FOUNDER
LATE JUSTICE CHUKWUNWEIKE (CHIKE) IDIGBE JSC (RTD)

The fourth child of his parents, Alexander Ahudinma his father, was a Produce Inspector, and his wife Madam Christiana Idigbe, a housewife. Justice Chike Idigbe, their fourth child was born in the morning of the 12th day of August 1923, in Kaduna, Nigeria. Having lost their first three children at birth, his parents welcomed him with cautious optimism and praying that he stays, named him"CHUKWUNWEIKE", translated in Igbo as"GOD OWNS ALL POWER".

He grew up full of life. He was baptized as Felix in the Catholic Church. When he was six years old his father enrolled him at St. Mary's Catholic Mission, one of the leading primary schools in Port Harcourt. He later gained admission in 1937, into Christ the King College, Onitsha. Among his classmates at CKC were Pius Okigbo (of blessed memory), Gabriel Onyiuke, A QC and former Attorney General of the Federation and a SAN. Chike Idigbe later served with distinction on the Supreme Court Bench, from a flourishing practicing career in Warri, Delta State, before becoming a judge of the Eastern Region in 1961. He was elevated to the Supreme Court in 1964 and concurrently held the position of Chief Justice of Mid-West Region, as it then was, until 1969 when the civil war broke out and he lost both positions for no fault of his, as he had to run for his dear life. He only practiced in Lagos between 1972 and 1975 before he was re-appointed to the Supreme Court in 1975, having lost his position due to the war.

The road to the youthful Chike's academic programme was well paved when he passed the Cambridge examination in 1943 in Division One and obtained an exemption from the London Matriculation Examination. To his father's delight, he had planned with his father to read Engineering in London, and the old man had carefully prepared to foot his only son's bills abroad single-handedly.

One morning, just after the family's early prayers, he made an announcement that threw everybody except himself, into confusion. He said that he would no longer read Engineering. Never! Young Chike explained why he was changing his mind. According to him, he had a dream the previous night. In that dream, he appeared before a full court as a Lawyer and won a sensational case. He said he could not sleep after that dream. Hear him "Since I Woke Up I have been pondering over the Dream. Something is telling me that I will be a great Lawyer" he pressed.

Though the father tried to resist the imposition, people prevailed on him to allow the boy read whatever he wanted.

As soon as word went round that Chike Idigbe was going abroad to read law, the young man became an instant celebrity. In those days, there was hardly any difference between going overseas to read law and soaring away to the moon to study the vast abstractions of nature.

Chike arrived London in the summer of 1943 and registered for academic work at King's College, Cambridge. From the beginning, it was obvious that he would be a serious student. He maintained a markedly quiet and humble life. There are accounts of how he showed a lot of respect for other students' feelings and opinions.

Chike Idigbe's immersion in his studies paid off. In 1946, he made a Second Class Upper Division in his LLB. He came among the first four Nigeians to pass the Cambridge University Law examination with honours, the others being Dr. T.O. Elias, former Attorney General of Nigeria, and Chief Justice of the Federation; Dr. G.B.A. Coker; and Gabriel Onyiuke QC, SAN.

After culminating his studies in King's College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge England with a brilliant performance at the Bar Examinations in December 1946, by winning the much coveted "Forster-Campbell Prize" in Criminal Law, the founder of PUNUKA CHAMBERS, late Justice Chukwunweike (Chike) Idigbe returned to Nigeria.

Three weeks after Chike's return from London, a big reception was held in his honour in Asaba. He was, indeed, the first Asaba Lawyer in the then Asaba Division covering the present Oshimili, Aniocha and Ika Local Government Areas. He was also the first Lawyer from what was known then as Benin Province from the Local Government areas of Ovia to Oshimili to Oredo and to Etsako.

Almost immediately after his admission to practice law in Nigeria in May 1947, he chose to settle down in Warri, which was reputed as very active in land matters practice and declined the renowned Sir Louis Mbanefo's (the first Igbo lawyer who later became the Chief Justice of Eastern Nigeria) automatic offer of employment in his chambers.

Owing to the experience he garnered during his part-time work in a London Law firm during his study years, Justice Chike Idigbe as indicated earlier, practiced in Warri commencing with the famous and dreaded Sierra Leonean lawyer, Nelson Williams, and thereafter established his own law office named PUNUKA CHAMBERS, as a tribute to his great great grandfather Obi Idigbe, who was married to one "Onye Punuka" (literally meaning "the person (Onye) that comes out of trouble (Punuka)".

The junior members of the Bar adored him. Chief Webber Egbe QC, SAN, and former chairman of the Body of Benchers, was enrolled at the Middle Temple in 1952. After practicing briefly with the high-rising law firm run by Rotimi Williams and Fani-Kayode, Egbe returned to practice in Warri in the 50s. "At that time," said Chief Egbe, "Idigbe was virtually controlling Warri. He was also very kind and helpful to junior lawyers." Idigbe had a large volume of cases and used to fan out some of the less contentious ones to junior lawyers who were not even in his chambers. Egbe received a lot of briefs. Sometimes, if Idigbe's peripatetic legal practice made him unable to be present in a particular court, he would request a junior lawyer to hold brief for him. Chief Egbe recalled that such a request made junior lawyers feel very great, because they saw it as a great honour and privilege to announce that they were holding brief for Idigbe. In court, if Idigbe noticed that a junior was making mistakes he would correct him. If the mistakes were too serious, he would advise him to see him at Punuka Chambers later.

