By Jude Igbanoi
When a distinguished emeritus professor of history and an accomplished lawyer collaborate to tell the story of a living legend, one would not expect anything less than a classical piece of archival material. This is more apt when the object of the biography is a quintessential retired Justice of the Supreme Court who while sitting on the Bench made the boldest and most courageous decisions when it required 'nerves of steel' to do so.
The biography is that of Justice Kayode Eso (rtd) which was presented to the public on Wednesday last week at the Nigerian Law School, Main Auditorium, Victoria Island, Lagos. As early as 11.30am the venue was filled almost to maximum capacity. The Masters of Ceremony, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu,SAN,and Charles Edosomwan, SAN, had a daunting task compering this great event. But they did justice to it with their advocacy skills.
Dr. Kole Abayomi's introduction of the Chairman engendered so much cheer from the learned audience. The Chairman, Mohammed Lawal Uwais, the Chief Justice of Nigeria explained why Justice Eso was called 'The Activist of the Supreme Court' in his days at the apex court. The Deputy Governor of Lagos State was apparently at ease with the learned juagenants at the high table, being married to a judge himself. He gave the welcome speech on behalf of Governor Ahmed Tinubu who was unavoidably absent.
During the reminiscence, the audience was held spell-bound when most notable Nigerians who stood up to be counted as Ilesa Grammar School old boys. They included: Chief Sunny Odogwu, the Ide of Asaba, Professor Jegede of Unilag Law Faculty, General Philip Effiong, Dr. F. A. Ajayi, Chief Bamidele Aiku, SAN and former Attorney-General of Western Nigeria, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Chief Philip Umeadi, SAN, Alhaji Folawiyo, The Baba Adini, Emmanuel Ayoola, Justice of the Supreme Court, Professor Abiola Ojo, Professor Obe, the Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos, and so many others. The Grand Old Boys of Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland also came out to honour one of their own.
A vital lesson in humility was taught by the former Chief Justice of Nigeria Mohammed Bello who said of himself, "I was a simple Judge. I listened to advocates and I passed judgment". This was received with deafening cheers from the audience. He went on to recount how Mrs. Aina Eso was a good dancer and how their Lordships of the Supreme Court used to come Eso's house to dance to I. K. Dairo's music.
While many in the audience were still nursing regrets for not attending Ilesa Grammar School, Chief F.R.A Williams, SAN, drew much applause from the audience when he said Eso's father would not have regret sending the son to Methodist Grammar School. Implying that his own alma matter was as good if not better than Ilesa Grammar School. He praised Justice Eso for his boldness and courage on his work on the Eso Panel.
Many other speakers including the reviewer, Professor Ayo Ajomo, showered praises on Justice Eso for his resourceful 12 years at the apex court and especially for his courage in dissenting in the locus classicus of Awolowo vs Shagari in the infamous 122/3.
Other dignitaries at the launch included Oba Aromolaran, the Owa of Ijesha, who was the Royal Father of the day, Pa Abraham Adesanya, Chief Wole, SAN, President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mrs. Funke Adekoya, SAN, his first Deputy, Otunba T. O. S. Benson and his wife Opral, General David Jemibewon, Chief Mrs. Folake Solanke, SAN, Professor Obilade of Unilag, Law Faculty, Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, General Henry Adefowepe, Mr. Fola Authur Worrey, Justice Mustapha Akanbi of ICPC, Dr. Eyimofe Atake, SAN, Chief Chris Ogunbayo, Chief G.O.K Ajayi, SAN and many others.