loads of materials that must have taken endless searches to compile, thanks to Dan Chima Amadi. Indeed, a section of the book could be packaged under the title, “Everything you always wanted to know about Justices of the Supreme Count of Nigeria and Senior Advocates of Nigeria.” There is so much about jurisprudence to satisfy lawyers and non-lawyers. For example, the book devoted 66 pages to the Adoration Ground Tragedy, which pitched the Catholic Church in Enugu against the administration of Governor Chimaroke Nnamani.


In another breath, old boys of Government College Umuahia and Christ the King College, Onitsha will be thrilled to bits for different reasons about brief records of their World War II campuses. In fact, there will one day be a debate on who really produced Justice Aniagolu: "Amaka Boys" (CKC) or "Shinning Ones" (GCU). I have the answer, but I do not intend to preempt the debate!


The Great Judge is for keeps. Justice Aniagolu took the Igbo philosophy of “eziokwu bụ  ndụ” into Nigeria’s jurisprudence. This was why he found the shenanigans of post-Adoration Tragedy inquiries too hard to swallow. Yet, in keeping with the Igbo principle of “truth is life” and knowing that “clean judges and clean lawyers” make a great judiciary system, he still returned an inconclusive judgment, unlike those who rushed to conclusions without compelling facts and without stopping to listen to ALL  persons of interest. The present administration may want to revisit the issue and lay the ghost to rest.


In the sense of everything that bites at night being mosquito, all the reviewed legal cases are now in the past and a part of history. Justice Aniagolu has shown that there is no history without biographies. His recollections could not have come at a better time. As Nigeria celebrates the Centenary of Coal City, any information about the early years of the city is worth collecting and documenting. Most importantly, Justice Aniagolu has put in circulation and within easy reach of pundits and scholars some important documents from Nigeria’s political and legal evolution.

Simply surprise yourself yonder
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