The Supreme Court has formally announced the death of Justice Chima Centus Nweze at the weekend, aged 64.
A spokesperson, Dr. Festus Akande, confirmed the news in a brief statement.
“It is with deep sadness that I announce the passing of Justice CC Nweze, JSC” the statement read.
“As is customary, we will be observing the initial 3-day mourning period from Monday (today) through to Wednesday 2 August 2023.”
Thus confirmed, Nweze will be the third Supreme Court justice to die in office in the past two years. Preceding him are Justices Sylvester Ngwuta (died March 2021) and Samuel Oseji who followed six months later, in September.
Justice Nweze had five more years to go before retiring from the bench; he would have retired in 2028 upon reaching the mandatory age of 70.
Details of his passage were sketchy at the weekend. Prior to this time, he was not known to have a terminal illness and the cause of death remains known.
President Goodluck Jonathan nominated Nweze to serve in the highest court in 2014.
His academic journey
Born on 25 September 1958 in Obollo, Udenu LGA of Enugu State,, Justice Nweze would have been 65 in less than two months.
The cerebral Nweze posted a Grade 1 distinction in the 1977 WASCE as a student of John Cross Seminary, Nsukka.
He enrolled at the University of Nigeria to study law at its Enugu Campus between 1979 and 1983. In his final year, he represented all Nigerian law faculties at the Phillip Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition in Washington DC, as the Chief Oralist. He passed the law school a year later and completed his national service in Bauchi in 1985.
In between his legal practice, Nweze returned to his alma mater to earn a Master of Laws degree in 1995. He was appointed a judge of the Enugu High Court the same year. Nevertheless, his thirst for academic knowledge was not quenched at the bench. He subsequently enrolled and completed a 3-year PhD degree in law from the same university in 2001.
He is one of the few justices who kept a firm footing in the academia, after obtaining a PhD in law from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
He authored over 10 learned articles in reputable international journals, wrote 11 books on various aspects of law, contributed a dozen more chapters in other law books, and 16 articles in NBA and other local law journals.
Until his death, Justice Nweze taught law, pro bono, at the renowned Enugu State University Faculty of Law, was a visiting Professor of Law, at Ebonyi State University, and a member of the International Advisory Board of the Annual Survey of International & Comparative Law, Golden Gate University School of Law in, San Francisco, USA.
Supreme Court Justice Nweze practiced law in Enugu for 10 years (1985 – 1995).
He had an eventful tenure as a high court judge, including participation in various judicial tribunals. He chaired two Robbery and Firearms Tribunals in Enugu and served in election tribunals in Ondo and Ogun States.
Dr. Nweze was subsequently lifted to the federal bench as an appeals court justice on 15 February 2008 and served in this capacity until October 2014 when he got his elevation to the Supreme Court.
He had a mixed record of judgements on high-profile cases that seized the popular imagination. The two most striking are the ones involving two Senators – Hope Uzodimma and Ahmed Lawan.
In Gov Emeka Ihedioha versus Hope Uzodimma on the disputed Imo Governorship election results, he delivered a minority judgement with positive public appeal. The Supreme Court majority ruling, however, lifted Uzodimma, who was placed fourth in the election, to the winning position and he has served as Governor since then.
The second controversial case involved the immediate past Senate President Ahmed Lawan who did not participate in his party’s primaries but was awarded the candidature by his party. The Supreme Court decided in his favour, to the consternation of the lay public. Justice Nweze read the lead judgement in a 3-2 split decision.
The following quotes are attributed to Supreme Court Justice Chima Nweze:
On student discipline in the university
“Every undergraduate must endeavour to reconcile himself/herself with the ethos of the University environment. Put simply, he/she must strive to acquire the requisite temperament for the sustenance of his tenure in the University. It cannot be otherwise! After all, the University is a confluence where all noble virtues are on parade: scholarship; creativity; industry; decorum; decency; honesty; humility; urbanity and the free and the unbridled intellectual masturbation of grand ideas! Above all, the University is the academic nursery for the formation of the Nation’s future leaders: Statesmen; Jurists; Parliamentarians; Moguls of business and the Captains of Industry. Anybody who cannot abide by the tenets of these ideals must try the motor park where mayhem, eventuating from violence and brigandage, characterises the drudgery of daily existence!”
On powers of university vice chancellors
“…a university is not a personal fiefdom where serfs, like fawners, grovel at the feet of the megalomanic lord of the manor! No! The first respondent is a creation of statute [in this case, the University of Ilorin Act]. In consequence, the universe of powers exercisable by all persons and authorities in the said University must orbit within the compass of the legislative framework of that constitutive Act and such regulations as may be made there-under. Thus, any purported exercise of power, for example, the removal of an employee of the University, in utter disregard, nay more, in contravention, of the Act must be greeted with firm disapprobation as an act which is ultra vires.”
On the meaning and nature of judicial discretion
“Discretion, according to settled authorities, is not an indulgence of a judicial whim. It is the exercise of judicial judgment based on facts and guided by the law or equitable decisions, … It is the court’s epistemological tool for winnowing solid truth from windy falsehood; for dichotomizing between shadow and substance and distilling equity from colourable glosses and pretences. By its very character, judicial discretion does not brook any capricious exercise of power according to private fancies and affections.
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