Tribute: Life and times of Justice Ilori, Lagos ninth CJ

Ogunsakin Mustapha
4 Min Read

By Mustapha Ogunsakin

A former Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Samuel Omotunde  Ilori is dead. Justice Ilori, the ninth Chief Judge of the state died on the afternoon of Tuesday October 12, 2021. He was 87 years old.

The family announced the demise of the judge in a statement signed by Ms Olukemi Ilori. It reads: “We hereby announce the death of our father, Honourable Justice Samuel Omotunde Ilori, the ninth Chief Judge of Lagos State on the afternoon of Tuesday 12 October in Lagos. He was well and just passed peacefully on that day;

We give gratitude to God for his Legacy and a life well spent. Funeral arrangements will be announced later”.

His tenure as Chief Judge was a watershed. He was the first Chief judge to introduce electronic recording of court proceedings by introducing Verbatim Court Recording Machines to Lagos judges. However the system recorded little success due to power failure.

The late Justice Ilori was born on January 5, 1934 in Ilesha, Osun State to Chief James Jegede Ilori, and Chief(Mrs) Comfort Olasihunmi Ilori. He attended Holy Trinity School, Omofe, Ilesha (1942-1950). Divisional Teacher Training College (1953-1954), Gloucester Technical College(1956-1959); and University of Leeds, Yorkshire, United Kingdom(1959-1962).

He was at Inner Temple, London(1961-1963), and Nigerian Law School in 1964. He was a teacher briefly, and in private practice before gaining employment as a Pupil Counsel at the Federal Ministry of Justice on July 1, 1965. He transferred his service to Lagos State after the state was created on April 1, 1968. He rose through the ranks in the civil service and was appointed Director of Public Prosecutions(DPP) on March 6, 1978.

As DPP, he prosecuted the popular the case of the popular Lagos socialite, Chief Ejigbadero for the murder of Raji Oba, a farmer in his farm. Ejigbadero was sentenced to death by the late Justice Ishola Oluwa for the murder.

Ilori was promoted as Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary on June 1, 1979. He was appointed judge September 1, 1980, and Chief Judge of Lagos State on December 27, 1996. He retired on January 5, 1999.

On the eve of his retirement however, a controversy occurred on the extension of the retirement age of Chief Judges in the country. The then military Head of State, Gen Abdusalami Abubakar had announced the extension of the retirement age of Chief Judge from 65 to 70 years. This led to an uproar in the Lagos State judiciary as the next judge to him, Justice Sikiru Olatunde Adagun was already waiting.

With the announcement of the Head of State, Justice Ilori deferred his retirement. But some Lagos indigenous judges were not happy. A politician and former Minister in the First Republic, Chief Theophilus Benson SAN swiftly filed an ex-parte application before Justice Eniola Longe at the Ikeja High Court, seeking to compel Justice Ilori to proceed on retirement. The court granted the application. It became a heated controversy and General Abubakar subsequently withdrew the extension.

Suffice to say that Justice Ilori engaged the late Chief FRA Williams as his lawyer in the case. The case eventually got to the Court of Appeal where the order was quashed. Justice Adagun became an Acting Chief Judge, and was not sworn-in as a substantive Chief Judge until ten days to his retirement.

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