The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from calamity; he enters into peace; they rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness. -Isaiah 57:1-2

When the rumour of the death of Hon. Justice Morrison Ighodalo filtered in, it was like a bolt from the blue and was scarcely believable to the ears. When the news was later confirmed, it was a great body blow not only to his family who had lost a father and torchbearer, the Bench which he served until his dying breath or the Bar which was his primary calling and who held him in the highest esteem but to the whole society who lost a cerebral jurist who still had a lot to give and who was snatched from us at a very vital time in the history of our Judiciary. 

As it is customary in an event like this, it is important to take a look into the life and times of the Late Hon. Justice Morisson Ojeabu Ighodalo. His Lordship was born on the 13th of March, 1960 into the Royal Family of Ujoba and by Raymond and Cecilia Ighodaro, he was the first of seven siblings. At an early age, he displayed signs of intellectual fecundity, clearness of thought and uprightness which would later serve him very well in his life.  

He attended Arinze Primary School, Benin City from where he proceeded to Eghosa Anglican Grammar School, Benin City for his secondary education.  He made his School Certificate Examination at the first attempt in 1976 and later proceeded to Edo College for his Higher School Certificate program.  While he was at Lower Six, he attempted the first-ever Joint Admissions Matriculation Board exams and was successful in this attempt. His Lordship was consequently admitted into the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) Ile-Ife, to study Law at the Faculty of Law. 

Upon his graduation from the University of Ife, he proceeded to the Nigerian Law School, Lagos for his Vocational Training and he emerged with flying colours and was subsequently called to the Nigerian Bar. He had his compulsory service year (NYSC) which can also be categorised as his pupillage in Ado-Ekiti in the law firm of the great legal doyen and sage Aare Afe Babalola SAN. 

He also had a stint in the city of Warri, Delta State where he worked under Chief Akpofure SAN. He left Warri to set up his law frim at Uromi. His practice took him as far as Lokoja and also spanned to the South Eastern State of Nigeria at the time. He later entered into partnership with the late Hon. Justice Yakubu Itua while he was in legal practice; from where he joined the law firm of Chief Ihensekhien SAN and Co. 

He found a mentor and a father in the Principal, Chief C.O. Ihensekhien SAN of blessed memory where he rose to become the Deputy Head of Chambers. Having practised law under three of the finest minds the legal profession in Nigeria has produced in the persons of Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, Chief Akpofure, SAN and Chief C.O. Ihensekhien, SAN, it was fitting and appropriate that the insights, experience and clearness of thought gotten from these legal sages should be used to serve the course of humanity on the Bench hence, His Lordship was deservedly appointed as a Judge of the High Court of Edo State on the 20th of September, 2001. 

Our jurisprudence is richer for this decision of his to serve humanity on the Bench. It is not farfetched considering the quality of legal education he must have gotten under the aforementioned sages coupled with his brilliance and industry to believe that had Justice Ighodalo decided to remain at the Bar, he would have taken the rank of silk and enjoyed all the glitz and glamour that comes with that rank but he chose the less glitzy path to become a High Court Judge, we thank him albeit posthumously for this decision.

Perhaps, as a sign of the path he was to take later in his life, as a student in Eghosa Anglican Grammar School, He was a member of a group of younger students who named themselves Ten Black Stars who committed themselves to fighting oppression from senior students. Some other members of that group of Eghosa Anglican Grammar School Freedom Fighters were Chief Charles Uwensuyi Edosomwan, SAN and Justice Eyewunmi Oritsejafor of the Delta State High Court.  

Obviously, over time I am sure the senior students who they took on and who would have considered them rascals would have seen the success which these junior students have gone on to attain in their various professional lives that these young men were worthy adversaries and had more than teenage rebellion fuelling their quest to fight oppression and bullying back then. His Lordship carried these values with him for the rest of his life, as a lawyer, he could be easily found in the courtroom fighting the cause of the downtrodden and the oppressed in the society. 

As a judge, he was the proper epitome of the Judiciary being the last hope of the common man and his judgments would have both contending parties agreeing with the position he took on the case. Let me say with certainty and sincerity that His Lordship treated lawyers particularly juniors with utmost courtesy and was never too busy or in a hurry to lend a helping hand to younger colleagues just finding their feet in the profession.

