Remembering Honourable Justice Okoi Ikpi Itam

Late Justice Okoi Ikpi Itam

… As The Court Pleases, As God Pleases By Mathias Okoi-Uyouyo

His curriculum vitae speaks of an impressive career:

Participant, Phillip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court competition, Washington D. C. 1976; Called to Bar, July 1977; NYSC Legal Aid Team Leader, Bendel Zone, 1977 – 1978; Legal Officer, Mercantile Bank PLC, 1978 – 1979; private legal practice, 1979 – 1991; Secretary, Nigeria Bar Association, Ogoja Branch, 1988 – 1991; appointed Notary Public of Nigeria, 1990; Chairman Local Government Council Election Tribunal, Ogoja Zone, 1991; appointed Judge, High Court of Cross River State, 1991; Chairman, Public Funds and Property Recovery Tribunal, Cross River State, 1992 – 1997; Member, State/National Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal, Edo State, 1998; Chairman, Presidential Judicial Commission of Inquiry for the Investigation of Secret Cult Activities at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, 1999 – 2000; Judge, High Court of Gambia, October 2000; Judge Advocate for Gambia Armed Forces General Court Martial, 2001 – 2004; Ag. Chief Justice of the Gambia, 2002; Justice, the Gambia Court of Appeal, 2003 – 2004; Chairman, Local Government Election Appeal Tribunal, Cross River State, 2007; and so is the man!

Hon. Justice Okoi Ikpi Itam is the sort of person you rarely meet in life – a very definition of the word “exceptional”. This is what I got to know when we met for the first time about seven years ago, and thereafter started a friendship, which despite the age difference of over two decades, I have come to regard as one of the truest and purest I have ever had.

Our first meeting was in the course of my sourcing for contributors for a festschrift in honour of my friend, Okoi Obono-Obla at 40. I was going about it discreetly without Obono-Obla’s knowledge and Okoi Ikpi Itam happened to be the first person I met to contribute an essay. He had politely refused to be a contributor, for several reasons, one being that, Obono-Obla was a lawyer who was practicing within his jurisdiction. However, that did not stop him from other vital aspects in the making of the book – editorial advice, financial support, and a persistent faith in the book and why it should be written. When the book eventually came out, he was the second highest donor at the book lunch, coming second only to Orji Uzor Kalu, who was then the “sitting” governor of Abia State. His words on why the book should be written still reverberates in my brain to this day “If you don’t make your friend a chief, you cannot be a friend to a chief”. It is not by accident that after that quasi-collaboration on a book, a visit to Calabar for me these days is never complete until I pay him a visit. In the process, I have become more and more indebted to him for reasons which when reel off, would make another story.

My family’s liaison with the Ikpi Itams did not start with Okoi Ikpi Itam. My younger sister only recently told me the earliest influence on her eventually reading law, was Magistrate Ikpi Itam, a friend of the family and close ojimonen (maternal relative) of my father. It was the late Ikpi Itam (Okoi Ikpi Itam’s father) who told my sister that for her to wear a “cap” (wig) like his son Okoi Ikpi Itam and appear in the Ugep Union Almanac, which my dad proudly hung in our living room, she must first read law. She eventually did, as God pleases, but was called to the bar after the death of Ikpi Itam. As it has pleased the “court” that his son, Okoi Ikpi Itam should rise to become the Chief Judge of Cross River State, we thank God whom it has pleased that all of this should come to pass.




Culled from The Community Mirror (2014)