By Eric Ikhilae, Bolaji Ogundele, Tony Akowe, Abuja and Ogochukwu Anioke, Abakaliki

President Muhammadu Buhari and Ebonyi State Governor yesterday mourned Supreme Court Justice Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta, who died in the early hours of yesterday.

The jurist was to retire on March 30.

Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Hadizatu Uwani Mustapha, said Justice Ngwuta died around 2.30 am in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the National Hospital, Abuja.

He took ill a week ago.

Mustapha said: “He felt sick and was admitted, last week, at the National Hospital, Abuja.

“Before he was moved to the ICU on Friday, he tested negative for COVID-19.

“Justice Ngwuta was due to retire on attaining the mandatory retirement age of 70 years on March 30, 2021.

“His remains have been deposited in the National Hospital mortuary, pending the arrangement for his burial.

“May the late Hon. Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta rest in perfect peace and may God grant his family, the Judiciary and the apex court the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.”

Justice Ngwuta, who was among some judicial officers subjected to corruption trial in the early days of the Buhari administration, resumed duties on September 23, 2019.

Justice Ngwuta, who was the third most senior Justice of the Supreme Court, was suspended in 2016 by the National Judicial Council (NJC).

It was after the Department of State Services (DSS) raided his home and those of other judicial officers in August 2016.

He was charged at the Federal High Court, Abuja, with money laundering, and later, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), with failure to declare assets.

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Both charges were struck out in 2018 on account of a decision by the Court of Appeal, Lagos division.

The appellate court held that an erring judicial officer must first be taken through NJC’s disciplinary mechanisms before being subjected to trial in the conventional courts.

The late Justice Ngwuta, who was appointed Supreme Court Justice on March 22, 2011, was born on March 30, 1951, in Amofia-Ukawu, Onicha Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.

He obtained an LLB from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), lle-Ife, Osun State in 1977 and BL at the Nigerian Law School in 1978.

President Buhari, in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said the late Ngwuta served Nigeria well.

The statement reads: “President Buhari condoles with family and friends of Justice Ngwuta, who passed away early hours of Sunday in Abuja.

“The President joins people and government of Ebonyi State, Nigerian Bar Association and members of the Bench in mourning the legal luminary.

“He regrets that the death of the eminent Justice will leave a gap in the Supreme Court, considering his experience and dedication to the interpretation of the constitution.

“President Buhari believes Justice Ngwuta lived and served the country with his knowledge of the law.

“The President prays that the Almighty God will accept the soul of the departed, and comfort his family.”

Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi commiserated with the late Justice Ngwuta’s family.

In a statement by his media aide Francie Nwaze, he described Ngwuta as a detribalised Nigerian.

He said his death is another confirmation that life and death are only in the hands of God.

The governor said: “It is shocking to hear about the death of our brother and a Supreme Court officer, Justice Ngwuta at the age of 69. It caused deep pain in my heart as he has less than a year to return from active service but no one can question God for life and death are in his hands.”

The governor observed that Justice Ngwuta was a hardworking, dedicated, and committed public servant whose death occurred when his wise counsel and contributions were needed the most.

He urged the family to be consoled by his landmark achievements, praying that God will grant his soul peaceful rest.

Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Federal Judiciary, Onofiok Luke, said on the late Justice Ngwata contributed immensely to the judiciary.

Luke said: “Justice Ngwuta was an intellectual and a legal icon whose legacies and influence straddled different legal circles and ecosystems.

“His track record bespeaks a man of hard work, discipline and commitment.

“Justice Ngwuta contributed immensely to the development, growth and expansion of Nigeria’s legal system and jurisprudence.

“His presence was felt in the legal firmament especially in the areas of electoral, civil and criminal laws.

“His industry and service to the judiciary and Nigeria will sorely be missed.”

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