Former Chief Justices of Nigeria

  • 1. The Hon. Justice Aloysius Iyorgher Katsina-Alu, (GCON) - 2009-2011

 



Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu was born on August 28, 1941 in Ushongo. He was enrolled in RCM Primary School, Aduku in 1950 and then continued on to St Ann's Primary School, Tarungwa, St. Patrick's Primary School, Taruka, and Mount St. Michael's Secondary School, Aliade.

He attended Ahmadu Bello University and then the Inns of Court School of Law, Gibson and Weldon College of Law School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He studied in this prestigious university during 1964 thru 1967.

Katsina-Alu began his legal career in July, 1968. He started off as a Legal Practitioner, moved on to become a Legal Officer and worked his way up to Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Benue State, in 1978. After that he achieved the position of High Court Judge, Benue State High Court of Justice, Markurdi, and by 1985 he held the esteemed position of Justice, Court of Appeal.

As of November 25th, 1998, Katsina-Alu had earned a place as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. He served with dignity and grace for many years and was sworn in as the 11th Chief Justice of Nigeria on the 30th of December 2009. On August 28, 2011, after 44 year of selfless service legal profession and humanity, he retired from this exalted position.

 
  • 2. The Hon. Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, (GCON) - 2007-2009

 

Idris Legbo Kutigi was born on December 31, 1939 in Kutigi, North-Western State. Kutigi attended elementary school in his home town, but was moved to Bida for middle and secondary schooling. After finishing his basic schooling, Kutigi moved on to Government College (now known as Barewa College), and then to Ahmadu Bello University. Both educational facilities are located in Zaria, Kaduna State.

After his graduation from the Nigerian schools, he left the country for England, where he attended the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and the Gibson and Weldon College of Law. When he returned home, Kutigi studied at the Nigerian Law School in Lagos, Lagos State. His time at these prestigious learning institutions allowed Kutigi to become a lawyer, and later a judge in Nigeria.

Justice Kutigi served as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Niger State until 1976 when he was appointed as a High Court judge. He served with honor in that position for more than a decade and later joined the Supreme Court in 1992. After 10 years with the Supreme Court, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him to the position of Chief Justice to succeed the outgoing Cheif Justice Salihu Alfa Belgore who retired on January 17, 2007. By January 30, Kutigi was confirmed by the Senate and took over as the Chairman of the Federal Judicial Service Commission. On the 31st of December 2009, Kutigi retired from his position as Chief Justice of Nigeria.

 
  • 3. The Hon. Justice Salihu Modibbo Alfa Belgore, (GCON) - 2006-2007

 

Justice Salihu Modibbo Alfa Belgore was born on the 17th January 1937 in Ilorin, state of Kwara. He attended Okesuna Elementary School, Ilorin in 1944-48 and Middle School, Ilorin 1949 thru 1951. He attended Ilesha Grammar School, Ilesha in 1952 thru 1956. He attended Honourable Society of Inner Temple, London, University of London in 1960 thru 1963.

Justice Belgore has been Magistrate, Northern Nigeria during 1964 to1973. He was Chairman of the Tribunal that investigated procurement of inputs in Ministry of Agriculture in 1971. He conducted investigation of Contracts Award in Plateau State (now Benue and Plateau States), 1970-75. He worked at the Tribunal which looked into complaints of Proprietors on the takeover of Voluntary Agency Schools, North Central State, 1974. He also worked as a member of the Commission of Inquiry, University of Ife Students' Crises, 1981. He conducted a Judicial Inquiry on Crisis of Petroleum Shortage in Nigeria, 1992. He was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 1986 which appointment he still holds. He has worked at the Technical Committee on Law, Justice and Development in Africa. He has been member Governing Council, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal studies and National Archives.

 
  • 4. The Hon. Justice Mohammadu Bello, CON, GCFR - 1995-2006

 

Mohammed Bello was born in 1930 in Katsina of noble heritage; his anscestry can be traced to the Sheik Usman Danfodiyo. When Mohammed Bello was 8 years of age he started his education at Katsina Central Elementary School. Following that and middle school, he moved on to Kaduna College (now known as Barewa College), a government educational institution.

Bello studied Latin and Law and got involved in politics in London, though he had no political ambitions. During that time he became Secretary to the Northern Nigeria Student’s Association which allowed him to attend sessions of the British Parliament. He could have easily become involved in the political arena but, in 1956, he returned to Nigeria and quickly became a pupil crown counsel at Northern Nigeria Legal Department. After three months he moved to the Jos Division and soon became deeply involved in both civil and criminal cases at the High Court.

By 1961 he had won the distinction of becoming the first Northern Nigerian Chief Magistrate of Nigeria. All of his efforts caused him to be awarded a scholarship with Harvard Law School, and he was off to study there for one year.

