The Chief Judge of Cross River State, Justice Okoi Ikpi Itam, has died at the age of 63.
According to sources in his family, and Ugep, his homestead in Yakurr Local Government Area of the state, Justice Itam died in the early hours of yesterday at a hospital in Calabar, the state capital where he was rushed to after he had suddenly taken ill.
Following the sudden death of the chief judge of the state from what has been generally described as brief illness, a large section of the state, especially his professional colleagues have been thrown into mourning.
A bosom friend and professional colleague of late Itam, who spoke in confidence yesterday morning to THISDAY, because he was not mandated to confirm the death of the judge, lamented profusely over the demise of the man he described as “his childhood friend.”
“I am devastated. I have lost a close friend. We were friends from childhood and had so many experiences together, and as young lawyers, we shared the same law chamber. I am speaking to you from his residence. It is a big loss to me, it is a personal loss, I am really sad,” the lawyer said.
Also the personal assistant to President Muhammad Buhari on Prosecution, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, who described Itam as his cousin took to the social media to comment on the demise of the late chief judge.
“The Honourable Chief Judge of Cross River State of Nigeria, Justice (Obol) Okoi Ikpi Itam passed away last night after a brief illness. He was my cousin. His father and my Grandmother were brother and sister. It is unbelievable! But God giveth and taketh! We therefore cannot question his injunction!,” Obono-Obla wrote on his Facebook page yesterday morning.
The state governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, yesterday, cancelled his crowded official schedules to condole with the family of the late Chief Judge of the state, Justice Itam.
Condoling the bereaved family, Ayade, accompanied by his wife, Dr. Lynda Ayade; Speaker, Mr. John Gaul Lebo, and members of the state executive council, described the late Chief Judge of the state as “a wonderful, peaceful man who would always go for the option of peace,” adding that “the deceased will always tell you that he is here for the interest of unity.”
According to the governor, the death of Itam could be likened to “a brick falling on you from the mountain top,” considering the wonderful relationship that existed between his family and that of the deceased as well as the cordiality shared between the executive and judicial arms of government in the state.
Ayade disclosed that on hearing of the deceased’s challenging health, he made frantic effort to ensure that he was moved overseas for treatment, a move which the cruel hands of death did not allow the late Chief Judge to benefit from.
“The worst thing that can happen to you is to have a man that you just had a meeting between the executive and judiciary to resolve all challenges on a good note and two days later, you are told that he is no more. There can’t be a greater shock than this, and that is the way of mortals which shouldn’t have been,” Ayade remarked.
The governor, who got emotional, said: “I have always accused death for not knowing who to pick. Why won’t death go for the kidnappers? Why won’t death go for those who bring pain and agony to the people? Why will it be somebody who administers justice, bring tranquility, peace and order in the society? Death doesn’t even have eyes; it doesn’t even have a sense of feeling. If it does, it would have known that it made a very wrong choice.”
Ayayde said the death of the State Chief Judge has gone a long way to reveal the nothingness in the world, urging the bereaved family and the entire people of the state to be consoled by the legacies he left behind.
The late Itam was born in Ugep on May 18, 1954. He had his early formal education at Ugep primary school, and thereafter proceeded to Community Secondary Grammar School, Ugep where he attained his secondary school certificate in 1971. He was later admitted to the University of Nsukka where he obtained Bachelor of Law Degree before he was called to the Bar in 1977.
During his working career, which spanned many years, served as Chairman Local Government Council election tribunal, 1991; Judge High Court of the State, also in 1991; Chairman Public Funds and Property Recovery Tribunal, Cross River State, 1992-1997; Judge High Court of The Gambia 2000; Judge Advocate for The Gambia Armed Forces General Court Martial, 2001- 2004; acting Chief Justice of The Gambia, 2002; and Justice of The Gambia Court of Appeal, 2003-2004. Thereafter he returned to the state judiciary where he was appointed chief judge of the state in January 2013, a position he held till yesterday.