AMBROSE ALLAGOA: THE FEARLESS JUDGE
By SAMUEL ODAMO
JUSTICE Ambrose Allagoa who dared to pass the guilty judgment on a state governor while in office in 1975 is still very witty. Though he has retired from the Bench, he is not yet tired. Giving that all protocol must be observed, the former Chief Judge of Rivers State radiates much of the frankness that made him the darling of many people while dispensing justice many years ago.
Time has done little harm to his handsomeness. His light complexion still burnishes in spite of wrinkles which are fast invading his once smooth skin. Though his agility may have dwindled, he is still smart for his age.
Justice Allagoa is a retiree with a difference. On a daily basis, individuals, corporate bodies and government agencies seek to sip from his wealth of experience. Again, as His Royal Highness, Mingi II, Amanyanabo of Brass, his people consult him from time to time. Hence, he is a very busy man.
As a judge, Justice Allagoa presided over many cases too numerous to mention. Out of all these, no case, he admits, made much ripples as that of Amakiri, Rivers State Editor of the Bendel State-owned Nigerian Observer. It was a case of conflict between the military government and the press in Port Harcourt in 1975.
The editor had filed a suit for damages against the military governor, Diette-Spiff, alleging that he (the journalist) was flogged and his head shaved on the order of the governor. It was not easy for the judge to sit over the case and arrive at a decision. At that moment, he was between the devil and the deep blue sea.
His legal boss, the then Chief Judge of the state, a European, appeared to have avoided touching the case as he deftly proceeded on annual leave before it was mentioned. Since His Highness does not believe in shirking responsibility, that was one of the cases he heard in his capacity then as the Acting Chief Judge of the state.
Confronted with this epoch-making case, he reveals that: “I made up my mind that all I wanted was to get at the truth.” The case was decided in record time. Its hearing began on a Monday and judgment was passed on Friday. Mr. Gani Fawehinmi (now Chief) represented the applicant at the hearing. While reading the judgment, the judge ordered the state governor to pay N20,000 as damages to the aggrieved editor, Amakiri. The case made waves across and beyond the country.
The 78-year-old retired judge was a member of the Boys Scout as a kid. He spent his childhood in Owerri, Onitsha and Port-Harcourt as the son of a civil servant always on transfer from one town to another. “Being a scout,” he recollects, “is a good start in life”.
Justice Ambrose Allagoa attended Saint Mary School, Port Harcourt for his primary education. He was one of the pioneering students of Christ the King College (CKC) Onitsha from October 1933 to 1936. He worked for 10 years in the judicial department before going overseas to study law.
His first public appointment was as the Mayor of Port Harcourt in 1958. He left the-Municipal Authorities Service to join the Bench in October 1962. He left for the Rivers State Judicial Bench in 1970, where he rose to the post of the Chief Judge before retiring in 1979.
Among the special attributes of Justice Allagoa while in service was the dispatch with which he handled suits before his courts. He recalls a chance encounter in 1982 with somebody who once had a land case before his court. Besides being satisfied with how the case was decided, the man told Justice Allagoa that another person with a similar case filed in another court at the same time was as at 1982, still attending court in respect of the case.
The former chairman of the Council of Traditional Rulers in Rivers State believes that the traditional rulers have more important roles to play in the nation’s polity than they are currently playing. He advocates the inclusion of specific roles for traditional rulers in the constitution.
As a first step towards giving the traditional rulers the opportunity of making meaningful contributions to the general well-being of the nation, he suggests the resuscitation of House of Chiefs. This legislative arm, he says, would help to cool down tempers and take a second look at bills brought before it by various chambers.
The retired Chief Judge who is a farmer, divides his time between his palace in Nembe and his residence at the GRA Diobu area of Port Harcourt.
First Published Saturday, 14 November, 1992.