Katsina-Alu, Coomassie: Exit of icons

Nigerians were yet to come to terms with the death of one of its eminent jurists, Justice Alloysius lyorgyer Katsina-Alu penultimate Wednesday, when another patriot and elder statesman, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomsssie, also answered the final summons. Only 24 hours stood between them.

Justice Katsina-Alu gave up the ghost on July 18, in a private hospital in Abuja, a month before his 77th birthday, while Alhaji Coomassie died at the Amadi Rimi Orthopaedic Hospital, Katsina, the next day at 76.  It was like the two septuagenarians were in alliance to depart this world about the same time. The duo served their fatherland meritoriously and retired at the zenith of their chosen careers. Justice Katsina-Ala attained the position of Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), while Alhaji Coomassie rose to the position of Inspector-General of Police.

The passage of the two icons was similar to the departure of Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo and Gen. Samuel Ogbemudia, who died in March, last year, within 24 hours. Both of them came from the southern part of the country, just as Katsina-Alu and Coomassie hailed from the northern part. Like Adebayo and Ogbemudia who served in the army, the two northern stars had business with the law…one interpreted the law and other enforced it.

Born on August 28, 1941, the late jurist became the first indigene of Benue state to be appointed to the Supreme Court Bench in 1998. He had also served at the Appeal Court. His elevation to the position of the Chief Justice of Nigeria was a dramatic one. His predecessor, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, retired at the time the late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua, was hospitalised overseas without transmitting power to his Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. And because he had no authority to carry out the function, the outgoing CJN had to swear in his successor. It was the first time Nigeria witnessed such a situation in its judicial history.

The late Justice Katsina-Alu’s tenure as the CJN spanned a little less than one year before retiring on August 28, 2011 after putting in close to 13 years of service in the apex court. Altogether, he served his fatherland as a jurist for about four decades. However, his brief stint as the CJN was not without some controversy. He was accused by the ex-President of the Appeal Court, the late Justice Ayo Salami, of attempting to pervert the justice in an appeal that involved the governorship election in Sokoto state. The National Judicial Council had to set up a panel headed by Justice Umaru Abdullahi to investigate the allegations levelled against him. The imbroglio led to the suspension of Justice Salami. Curiously, Salami was later offered promotion to the Supreme Court but he declined.

Regarded as a fearless and detribalised jurist, the late Katsina-Alu was known to have delivered several landmark judgements before and during his stay at the apex court. After retiring from service, the late jurist kick up another drama by refusing to honour the invitation for his valedictory service for retiring judges, insisting he was not interested.

He will be remembered as a man of few words but who fought hard for the improvement of welfare of judicial workers during his service on the bench.

As a mark of honour for the departed jurist, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, declared a seven-day mourning during which the national flag in all court premises and institutions of the judiciary should be flown at half mast within the period.

A recipient of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), the eminent jurist would be greatly missed as evidenced by the avalanche of tributes from prominent Nigerians within and outside the judicial circle that has trailed his sudden demise.

Alhaji Coomassie’s death took many by surprise owing to this active participation in the affairs of the nation especially in the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) which he led until his demise.

The late Coomassie was the nation’s number one cop between 1993 and 1999 during which he distinguished himself as an accomplished law enforcer. He served his fatherland creditably and left the police service without any blemish. A man of honour and integrity, the late Coomassie was extraordinarily active in all the tasks he undertook even in his old age, apparently due to his training as a police officer who also disciplined himself as proven by his lifestyle. It is against this backdrop that his sudden demise has left many in utter shock.

Nigerians from all walks of life have been mourning the fallen northern star whose fountain of knowledge and wisdom has suddenly been stymied by death at the time his rich and invaluable counsel would be needed.

Blueprint joins millions of Nigerians in consoling the people of Benue and Katsina states as well as the immediate families of the two great men.

May their souls rest in perfect peace, Amen.

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