[MUST READ]: The Moving Tribute Kanu Agabi SAN paid to Late Justice Sylvester Ngwuta JSC

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In your lifetime, my dear Sylvester, I addressed you as my Lord. I am unable to do so now since you stand before Him who is able to see the human spirit in all its nakedness and with whom titles are of no account. I came to your defense when you were tried on a false charge. As you stand in judgment before the Lord who can defend you. Shall you be able to profess your innocence as did the Prophet Samuel when he said:


“Behold, here I am: witness against me before the LORD, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? Or whose ass have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? And I will restore it you. (1 Samuel 123)

Fear not, my brother Sylvester. You stand before him who is mighty to save – Lord of Mercy and Compassion. He knew you before He created you. He will not forsake you now. In mercy He created you and saw that it was good. It was by His grace that you came so far. He was with you in the valley of the shadow of death. And when you were cast into the valley of humiliation, He never forsook you. It was in Him that you lived and moved and had your being. He knew of your wanderings in this wilderness. It was He who preserved your soul. He bore all the weight that you laid upon Him. He was with you wherever providence led you. He supported you in every trouble. He never left you unsatisfied. In the beginning He was sufficient. Unto the end He was sufficient. It was He who renewed your strength. Because He was with you, you lived without fear. When you passed through the rivers your passage was supported by His divine presence. When you walked through the fire you walked through unharmed. He satisfied your mouth with good things and made you to lie down in green pastures. In mercy He called you back. We give Him thanks.


We pause only briefly to witness your passing. All our courts will remain open and work will go on as if nothing happened. We are like soldiers who step over their dead and dying and go on fighting as long as the war is on. We are trained and equipped to share in the sorrows and anxieties of society. It is we who console the bereaved. And so, we ought to know how to console ourselves at a time like this. We mourn you as learned men and women. We mourn as those who have hope.

In life you were my friend. And so I speak at your funeral. Had you not jumped the queue and gone ahead of me, you would have spoken at my funeral. You lived a quiet life. Alone. You departed quietly – giving no notice of your departure. Go in peace. The words of commendation which I speak at your funeral are words of commendation which I spoke to you in your lifetime. You were therefore in the remarkable position, as it were, of hearing your own funeral oration delivered to you personally before you died. You were a man of rank and position. Having risen to the highest position as justice of the Supreme Court, no purpose is served by dwelling on the lesser offices you held as judge of the High Court and justice of the Court of Appeal.

It is difficult for me to speak without bitterness at your funeral because of the loss that I have suffered and without partiality because you were my friend. I have prayed for the grace to speak without bitterness because there was no bitterness in you. I shall endeavour to speak without partiality because as Justice of the Supreme Court you were reputed to be impartial.

You laboured from the beginning to the end. We commend your steadfastness, your humility and your benevolence. You never criticized or condemned any one – not even when we humiliated you by bringing against you charges that were not genuine. You said that your duty of gratitude to the motherland was unqualified. You always spoke gratefully of the nation that gave you your education; the nation that protected you when you were defenseless; the nation that appointed you judge of the High Court and justice of the Court of Appeal and finally Justice of the Supreme Court. After your ordeals at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and the Federal High Court, that same nation allowed you to resume your seat on the Supreme Court bench. You felt that you could not condemn such a nation. I cannot now condemn a nation that you did not condemn. I cannot at your funeral speak words of condemnation when in your lifetime you spoke only words of commendation. Even though you were terrorized and made to fear, you did not live by your fears. You lived by your hopes.

There was nothing that a judge could wish to attain that you did not attain. There was little or nothing for you to gain by the addition of a few more years. And so the Lord called you when He did. From humble beginnings you rose to the apex court. The height that you attained is a pointer to us that we ought not to suffer any inhibitions on account of the limited circumstances of our birth or upbringing.

You go, my dear Sylvester, to take your rest at God’s appointed time. You did not live one day more or less than the Lord appointed. Some think that your departure was sudden and that it was hastened by all the pressures on you from the humiliations that you suffered. We never go before the Lord’s time. And we are never able to extend our days beyond those appointed by the Lord. Your death occurred when it should occur. God is never before His time and He is never behind.

My dear Sylvester, whatever fears may have attended you in life, now you know that it is blessed to die. No more shall you labour to bend your knees. They shall bend of their own accord before the one before whom all knees must bend. You go to intercede for us. While you were in our midst, you were witness to our sicknesses, our poverty, our cruelty and our wickedness. As heaven is not indifferent to the earth, we know that you will intercede for us. Find a voice for the suffering in our midst.

We pray for the repose of the soul of our friend, Sylvester Ngwuta. Overcome by the dust from which he was made he has now returned to dust. May the Lord redeem him who sojourned the earth as a stranger with none to guide him. May the Lord grant that his soul may not wither nor wander but stand radiant in the congregation of the righteous. The Lord will surely remember that he was but flesh, a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.

Lord, we do not ask that he come back to live amongst us. We ask only that Ye may grant him a place in the eternal mansions of heaven. At this time when we are overwhelmed by sorrow and driven to question even your own judgment, sanctify our thoughts and our words, strengthen our hearts and our hands and grant us submission to thy will.



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