Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi was Nigeria’s Chief Justice from January 30, 2007, until December 30, 2009. He started out as a lawyer and became the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Niger State before becoming a High Court judge. He was elevated to the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 1992 and on January 30, 2007, was appointed Chief Justice of the Federation.
Born in Kutigi, North-Western State (now located in the Lavun Local Government Area of Niger State) in 1939, Kutigi attended Elementary School in Kutigi (1946 – 1951) and Niger Middle School, Bida, between 1952 and 1953 and the Niger Provincial Secondary School, Bida, between 1958 and 1959. He was at Government College (now Barewa College), Zaria between 1960 and 1961.
Between 1962 and 1963, Kutigi attended the Barrister’s Course at the Institute of Administration, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (1962 – 1963), and School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London between 1963 and 1964. He made a First Class in Islamic and African Laws at the University of London and was at the Inns of Court School of Law in London between 1963 and 1965. He also attended the Bibson and Weldon College of Law between 1964 and 1965. He attended the Nigerian Law School in Lagos and was called to Nigerian Bar 1964.
He was a Pupil State Counsel in Kaduna between July 1966 and July 1968; a State Counsel in Sokoto between July 1968 and July 1970; served as a member of the North-Western State Local Government Reforms Committee appointed by Government between 1969 and 1970; was State Counsel Grade 1 between July 1970 and July 1971; Senior State Counsel Grade 1 (July 1972 – July 1973); Principal State Counsel (July 1973 and July 1974); Deputy Solicitor General from July 1974 to April 1975; Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions from April 1975 to October 1975; Chief Registrar, High Court of Justice, North-Western State (October 1975 – March 1976); Solicitor General and Permanent Secretary, Niger State from April 1976 to December 1977 and Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Niger State (April 1976 – December 1977) – a position he held concurrently with the offices of Solicitor General and Permanent Secretary, as well as that of Director of Public Prosecution. He was then fondly called three-in-one by his colleagues in the State Executive Council.
Kutigi served as a High Court Judge between October 1, 1976, to October 1980 when he was elevated to the Court of Appeal in the Lagos/Ibadan Division between October 1980 and February 1992 and Enugu Division between 1988 and February 1992 when he joined the Supreme Court and became Chief Justice on January 18, 2007, and served until December 31, 2009, when he retired, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.
After retirement, Justice Kutigi performed a unique role by swearing in his successor, Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu. The country’s President usually swears in the Chief Justice, but President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was not available on this occasion due to ill health.
Justice Kutigi afterward returned to serve as a high court judge until his death in October 2018. As a retired Chief Justice of the Federation, he continued to attend the Council of State meetings.
In 2014 he was appointed chairman of the National Conference on constitutional matters by President Goodluck Jonathan. His appointment was widely welcomed by those on all sides of the Nigerian political spectrum with praise coming for his impartiality and fair handedness. Kutigi later described the conference as the “most arduous” to have been held in Nigeria’s history due to the short length of time, four and a half months, that had been allowed for it. By its conclusion more than 600 resolutions had been addressed covering points of law, public policy, and the constitution. The findings were presented in a 22-volume, 10,335-page document.
In his younger days, Kutigi was a long-distance runner (one mile, 880 yards, and 440 yards). He was the Head Boy and school Captain at the Niger Provincial School, Bida in 11959, and House Captain at the Barewa College in 1961.
He was honoured with the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) in 2001 and Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) in 2007.
He was a Life Member of the Body of Benchers; former Chairman of the Body of Benchers; Member, World Jurist Association; Member, Commonwealth Magistrates, and Judges Association; Fellow, Chartered Institute of Arbitration of Nigeria (FCIArb); Fellow, Nigeria Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (FINALS); and Fellow of the National Judicial Institute (FNJI).
He was the Danjuma Nupe and Ajiya Kutigi. A street in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, was named in his honour in April 2015. The Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi International Conference Centre in Minna is also named for him.
He died in a London hospital on October 21, 2018 following a short period of illness. As a mark of honour following his death the Nigerian flag was flown at half-mast at the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the official residence of the Chief Justice, all judicial institutions and courts of records, for seven days.