On his return, Bello briefly served as Chief Magistrate at Kaduna and soon moved on to become the High Court Judge at Kano.From there he moved on to become the first Nigerian to be honoured with the title of Director of Public Prosecution for Northern Nigeria, and within 2 years of that he was inducted as a Judge for the High Court.

By 1975, Bellow was bestowed with the honour of being appointed as Chief Justice of Kaduna making him the first Nigerian ever appointed as such. From there Bellow was moved up to the Supreme Court where he remained for 12 years before being appointed as the Chief Justice in 1987. After a long and distinguished career with many great successes, Bello retired in 1995. He served Nigeria with dignity and fortitude for nearly four decades.

 
  • 5. The Hon. Justice Mohammadu Bello, CON, GCFR - 1988-1995

 

Mohammed Bello was born in 1930 in Katsina of noble heritage; his anscestry can be traced to the Sheik Usman Danfodiyo. When Mohammed Bello was 8 years of age he started his education at Katsina Central Elementary School. Following that and middle school, he moved on to Kaduna College (now known as Barewa College), a government educational institution.

Bello studied Latin and Law and got involved in politics in London, though he had no political ambitions. During that time he became Secretary to the Northern Nigeria Student’s Association which allowed him to attend sessions of the British Parliament. He could have easily become involved in the political arena but, in 1956, he returned to Nigeria and quickly became a pupil crown counsel at Northern Nigeria Legal Department. After three months he moved to the Jos Division and soon became deeply involved in both civil and criminal cases at the High Court.

By 1961 he had won the distinction of becoming the first Northern Nigerian Chief Magistrate of Nigeria. All of his efforts caused him to be awarded a scholarship with Harvard Law School, and he was off to study there for one year.

On his return, Bello briefly served as Chief Magistrate at Kaduna and soon moved on to become the High Court Judge at Kano.From there he moved on to become the first Nigerian to be honoured with the title of Director of Public Prosecution for Northern Nigeria, and within 2 years of that he was inducted as a Judge for the High Court.

By 1975, Bellow was bestowed with the honour of being appointed as Chief Justice of Kaduna making him the first Nigerian ever appointed as such. From there Bellow was moved up to the Supreme Court where he remained for 12 years before being appointed as the Chief Justice in 1987. After a long and distinguished career with many great successes, Bello retired in 1995. He served Nigeria with dignity and fortitude for nearly four decades.

 
  • 6. The Hon. Justice Ayo G. Irikefe, OFR, CON - 1985-1987

 

Ayo Gabriel Irikefe was born on March 3, 1922 in Ikorodu, Lagos State, Nigeria. From the beginning of his educational career in 1929, Irikefe attended Catholic faith-based schools. He enrolled in St. Gregory's College, Obalende, Lagos in 1937, and graduated in 1941 showing a highly impressive scholastic performance.

Irikefe was called to the English Bar on July 1, 1952.Therefore; he started private legal practice at the Warri Bar. This lasted till 1955 when he was appointed as Crown Counsel, Western Region, Nigeria. After one year, Irikefe resigned re-started his private practice.

In 1966 Irikefe was appointed to the esteemed position of Attorney General of the Mid-Western State. Later, in the same year, he also received an appointment as Judge of the High Court. He remained in this position until 1972 when his noble efforts led to him being called to the position of a Justice for the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

In 1985 he was appointed as the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Irikefe performed this dignified role till 1987. Irikefe was also awarded with a “National Honour from the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria” for services rendered as Chairman for the Creation of the States.

 
  • 7. The Hon. Justice G.A. Sowemimo, CON - 1983-1985

 

After attending local schools for his early educational pursuits, Sowemimo moved to the UK to attend Bristol University in 1944. He studied at the prestigious facility until his graduation in 1948. After that he moved on to the Middle Temple Bar in 1949. After remaining there briefly, he moved back to Nigeria to start his own legal practice in his home country.

Sowemimo's was greatly successful and, over time, he was called upon to serve as a Judge of the Nigerian High Court. Among his many notable achievements while serving in this capacity, the one that stands out the most is perhaps the trial of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Awolowo was sentenced to 10 years in prison after his alleged attempts to overthrow the Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa. Sowemimo imposed this same sentence to 17 of Awolowo's associates, but they only served 3 years due to the military coup led by General Yakubu Gowon in 1967.

When Sowemimo turned 65, he retired due to the mandatory age limit in the judicial system. He was bestowed with one of the highest honours and named as the Commander of the Order of the Niger for his dedication and service to the country. The honourable George Sodeinde Sowemimo served as a Judge in Nigeria for 32 years. During that time he was the Chief Justice from 1983 thru 1985.

