Life and times of Justice Niki Tobi

Retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Niki Tobi passed on in the early hours of Friday, June 17, 2016 at the National Hospital, Abuja.

The celebrated and controversial Judge was to friends and foes, considered as a brilliant Judge, who was consistent in his defense of the rule of law.

The Esanma, Bomadi Local Government Area of Delta State native would have celebrated his 76th birthday on July 14.

Justice Niki Tobi was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2002. Prior to his career in the bench, he was the dean, Faculty of Law and deputy vice-chancellor (academic services), University of Maiduguri. He retired on July 14, 2010 as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

He was part of the majority of four Justices of the Supreme Court that trashed Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s election case against the late President Umar Yar’Adua, against the dissenting judgments of three other Justices that nullified the election in 2007.


Following his death after a long battle with an undisclosed illness last week, many notable Nigerians have paid glowing tributes to the late Justice.

Femi Falana: “He had become a professor of law before he was elevated to the high court bench. His intellectual background added value to the several verdicts of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Notwithstanding the complexity of a case he was always quick to appreciate and identify the issues for determination. Justice Tobi’s language was colourful and flowery.

“In Mojekwu v. Mojekwu, Justice Tobi invoked the CEDAW to uphold the equality of women and men. In Mrs. Mary Okonkwo v. ACB the late jurist held that it was illegal and unconstitutional to arrest and detain a mother in lieu of her son…

“However his lordship went too far in sticking to rules of procedure and legal technicalities. For instance, in Madike v The State, the Court of Appeal admitted the appellant to post conviction bail but Justice Tobi demurred and wrote a minority judgment wherein he upheld the continued detention of the appellant under decree 2 of 1984 .In his leading judgment in the case of Buhari v Yaradua, Justice Tobi upheld the validity of the 2007 presidential election on the ground of substantial compliance even though the ballot papers used for the election were not serialized.

“Notwithstanding some of his controversial judgments, the Nigerian judiciary will certainly miss the erudite Justice Niki Tobi who was a consistent defender of rule of law even under a military dictatorship that ruled with absolute powers.”

The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed : “The deceased Justice indelibly contributed to the development of jurisprudence in Nigeria and will be greatly remembered for his assiduousness in reviewing the draft 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria under the Military Administration of General Abdulsalam Abubakar.

“His Lordship urges members of the deceased’s family to be comforted by the knowledge that the departed jurist served his country with commitment, dedication ‎and honesty.

“The CJN‎ prays that Almighty God will receive his soul and grant him eternal rest,”

Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State: “Justice Nikki Tobi was a man of many parts who excelled wherever he found himself leaving behind trails of credibility and integrity. I am shocked and pained by this death. A man of humility, credibility and high integrity has passed on.”

Governor Okowa noted that late Justice Tobi was a pride to the Ijaw nation and Delta State, saying he made the country proud through his contributions to the development of law practice in Nigeria.

“Justice Tobi excelled in two difficult worlds. He was excellent in the academic world as a lecturer and became a reference point in the legal world.

“On behalf of the government and people of Delta State, I commiserate with the Niki Tobi family, the Ijaw nation and Nigerians on the demise of the erudite teacher and jurist Justice Niki Tobi.”


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