Five years after his death, major stakeholders in the nation’s justice administration at the weekend remembered one of the greatest Justices of Supreme Court, Justice Kayode Eso at a book launch in Lagos. Justice Eso, who died in 2012, was eulogized by the crème la de crème in justice administration who had thronged Sheraton Hotel, Lagos, venue of the launch of a book in his honour.
The book entitled ‘Justice Kayode Eso: Beacon of Judicial Activism” was authored by by four lawyers-Dauda Ajadosu, Ayodele Temitope Justice, Arigbabuwo Lateef and Odunlami Oluwaseun and supported by a journalist, Mr. Rranti Thomas.
At the book launch were the Osun State governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, a former Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Adesola George Oguntade, the late Eso’s widow, Helen Aina, Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi, represented by Prince Adegboyega Ogunwusi, a former Ekiti state governor and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, Engineer Segun Oni, Ekiti state Chief Judge, Justice Ayodeji Daramola, Ogun state Justice Commissioner and Attorney- General, Dr. Olumide Ayeni, Mr. Stephen Kola-Balogun, Venerable Ladipo, Mrs.Bunmi Eso-Williams, Mr. Mike Igini, Commodore A. C. Unonome and Brigadier-General Yusuf Shalangwa, among others. Aregbesola and Oguntade described the late Justice Kayode Eso as a courageous and fearless jurist whose life was dedicated to the rule of law.
The duo while speaking at the presentation and launch of the book- “Justice Kayode Eso: Beacon of Judicial Activism” urged judges to remain steadfast and courageous in carrying out their functions.
For instance, Aregbesola, who was represented by his deputy, Chief Mrs Titilayo Laoye Tomori described Justice Eso as a quintessential legal intellectual who brought much erudition and elevated language to the service of law without losing the greater objective of justice. Aregbesola said: “Justice Eso belonged to the rarest breed of legal minds whose life and times was dedicated to law as the instrument in service of justice for the rich and the poor, the weak and the strong.
“The late jurist did not just pass through the land but left giant legal landmarks and shot into national prominence when he successfully defended black miners in tin mines of Jos who protested against colonial authorities.
“At the western Nigerian judiciary, he gave landmark judgements most notable of which was the trial of Prof. Wole Soyinka for bringing gun into the television studio of Western Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation.
He discharged and acquitted the Nobel Laureate. This was a courageous decision that earned him ‘banishment’ to Akure as a punitive measure. “He also gave the dissenting judgement on the 1979 presidential election petition.
Though the Supreme Court with a verdict of 6-1 resolved the petition in favour of Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Justice Eso ruled in favour of Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria. “Justice Eso delivered a total of 463 judgements, 390 of which were concurring judgements, 69 lead judgements and 4 dissenting judgements.”
Oguntade, who doubled as the chairman of the occasion, noted that the late jurist had constantly demonstrated that the essence of judicial function was to continuously develop and strengthen the law and its resultant effect.
He said: “This he was able to achieve by intelligibly applying provisions of the law to scenarios not fully envisaged by drafters of the law and arriving at what many soon after referred to as ‘locus classicus.’ Justice Oguntade also revealed that the judgements of the late Justice Kayode Eso have been very helpful to him in his career on the Bench.
“I remember being labelled ‘Mr. Dissenter’ by lawyers and jurists alike on the positions I took in arriving at some of my decisions on the Bench.
The ability to channel my reasoning in arriving at some of those decisions then was brewed from examples already laid by the late Hon. Justice Kayode Eso.”
The book reviewer, Prof. Ademola Popoola, the Dean of Law, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile- Ife, said the publication was done with the aim of celebrating the everlasting integrity of Justice Eso, describing him as a crusader for human dignity and the rule of law and also praised him for “his exceptional brilliance of the law.”