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An Epitaph for Justice Kayode Eso

Guest Colunmist By Professor Wole Soyinka

His epitaph, undoubtedly, is already decided. That, rightfully, is the sad but also consoling duty of family, bringing with it the promise of closure. In all likelihood, our ‘learned friend’ – learned to both the learned and unlearned – had himself entered his choice among his dispositions long before the event itself – that is only to be expected of the punctilious mind we knew, in or out of Law. With deference therefore to the family, speaking for many who knew him, who interacted with him in any significant way, many will for long evoke him all over in their minds, seeking to recapture, and retain in their memory that rare being who, for many, came closest to what the mind can conceive as personification of the essence of Law. He keeps company with a few, a most pitiful few, who are thus acknowledged by their peers, but what a constellation across the dark sky of misrule, of the diabolism of power, and the spectre of injustice!

My view of Law is probably not the same as that of Law’s formal servitors, those who interpret – or, more accurately – argue its provisions, eliciting those segments that best serve the interests of their clients. Law, in its most fundamental reaches, is the essence of civilized humanity. Not simply that it enables, or begets civilization, but that it is indeed the heartbeat of civilization. Despite periodic perversions – especially under tyrannies of no matter what ideological hue –  Law remains inseparable from human culture, pre-dates literacy and allied human achievements. Even in pre-literate society, Law was manifested in the norms that sought to order society by providing equal voice and deserving to every entity that constitutes society. Thus it comes about that a being may emerge from within the humdrum activities of Law to transcend Law’s own formal status, and represent, in its own persona, the transcendental image of Law, speaking to man’s ancient longings for equity in all dealings.

Let the foregoing ruminations serve as template for my choice of an epitaph for Justice Kayode Eso, one that  was effortlessly evoked even as I received news of his demise. It comes from the pronouncement of the goddess Athena at the shrine of Apollo, when that deity stepped down from her abode in the clouds to mollify the Erinyes. These were the ancient spirits that jealously guarded the traditional rites of settling scores – literally through the cyclic principle of vengefulness. It was with these words that Athena dismissed them, inaugurated the Age of Law, the humanized principles of restitution and resolution that our departed Kayode Eso embodied in the art of consistency throughout his career on the bench. That exhortation serves us as a most befitting epitaph:

“Let no man live

Uncurbed by Law, or curbed by tyranny”

Nobel Laureate, Professor Soyinka wrote this tribute in honour of Justice Kayode Eso exclusively for THISDAY LAWYER