By Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba

Let me take this inauspicious occasion of the burial ceremonies of the Honourable Justice Fatun Odohi Riman to welcome their Lordships, his colleagues of the Federal High Court, to Calabar and Cross River State, especially if you are here for the first time. I wish you came for something more favourable.

Justice Riman had called me, as he was wont, a week earlier to inform me that he was in England to visit his son with his wife. I asked after his health and he said he was fine. On the 28th of October 2023, while in Cairo for arbitration, I was neither awake nor asleep, like in a trance, when I thought Mrs. Riman called. Simultaneously with the call was a message: “We lost him…” When I was fully awake, I could find no evidence of a call or text, so I concluded that I was just having a bad dream.

Next day I was back in Nigeria and it was being rumored that My Lord had passed on. I called his wife who confirmed the bad news.

Matters of life and death are within God’s exclusive jurisdiction. Though judges are said to be God’s representatives on earth, their jurisdiction does not include life and death.

“You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and great alike. You shall not fear man for the judgment is God’s. The case that is too hard for you, you shall bring it and I will hear it.” Deuteronomy 1.17

Judges play a vital role in upholding justice, interpreting the law and ensuring fairness. Many legal systems draw inspiration from ethical principles found in scriptures, emphasizing values such as righteousness, equity and compassion in the pursuit of justice. The connection between judges, justice and scripture reflects the broader ethical foundations that guide legal systems round the world. However, though being God’s representatives on earth, judges are not exempted from God’s judgment. Indeed, it is my belief that they will be held to a higher standard of justice by the Almighty.

Today, Justice Riman lies prostrate before us and standing in judgment before his Maker. Death is an appointment all of us, every mortal must keep. It is one appointment that neither judges nor lawyers, no matter their seniority, can secure an adjournment. The death of one of us diminishes all of us.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every person is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls, it tolls for thee.” – Ernest Hemingway, “For Whom The Bell Tolls.”

Justice Riman’s death is an opportunity for us to reflect on our lives and prepare for our own deaths. A simple guide will be to:

“Fear God and keep his commandments, for that is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13

Justice Riman was invited to join my law firm, Ndoma-Egba, Ebri & Co in 1998, on the high and effusive recommendation of my partner Richard David Ebri, Esq. of blessed memory. Richard was not given to praising people so his recommendation of Justice Riman ignited my curiosity. When My Lord showed up, I told him that we had a problem. His professional junior was already Deputy Head of Practice and I therefore had difficulties placing him. His knowledge of the law was evident. In a calm and soft spoken manner, he told me that all he wanted was to practice law from my firm and that he was not interested in titles.

In no time he had made his mark. He was admitted as a partner in 2003 and became Managing Partner on the 1st of October 2010, from which position he was elevated to the Federal High Court Bench on the 28th of May, 2012. He was humble, self-effacing, soft spoken, had a very good grasp of the law and was a team player. Until his death he made it a duty to stop by the firm to interact with his former colleagues and would call me to inform me of his movements as if he was still a member of the firm.

When is the best time to die? Life is not so much about quantity but quality; not the length of our years but the life in the years. Justice Riman had life in every year of his on earth. A legal luminary, he became an Elder of the Presbyterian Church and a leader of his Ediba community and Bahumuno Clan early in life. He was married to one wife, Mary, who was at once his consort, partner and friend, and had a stable family life with children who are not only well behaved but are showing prospects.

While we mourn him, we pray that God strengthens his wife, children, mother, brothers, sisters other relations, the Ediba community and Bahumuno nation and that they be consoled by his rich and full life of love, service and sacrifice to family, profession, community, country, humanity and the Almighty in Whose bosom he has earned eternal rest.

“There is a time for everything, and a time for every activity under the heavens; a time to be born and a time to die…” – Ecclesiastes 3.2.

For Justice (Elder) Fatun Odohi Riman, he had his time to be born. Now is his time to die and so shall it be for all of us. The best time to die is when we die.

May he rest in peace!

Being a speech delivered by Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, KSS, CON, SAN, at the valedictory court session held as part of the burial activities for late Justice Fatun Odohi Riman.


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