Idigbe extended his stupendous generosity to junior lawyers. Even the most junior lawyer from Punuka Chambers who was going for a matter outside Warri would be chauffeur-driven in one of Idigbe's smaller cars. It could be the Volkswagen or Peugeot. The Citroen, Chevrolet, Opel or Mercedes Benz (Idigbe liked big, rugged cars) purred out whenever the owner went. The junior lawyer was also given sufficient funds for his expenses on the way. Justice Omo Bare (rtd.), formerly of the High Court of Benin, said that Idigbe ran an open door policy in Punuka Chambers. Bare was a lawyer in Punuka Chambers and headed the firm when Idigbe joined the Bench. According to Bare, Idigbe made sure that whatever a client paid was minuted in a corner on the client's inside cover file, and that one-third of the fee was given to the lawyer handling the matter, in addition to the lawyer's salary and sundry allowances. The fee was given out regardless of whether the lawyer was a junior or a senior.

After much pressure/wooing from the two Chief Justices of the Eastern Region and of the Federation respectively, Sir Louis Mbanefo and Sir Adetokunboh Ademola who appreciated his brilliant mind, Chike Idigbe joined the bench as a Judge of the Eastern Region in May 1961. Within 3 years he was appointed as Justice of the Supreme Court at the relative young age of 41 and within the same year (1964), he rose to the office of Chief Justice of the Mid-Western region.

The Biafran war and its ravaging consequences cost Chike all his personal assets, his career on the bench as well as any hope of resuscitating his flourishing practice in Warri. Indeed, for a while he took up an appointment as Senior Partner in the law firm of Irving and Bonnar while Punuka had to adjust. Fortunately, he was finally reappointed to the Supreme Court in 1975, where he served as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria for a total of ten (10) years. He became a Justice of the Supreme Court when foreign Justices were leaving the Nigerian Bench in the 1960s and there was need to ensure that the law did not stall the wheel of commerce, also when in the 1970s the then fledging Court of Appeal needed guidance on the ideal role of an appellate court. Justice Idigbe combined a rare understanding of the common law and equity with acute construction of statutory provisions, to analyse and illuminate dark and grey areas of the law. He saw his function as a Justice of an apex court not merely as declaratory, but creative.

To him judicial law making is inherent in courts, an inevitable part of the judicial process. Add to these, his labour, experience, probity, astute faculties and an independent mind, and it would be evident why, more than two decades after his demise, his decisions continue to give security to life and institutions. Indeed, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa JSC (rtd) said of Idigbe JSC pronouncements at the Supreme Court, that "if you convinced Idigbe, you convince the Supreme Court."

Some discerning decisions of Idigbe JSC are listed below as follows

- B. E. E. O. Industry Nig. Ltd v Maduakoh & anor (1975) NSCC 197.

- Lewis & Pent (N. R. I) Ltd v Akhimien (1976) NSCC 360.

- Metalimpex v A. G. Leventis & Co. Nig. Ltd. (1976) NSCC 76.

- Seismograph Service Nig. Ltd v Eyuare (1976) NSCC 551.

- Adeyemi & Ors v Opeyori (1976) NSCC 455.

- Bucknor-Maclean & Anor v Inlaks Ltd. (1980) NSCC 232.

- Anukanti v Ekwonyeoso (1978) NSCC 14.

- Coker & Anor v Sanyaolu (1976) NSCC 566.

- Ogbunyiya & Ors v Okudo & Ors (1979) NSCC 77.

- Shitta-Bey v The Federal Public Service Commission (1981) NSCC 20.

- Shodeinde v Registered Trustees of Ahmadiya Movement in Islam (1986) NSCC 70.

- Williams v Hope Rising Voluntary Funds Society (1982) NSCC 36.

- Atake v A. G. Federation & Anor (1982) NSCC 444.

Justice (Chief) Chike Idigbe OFR, CON was the recipient of two national honours, Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) and Commander of the Niger (CON). He was also like his father a traditional Chief (Olinzele) of Asaba and held the title of Izoma of Asaba, a highly coveted title. His father Chief Ignatius Ahudinma Idigbe was the Ogoni of Asaba and one of Chike's children also holds the Olinzele title of Akulueuno of Asaba. He passed on the 31st of July 1983 at Cromwell Hospital London a few days short of his 60th birthday and anticipated appointment as Chief Justice of Nigeria.

Chike Idigbe had six children, namely, Victor Idigbe, Jude Idigbe, Uche Idigbe, Anthony Ikemefuna Idigbe, Felix Amaechi Idigbe and Paul Ifeanyi Idigbe (deceased). Jude and Anthony are lawyers. Anthony took over management of PUNUKA now PUNUKA Attorneys & Solicitors from this glorious and humbling legacy and nurtured the culture of excellence in knowledge set by his late father, as the PUNUKA way of proffering legal service. Under Anthony's leadership, the firm has grown to become a fully integrated and multi dimensional business law practice.

The firm today which has offices in Lagos, Abuja and Asaba, is structured on a partnership basis, and is supported by a complement of highly experienced and professional staff and a spacious ultra modern purpose built office complex with modern information technology and telecommunications equipment.

Late Justice Chukwunweike Idigbe, JSC LIVES!