Tribute To Late Justice Okoi Itam By Okoi Obono-obla

On 18th March, 2017, I woke up about 2am, and went for my phone. There was a terse message from Ikoi Ikpi Itam sent earlier: “we just lost Okoi Ikpi Itam". The message was sent at about 12.15am. The Almighty God in his infinite wisdom as preordained by him probably from the day he was conceived had chosen 17th March, 2017 to recall him to his bosom.

I was dazed and confused! I couldn't believe my eyes! I thought I was under a trance! I wiped my eyes several times! In my chaotic state of mind, I called Ikoi but he had switched off! I was helpless but suddenly remembered that Chief Utum Eteng (a friend of Justice Itam based in Calabar) should know! I called him to ask what the matter with Justice Itam was! He said Justice Itam took ill the previous day and was in bad shape! It then dawn on me that the worst has happen!

Justice Okoi Ikpi Itam was my blood relation! He was the Son of late Chief Ikpi Itam Okoi (of blessed memory) one of the first generations of elite colonial and post-independence civil servants from this part of the country! My grandmother, Mma Eni Okoi Okoi (of blessed memory) was a sister to Chief Ikpi Itam Okoi.

The last time I saw Justice Itam was probably in the first week of January when I visited him in Chief Clement David Ebri's house in Wuse, Abuja! He was ebullient, strong, hale and hearty! How flighty is life! Indeed life is a mist, a candle in the wind!  It is certain that the hour can come at anytime, anywhere so as ordinary mortals we should always prepare for the eventual! There can be no doubt of the transient nature of life!

Justice Okoi Ikpi Itam had surely made a strong impact and impression on Cross River State nay Nigeria which undoubtedly etched his name in foot print of time and history of his people! On yes he was the fourth lawyer produced by the Yakurr ethnic group, a sub group of the Ekoi ethnic nationalities found in Cross River State of Nigeria, and the Republics of Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Central Africa!

The first generations of lawyers in Yakurr were: Dr Okoi Arikpo, SAN; called to the English Bar in 1956; late Justice Etowah Arikpo (called t the Nigerian Bar in 1974); late Chief Eteng Okoi-Obuli (called to the Nigerian Bar in 1974) and late Justice Okoi Ikpi Itam (called to the Nigerian Bar in July 1977).

He was trail blazer in so many ways! Indeed as a shining Star he shone sparklingly and brilliantly right from his teens when he started dominating his environment, age group and peers! He was a natural ruler and impacted greatly on the development of the environment and society he was born into. He was a Class Monitor (1967-1969) School Librarian (1968-1970); Deputy School Perfect (1970 – 1971); Member, Students’ Representative Council, University of Nigeria Nsukka (1973-1974); and a lawyer at 23! He was barely 37 when he was appointed Judge of the High Court on the 25 November 1991!

Justice Okoi Itam‘s public service at the State, Federal Government and the Republic of Gambia was exemplary, meritorious, and sterling. He was appointed a Judge of the High Court of the Republic of Gambia on secondment on 1st October, 2000, Judge Advocate of the Court Martial of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Gambia (2001-2004) , Chairman Presidential Commission of Inquiry for investigation of Secret Cult Activities at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife (1999-2000); Chairman, Cross River State Judiciary Restructuring Committee (2000);Chairman of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Administrative Activities of the Auditor General of the Gambia (2001); Acting Chief Justice of the Republic of Gambia (2002); Team Secretary/member, Review Committee on Execution Processes, Judiciary of the Gambia (2002); Rapporteur-General on the Judicial Workshop on Rules of Courts of Gambia (2002);Justice of Gambia Court of Appeal (2003-2004);Chairman Local Government Election Appeal Cross River State (2007-2009); Chairman, Local Government Council Election Tribunal, Ogoja Zone (1991); Chairman, Public Funds and Property Recovery Tribunal, Cross River State (1992-1997); Secretary/Treasurer Conference of Judges Cross River State (1993-1997) and Member State/National Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal, Edo State (1998).
Justice Okoi Ikpi Itam contributed substantially and tremendously in very positive towards the development of Cross River State nay Nigeria as a Youth leader; traditional ruler (he was the Village Head of Kotani, Bikobiko Town & Obol Mkpoli of Ugep); Community leader (Member, Council of Chiefs, Ugep Urban 1984-1986), and Chairman, Council of Chiefs, Ugep (1986-1990) and (1984-1994).

In his early stint in politics, he was political leader and was the Chairman, defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) Old Obubra Local Government Area (1981-1983). He later served as Chairman, Defunct MAMSER Advisory Council, UGEP(1989–1990);Member, Board of Governors, Community Secondary School, Ugep (1986-1990); Chairman, Lekpankom Bikobiko Peace and Reconciliation Committee, Ugep (1998) His earlier career was also as a Banker (Legal Officer, defunct Mercantile Bank of Nigeria (1978-1979); and (private legal practitioner (1979-1991). He served as a Judge (1991-2013) and became the Chief Judge of Cross River State (2013-2017)!

His tremendous contribution towards development the legal systems in the continent of Africa spanned this country and the Republic of Gambia where he served several years with distinction, class and aplomb as a judge of that country rising meritoriously to the pinnacle as the Acting Chief Justice!

It is in the character of iconic people to live ephemeral, briefly, shine and exit when the ovation was yet to sound loudest! Jesus Christ died early but has impacted humanity more than two thousand years after his exit and will continue to be in perpetuity! Bob Marley the legendary musician and singer died at 32 but life was might have been kinder to Justice Okoi Ikpi Itam allowing him to be 63 before exiting the stage!

It is totally and utterly inconceivable and unbelievable but it is sadly the reality! So we should not weep, sorrow, or despair! He left at God’s appointed time. We should rather celebrate his times and life, and also preserve his memory particularly on matters that shape and defined him!

Adieu Honourable Justice Okoi Ikpi Itam!
Chief Okoi Obono-Obla
Abuja, Nigeria
30 April, 2017
Opinion 2722231835308992795

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