It was John McCain in his book Faith of my fathers who said “nothing is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone”, and to me, to succeed in life is to contribute to making life easier for others to live. This is the life Hon. Justice Umaru Eri, OFR has lived for more than six decades.
Whereas I cannot position myself as a chronicler of Hon. Justice Umaru Eri’s life story as his authorized biography In the eye of the law, he narrated in a more illustrative ways all that needed to be made known about him. The book remains one of the best on my bookshelf.However I find it difficult and irresistible not to write about this larger- than- life personality who is worthy of celebrating at this auspicious occasion of his 69 birthday.
I remember with great interest and admiration my several conversation with His Lordship especially the day I made a casual remark about his robust youhtfulness even at his old age. I said ‘my Lord this your dressing today depicts a young man in his twenties with this your overall jeans attire. And in his usual characteristics he returned the compliment with restrictive smile.As I write, His Lordship is strong,active, agile with high energy, charming and radiating astuteness on daily basis and for this we give God the glory for sparing his life up till this moment.
I congratulate and rejoice with this great man of methods,a tactician,a strategist, administrator par excellence and a disciplinarian of all times. His frankness, fearlessness and attention to details (are virtues ) to behold. And his ability to remember events quickly thrills those of us that work directly with him. Therefore many of us draw from his inspiration, wisdom and of course from his fountain of knowledge that he churns out everyday in the office and at home. He is very resourceful, energetic workaholic and very sagacious.
This gargantuan personality is a regular face at most of elite gathering of eminent jurists of this country. In many cases his views and opinions are needed at any critical moment in the nation’s judiciary.Since he assumed duty at the National Judicial Institute in August, 2008 he has not put anyone in doubt as he pursues the mandate and the statutory objectives of the institute to the admiration of the legal and judicial officers of this country. The institute is now very active … as he coordinates and sees to the organization and conduct of continuing judicial education and training for all cadres of judicial officers in the country and their supporting staff. He has encouraged the institute to collaborate with other organizations in Nigeria and abroad with the view of improving and updating the overall knowledge of judiciary officers and to take the institute to international standard.
He has since, completed in record time all uncompleted projects of the first phase of the institute, and currently there is massive infrastructural developments going on in the institute which include estate of guest chalets, guest reception centre, guest motel, hotels, estate of residential quarters for principal and intermediate officers, a mosque, a Christian worship centre, a shopping centre, a social centre, a banquet hall with catering facilities, seminar halls for study and research department, a functioning estate and maintenance department and a golf course. As a man of perfection he takes time out of his very busy official schedule to have on-the-spot assessment of the works on sites. He started and completed major projects in the institute namely: Hon. Justice Idris Kutigi library, the NJI clinic, fire station with latest fire fighting equipment and a fitness centre. He created new units and department which have been staffed and in general the staff is repositioned for greater efficiency and productivity.
At the NJI under Eri, the staff are adequately provided working materials and logistics with which to do their work and as I write, the staff are getting set for local and international trainings. The success story at the institute is made easier with the support from the various Chief Justices of Nigeria and Chairmen of the Board of the National Judicial Institute and Members of the Board of Governors. The efforts of this great achiever at all time which was attested to with the commendation of former Judge of the international Court of Justice, His Excellency, Judge Bola Ajibola, CON for his untiring efforts in maximizing and ultilizing the land use of the institute in the interest of Nigerian Judiciary.
Justice Eri, nothwithstanding his apparent toughness and strictness ,demonstrates kindness and benevolence with uncommon passion to assist others to grow. To many of us, he is a role model and a shinning example of what a good leader ought to be.He also plays a role of (father figure) to so many people. A man of many parts, you know him from the part you see. Justice Umaru Eri, OFR was the first and former chief Judge of Kogi State (1991-2008).. Born on the 27th June, 1943 in Koton-Karfe, attended both RCM primary school, Idah and Anglican primary school, Akabe. He was at the famous Government College, Keffi (1959-1963) and the great Ahmadu Bello University,Zaria in 1970. He started his Judicial career as a Pupil Counsel in 1971, Chief Magistrate in 1978, a Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Benue State in 1980 and appointed the First Chief Judge of Kogi State in 1991 and currently, the Administrator, National Judicial Institute. He was awarded National Honour of the Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) in 2004. He is prince of the Royal dynasty of the Bassa-Nge stool. He is also the Nakorji of Bassa-Nge Kingdom, Tafida of Koton-Karfe, Egena-Attah of Igala Kingdom to mention but a few.
Eri, as a man of accomplishment has fought many battles orchestrated by cowards and persons of unknown pedigree who simply reaped from where they have not sown. He appreciateS their honest criticisms no doubt and endures their betrayal and finds the best in others. Eri lives a life synonymous to the late sages like Mahatma Ghadi of India, late Sir Ahmadu Bello KBE, Late Premier of Northern Nigeria and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, GCFR, the Late Premier of Western Nigeria, as he shares some principles and idiosycracies with them. He is very dogged, courageous, resilient, fearless but with high sense of humour both at formal and informal settings.
We again salute our mentor and role model Hon. Justice Umaru Eri, OFR with seven (7) hearty cheers at 69 (while) wishing him many more years in the service of Nigeria Judiciary and Humanity. May your life continue to inspire the young generation and nany happy returns. Amen!
Kolade Umoru, Ch. MC, Amnipr
Writes from Abuja.