The Late Hon. Justice Morrison Ighodalo was meek, kind and humble. He was most unassuming as he acknowledged the emptiness of life. On an occasion like this, we are also reminded that life is indeed empty for in death we carry no title or status but are judged with our relationship with God and fellow men. I hope we take the lessons inherent in the way Justice Ighodalo lived his life. 

These days when the news media is awash with stories of Magistrates sentencing lawyers whom they consider unruly to 2 months imprisonment for contempt, Judges using abusive and insulting words on lawyers, the way and manner Hon. Justice Ighodalo conducted himself is made more remarkable.

In the words of Maya Angelou people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel, His Lordship never made people feel small or stupid and thats why we are here today and we can see the outpouring of grief.  In the course of his judicial journey, he served on the Governorship Election Tribunal in Borno State where he gave a dissenting judgment. He also served on the Edo State Local Government Election petitions Tribunal.

His Lordship was always guided and lived by the prophecy of Isaiah remarked in Chapter 50;

“The Lord God has opened my ears and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been confounded." 

The Late Hon. Justice Ighodalo was an active sportsman and a Judo Black Belter. This epitomised his fighting spirit which he maintained till his dying breath. 

A devout Roman Catholic, the Late Hon. Justice Morisson Ighodalo served and believed in God all his life. In life, he bore the pains that came with rigours on the Bench which may have ultimately contributed to his painful demise with much dignity just like the way Jesus Christ who the late Justice believed in carried his cross on his way to Calvary. Unfortunately, in the case of Hon. Justice Ighodalo, he had no Simon of Cyrene to help carry his cross but that did not stop him from being a dignified man and living a dignified life. We are here with thoughts of what could have been but we are not dismayed as we know he lived a fulfilled life and we take solace in that fact.

To the Judiciary, who have lost a very senior judge at a time when his mentorship is sorely needed, we extend our heartfelt condolences. We had conveyed this earlier in our visit to my Lord the Chief Judge who was in a meeting with other Jugdes of Edo State upon the demise of Hon. Justice Morisson Ighodalo, we will however use this forum to reiterate our condolences. We also pray that this be the last time we will be coming here for the obsequies of a serving judicial officer.

To the family left behind, we cannot comprehend how you feel about the demise of your son, father, brother, husband and mentor. There are no words to convey the depth of our condolences that we share with you. We however want you to know that the Late Hon. Justice Ighodalo left a good legacy behind and you have a friend in the Bar as we were positively impacted by his stay on the Bench. We know that the Hon Justice Morrison Ighodalo is resting with the Lord free from the troubles of this world. While praying for the peaceful repose of his soul, we implore you to take heart. Ecclesiastics 7:1 states: 

"A good name is better than precious ointment and the day of death than the day of ones birth. Your father and mentor has lived a good life and has left for good and this, his memory will be cherished by all who had the privilege of interacting with him. In the words of Irving Berlin, his song might be ended, but his melody lingers on."

Our world and in particular our profession have experienced so many deaths lately, which therefore calls for sober reflection and the need to be more health-conscious. The Bar will continue to agitate for improved welfare and health scheme for our judicial officers as their working condition gets them completely exhausted and sapped which eventually tells on their health. 

In conclusion,  permit me to conclude this address with the admonition of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ on his way to calvary as related by St. Luke the Evangelist in his Gospel, Chapel 23;

“And there followed him a great multitude of people, and of women who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning to them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me.”

The lesson inherent in the above passage is not that emotions are not to be expressed at this most painful time for all of us as we mourn the exit of My Lord, Hon. Justice Morrison Ighodalo. By all means, we are allowed to weep and mourn his loss for the various reasons he meant to us but the lesson inherent is that death is an inevitable conclusion for us all. 

In the next couple of days, Christians all over the world will get ready to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter after the Holy Week. While celebrating this most sacred of traditions, it behoves on us to make sure we live our lives in a way that will be pleasing to God and his people just as His Lordhip did as we do not know for whom the bell tolls for next.

On this note, may I, therefore, say a word of prayer as we get ready to bid Hon. Justice Morrison Ighodalo farewell. 

Requiem aetenam dona ei Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

Ut animam tuis in pace.

May his soul rest in peace. Amen. 

Pius I. Oiwoh

Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, Benin Branch.

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