A Justice of the Supreme Court, Centus Chima Nweze, has died at 64.
Mr Nweze, who still had six years before attaining the statutory retirement age of 70, died on Saturday, according to Supreme Court sources.
The circumstances of his death are unclear, as the Supreme Court has yet to make an official announcement.
Mr Nweze, until his death, ranked the fifth most senior among the 13 judges of the Supreme Court.
Mr Nweze, elevated to the Supreme Court bench in 2014, participated in various panels that gave consequential judgements, some of which were his lead decisions. Born 25 September 1958, Mr Nweze hails from Obollo, Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State.
The jurist, who bagged his law degree from the prestigious University of Nigeria Nsukka, in Enugu State, in 1983, was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1984.
He began his judicial career with his appointment as a judge of the Enugu State High Court in November 1995.
He was elevated to the Court of Appeal of Nigeria on 15 February 2008.
He served at the Court of Appeal until October 2014, when he was elevated to Nigeria’s Supreme Court as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on 29 October 2014
Mr Nweze, known for his prodigious academic writings, was also a doctorate holder.
He was also reputed for his oratorical prowess and flowery usage of words to simplify legal matters in his judgements.
In March 2020, he poignantly remarked in a dissenting opinion that the judgement of the Supreme Court sacking Emeka Ihedioha as the Governor of Imo State would distort electoral jurisprudence (body of judicial precedents) for long.
Mr Nweze was the only one on the seven-judge bench who dissented to rule that the judgement earlier sacking Mr Ihedioha, and replacing him with Hope Uzodinma, who came distant fourth in the election, should be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
He said the Supreme Court’s judgement on the Imo State governorship election was wrong and “will continue to haunt our (Nigeria’s) electoral jurisprudence for a long time to come.”
But he was the judge who gave the lead judgement in the widely criticised verdict of the Supreme Court, controversially declaring then Senate President Ahmad Lawan as the authentic candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for Yobe North Senatorial District in the February general election.
The judgement, considered among the most controversial decisions of Nigeria’s Supreme Court, handed the senatorial ticket to Mr Lawan despite his not participating in the primary election.
Mr Nweze, given his intellectual bent, was one of the most regarded Justices of the Supreme Court.
His sudden death adds to the burden of his 12 surviving colleagues, deepening the manpower crisis the court has suffered since last year.
It also constitutes a setback to the court’s recent efforts to attain its full complement of 21 justices.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) extolled Mr Nweze’s virtues as it expressed shock about his death in a statement on Monday.
In the statement released by the National Publicity Secretary of the NBA, the association’s President, Yakubu Maikyau, said the deceased made numerous decisions that shaped, impacted and developed Nigeria’s law and jurisprudence.
“The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau, OON, SAN, has received with shock and dismay the news of the passing of Hon. Justice Chima Centus Nweze, Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, which sad event occurred on Sunday, 30 July 2023.
“Hon. Justice Nweze was an astute and erudite jurist. His lordship’s numerous decisions have shaped, impacted and developed our law and jurisprudence. He was a disciplined, hardworking, and courageous judicial officer.
“The NBA President condoles with the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Kayode Ariwoola, GCON, the entire Nigerian Judiciary, the Government and People of Enugu State, friends and family of Hon. Justice Nweze over the demise of his lordship and prays that the Almighty God comforts his lordship’s family and friends,” the statement read.