Prof. Ben Nwabueza, SAN, LL.D: The exit of a legal colossus (Part 2)

Prof. Ben Nwabueza, SAN

By Prof Mike Ozekhome, SAN


IN the first installment of this two-part eulogy, we sketched the origin of this legal sage: from his humble beginnings to his education, working life, academic laurels, his dedication to legal scholarship and his contributions to constitutional reforms and legal education. 

In this concluding episode, we shall examine his passion for social justice, his personal and professional integrity, his visionary leadership, publications, court-room advocacy, his record of public service and his overall legacy and impact. Enjoy.


Ben Nwabueze’s commitment to social justice extended beyond the legal realm. He was an advocate for equality, human rights, the rule of law and the well-being of all citizens. His involvement in social and political causes reflected his intense dedication to a more just and equitable society.

One of his notable contributions was his works in the area of human rights. Nwabueze was a behind-the-scene voice in the founding of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) in Nigeria in 1987, an organization pioneered and co-founded by this writer and others, which is dedicated to the promotion and protection of civil liberties and human rights of Nigerians. Through CLO , he addressed issues of injustice, inequality, and abuse of power, standing up for the marginalized and oppressed.

Throughout his life, he demonstrated a deep concern for the less privileged and a commitment to improving their conditions. His advocacy efforts were not limited to the courtroom, but extended to the streets, where he actively participated in many protests and campaigns for social justice, especially during successive military juntas.


Professor Ben Nwabueze was a man of unblemished integrity and solid character. He held himself to the highest ethical standards and was a role model for those who had the privilege of knowing him or coming across him. His principled approach to life and work was a source of inspiration to many, and his actions consistently demonstrated his commitment to the greater good.

Nwabueze’s integrity extended to his role as a public servant. He was not swayed by political interests or personal gain, but rather, he focused on the welfare and interests of the Nigerian people. His honesty and steadfast dedication to the nation’s well-being earned him respect across political lines and within the international community.


Prof. Nwabueze’s contributions to Nigeria went far beyond the confines of his academic and legal work. He was a visionary leader who sought to shape the nation’s future in a manner that reflected his deep commitment to justice, democracy, and the rule of law.

His vision for Nigeria was one of a united, democratic, and just nation where all citizens had equal opportunities and rights. He recognized the importance of inclusivity and the need for a more equitable distribution of resources and opportunities. His vision, which was rooted in the principles of federalism, constitutionalism, and respect for diversity, remains a source of inspiration for those who seek to build a better Nigeria.


The Oduah Afo-na-Isagba of Atani’s legacy is immeasurable. His impact on the Nigerian society, the legal community, and the broader field of constitutionalism transcends his lifetime. He will forever be remembered as a beacon of intellectual rigor, a tireless advocate for justice and democracy, and a role model for integrity and ethical conduct.

In the field of law, his contributions will continue to shape the education of future lawyers and Judges and the practice of legal professionals. His writings on constitutional law will remain foundational texts for scholars and practitioners, guiding the evolution of Africa and Nigeria’s constitutional framework for generations to come.

In the realm of constitutional reform, Nwabueze’s vision and advocacy will inspire future generations to work towards a more just, inclusive and equitable society. His passion for a united and democratic Nigeria will continue to influence those who strive for a better nation.

In the broader context of social justice and human rights, his works have left an indelible mark on the struggle for equality, social justice and the protection of civil liberties. His dedication to the welfare of the less privileged will serve as a lasting testament to the power of advocacy in effecting positive change.


The erudite scholar that he was, Prof. Nwabueze really came into his element in academic research. This saw him producing a prodigious wealth of scholarly works, including over thirty books and treatises with an average of 400 pages, on a diverse range of topics, albeit with a constitutional bent or flavor. He also authored over 200 articles in academic journals, as well as more than 100 keynote lectures in local and international conferences. Prof. Nwabueze’s seminal books on constitutional Law: Constitutionalism, Presidentialism, and Judicialism, earned him the prestigious (and rarely- awarded) distinction, in 1978, of being only the second Nigerian (after Dr. T.O Elias) to be awarded the LL.D doctorate degree laurel, not honoris causa, but based on his solid academic works.


However, Prof. Nwabueze no less excelled in courtroom advocacy, as he was often consulted as amicus curiae by all levels of courts in Nigeria and beyond, particularly the apex Court. On each occasion, he was acknowledged and applauded for his profound and unique scholarly insights into the subject matter under discourse. Indeed, he was probably the foremost and pre-eminent living Senior Advocate of Nigeria of letters at his death.


Prof. Nwabueze’s recognition at home was arguably cemented by his appointment by the Babangida administration in the early 1990s, as the Minister of Education and Youth Development. This was in addition to being the Secretary-General  (between 1978 and 1984) of the pre-eminent pan-Igbo cultural organization, Ohaneze Ndigbo, an organization he co-founded in 1976, with prominent Igbo sons such as Dr Akani Ibiam, Dr Michael Okpara, Dr K.O. Mbadiwe ( the man of timber and Caliber),Chief Ugochukwu, P.M. Okigbo and Chief Jerome Udoji

The recipient of the prestigious CON National honour and the National Order of Merit (NNOM) was so concerned by the future of the Nigeria Project that, together with the late Chief F.R.A. Williams, SAN, he co-founded the Patriots, a group of eminent elders, who sought to enrich the public space with their advice and opinions when the ship of the Nigerian State sailed perilously and precariously into troubled waters in the wake of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.

About a quarter of a century earlier, however, Prof. Nwabueze was reportedly behind the abolition of Nigeria’s historical Federal structure and its replacement by the government of Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi, with a unitary system. He was said ro have been the silent adviser. This singular act was cited by the leaders of the July 1966 counter-coup as one of their main reasons for sacking Ironsi’s government which counter coup cost him his life. It is said that since then, Nigeria has never really recovered the Federal system of government that it hitherto enjoyed, being now replaced with an unofficial unitary system of government. Whether his alleged participation in the abolition of a federal template for Nigeria is correct or not is left for historians to unearth.


In conclusion, I dare say that the passing of Professor Ben Nwabueze is an irreplaceable and irreparable loss to Nigeria, Africa and the world. Arguably no Nigerian – living or dead – matched Prof. Nwabueze’s prodigious output in terms of scholarly legal and academic literature. In this, he was simply awesome. His contributions to legal scholarship, literature, constitutional reforms, education, egalitarianism and social justice were nothing short of extraordinary and phenomenal. His life was a testament to the power of intellect, character, integrity, and unwavering commitment to the betterment of society.

As we remember and celebrate his life and times, let us draw inspiration from his uncommon example. Let us continue the good works he started, striving for justice, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. In honoring his unforgettable memory, we celebrate the values and principles he held dear; and we commit ourselves to the noble pursuit of a better, more just and equitable world. Professor Ben Nwabueze’s legacy will endure as a beacon of hope and an eternal source of inspiration for generations to come. Indeed, an Iroko has fallen. His passage brings to a close an entire chapter of the legal profession. May his great soul rest in peace and in the bosom of the Lord. Amen, Adieu, my hero. Farewell my guardian constitutional lawyer from whom I drew incredible inspiration.  Goodbye, Africa’s foremost constitutional lawyer. (The end).


“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”. (William Shakespeare). 


God bless my numerous global readers for always keeping faith with the Sunday Sermon on the Mount of the Nigerian Project, by humble me, Prof Mike Ozekhome, SAN, CON, OFR, FCIArb., LL.M, Ph.D, LL.D, D.Litt, D.Sc. kindly, come with me to next week’s exciting dissertation.


-November 14, 2023 @ 13:02 GMT |