 
  • 8. The Hon. Justice Atanda Fatai Williams, GCFR, CFR - 1979-1983

 

Atanda Fatayi-Williams was born on October 22nd, 1918 in Lagos. His early education was at the Methodist Boy's High School starting in 1929. From there he moved on to the University of Cambridge in 1943, followed by his attendance at Middle Temple in London, England.

After graduating from Middle Temple in 1948, he immediately started legal practice. He was very successful and gained enough notice and attention to earn the position of Crown Counsel, Lagos, in 1950. After 5 years, Fatayi-Williams moved upwards to become the Deputy Commissioner for Law Revision, Western Nigeria, in 1955.

While still in this position, Fatayi-Williams was also elected as the Constitutional Adviser, Western Nigerian Delegation, for the London Constitutional Conference of 1957. By 1958 he advanced his career even further by accepting a position as Chief Registrar for the High Court of Western Nigeria.

After two years he became the Judge of the High Court and then in 1967 he became the Justice of Appeal, Western State Court of Appeal, and two years after that he joined Supreme Court of Nigeria as a Justice.

As Chief Justice, Fatayi-Williams served the country for 4 years. He had a remarkable career during which he worked as a Member or Chairman for a variety of organizations including the ongoing World Council of Judges the Ports Arbitration Board in (1971), the Federal Judicial Services Committee (1972), the National Archives Committee (1979), the Body of Benchers (1979 through 1980), the Council of Legal Education (1984 through 1986) and many other organisations.

 
  • 9. The Hon. Justice (Sir) Darnely Alexander, GCON, CFR, C.B.E. - 1975-1979

 

The Hon. Justice (Sir) Darnely Alexander, GCON, CFR, C.B.E. - 1975-1979

 
  • 10. The Hon. Justice (Dr.) Teslim Olawale Elias, CFR, NNOM, GCON - 1972-1975

 

Taslim Olawale Elias is a native of Lagos, Nigeria. He was born in 1914 and attended school there till accepting an accounting job with the Nigerian Railway. Elias worked at the Railway for 9 years and then moved to the UK to attend the University of London.

He studied Law in London for 2 years, and following his graduation he continued his educational pursuits until he had earned his LL.M and Ph.d. By 1951 he moved on to Manchester University, and then to Oxford in 1954. He became a Professor and taught Law courses at the Universities of New Delhi, Aligarh, Bombay and Calcutta by 1956.

In 1957 Elias went back to the University of London to serve in his new position as the Governor of the School of Oriental and African Studies. This caused him to delve into the political world and he became a Legal Adviser for Nigeria. He was even one of the people to help construct the first national Constitution for Nigeria, and later his prominence caused him to become the country's first Attorney General and Minister for Justice.

Elias continued to serve and advance his educational pursuits and, by 1972, he was appointed as the Chief Justice for the Nigerian Supreme Court. This was by no means his only other major accomplishment during that period. He also helped write the Organisation of African Unity and the Constitution of the Congo. He chaired the United Nations International Law Commission and served as President for the World Council of Judges.

Four years after joining the Supreme Court, Elias won the election to become a Judge for the International Court of Justice (also known as the World Court). He served nobly at The Hague and was appointed Vice President of the Court in 1979 and, later, President in 1982. After holding that position until 1985, Elias was noted for serving at the World Court for a longer period of time than anyone had previously, or since then.

 
  • 11. The Right Hon. Justice (Sir) Adetokunbo Ademola, CFR, K.B.E., P.C. - 1958-1971

 


Adetokunbo Ademola was born on September 1, 1906 in the capital city Egbaland, Abeokuta. After finishing his early years of schooling, Ademola attended Cambridge University and first earned his BA and later his MA. He was at Cambrige from 1928 - 1931 and then was called to the bar at Middle Temple in London in 1934.

Ademola was back in Nigeria in 1934, and began his work as Crown Counsel for the Attorney General. He succeeded and thrived in this position, and was added as an Assistant Secretary for the southern secretariat in Enugu, Eastern Nigeria. By 1936 Ademola became reputed for his legal work and, in 1939, he was appointed as Magistrate for the Protectorate Court.

In 1955, Ademola was the first Nigerian to become the Chief Justice of Western Nigeria. This was an amazing honor that was noted across the world, and within two years he received another prestigious accolade: in 1957 he was knighted and earned the title of Sir Adetokunbo Ademola. By now he was building an impressive history on all accounts. He was the first Nigerian Chief Justice of Nigeria who was knighted and, in 1963, he had the additional honour of being named a Privy Councilor for Queen Elizabeth.

Sir Adetokunbo was a member of the United Nations committee that advised on international labor regulations and he served on the International Public Service Advisory Board. Additionally, he was a member of the International Commission of Jurists and the Commission for World Peace Through Law. He was Vice President of the World Association of Jurists and President of the Nigerian Red Cross Association. He was also deeply involved in several other important groups throughout his life.

 

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