Sitting on a three-man panel reviewing the outcome of the 2003 presidential election at the appeal court, Sylnanus Nsofor was the only judge with a dissenting vote against the exercise that had returned Olusegun Obasanjo, then incumbent and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as winner of the race.
Muhammdu Buahri, a then first timer who ran under the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) was Obasanjo’s main contender, and had challenged the result of the election. While the other appeal court judges gave a nod to the outcome, Nsofor accused Obasanjo and the PDP of engaging in intimidation tactics and violence.
“I find that the substantial non-compliance with the mandatory electoral law amounts to no election. I also find that there was violence perpetrated by President Obasanjo… May Nigeria never and never again see a black Saturday like April 19, 2003,” Nsofor had remarked.
Nsofor’s objections didn’t matter anyway, as Obasanjo was confirmed president.
But his action would cast him to the limelight, and probably put his name in the good books of Buhari who, with three more attempts, eventually won in 2015.
After a fulfilling career, having risen to become a judge of the appeal court, Sylvanus Nsofor retired in 2005. It was a mandatory retirement as the judge already clocked 70.
APPOINTED AMBASSADOR AT 82
But 12 years after retiring from the bench, Nsofor found his name among those listed as ambassador designate in 2017. His appointment was, of course, trailed by controversies. In some quarters, it was believed that it was some “sort of compensation for opposing Obasanjo in favour of Buhari at the appeal court in 2003”.
There was drama when the octogenarian appeared before the senate, as part of the screening requirement to confirm him as ambassador. Nsofor had refused to recite the national anthem when asked to by one of the senators who raised his worry over the age of the retired judge.
And when it was suggested that, at age 82, he might be too old to be an ambassador, he retorted: “Go and ask Mugabe who is still working.”
He had likened himself to Robert Mugabe who at 90 still held sway as Zimbabwe president.
When also asked how he would deal with a 39 year old French President Emmanuel Macron if confirmed ambassador, Nsofor simply said: “I will respect him despite his age.”
Apparently, the lawmakers were not satisfied with Nsofor’s outing. There was an ongoing outcry, and some Nigerians called the president to take Nsofor’s name off the list. In addition, a Department of State Services (DSS) report had also suggested that Nsofor was unfit to hold office owing to his age.
The lawmakers rejected Nsorfor’s nomination. But the president renominated him, and he was presented again for senate screening, and this time he got a nod from the lawmakers.
Monsurat Sunmonu, chairperson of the senate committee on foreign affairs, had said Nsofor performed well when he appeared before the committee a second time.
She explained that though, the DSS, in its report, said that Nsofor would not be able to perform his duties due to his advanced age, the committee resolved to give him a chance to serve.
“He was rejected and the presidency sent his name back to reconsider. Hon Justice Nsofor is 82 years old – as opposed to being sarcastic and frail when he first appeared before this committee for screening,” she had said.
“The nominee answered all questions appropriately and his appearance was better than the previous one. The DSS report still maintained that he will not be able to perform the duty of an officer due to his advanced age. However, the committee believes that he should not be penalised based on age since he was able to demonstrate the necessary skills during the exercise.
“The DSS report did not state any criminal report against this candidate. Hence the committee resolved to give him a chance. The committee is satisfied with his second appearance and performance.”
Nsofor had served in that capacity until July when Buhari did not renew his appointment.
‘MAN OF RARE COURAGE’
At 85, Nsofor breathed his last, Thursday night at a hospital in Maryland, US.
Buhari, while commiserating with the family, described him as a man of courage and truth.
“In a telephone call to Jane, the widow of the retired justice in New York on Friday, the President described Amb. Nsofor as an outstanding judge of rare courage and truth who is not afraid to give justice to whom justice is due,” Garba Shehu, a presidential spokesman, wrote in a statement.
“Apparently referring to the 2003 presidential election during which Justice Nsofor delivered a minority judgment as a member of the Election Appeal Panel in favour of Gen. Buhari as candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), the President said the country will miss people with such exemplary pedigree.”
LSE TRAINED LAWYER
Born March 17, 1935, in Oguta, Imo state, Nsofor attended London’s now defunct Holborn College of Law in 1962 and also got an LL.M from the London School of Economics (LSE) in 1964.
He began a teaching career at Holborn College of Law in 1964 and later went into private practice in 1965.
In 1977, he was appointed to the bench in Nigeria and served as a judge of the Imo state high court.
For 13 years, he was a judge at the appellate court until his retirement in 2005.