Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi: From Village Girl To Supreme Court Justice

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Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi is a renowned jurist, distinguished abusite and role model. She is the first female Justice from the North Eastern Region of Nigeria, comprising Borno, Bauchi, Gombe, Yobe, Adamawa and Taraba states, the first female Justice from North-Eastern Nigeria to be appointed to the Supreme Court and the 4th female Justice to be appointed into the Supreme Court Bench’

According to the former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, ‘’Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi who was born on February 27, 1948, has lived an impressive, worthy and exemplary life from childhood till date.

From a primary school in Lassa village, Borno state, she left to attend Government Girls Secondary School, Dalla in Kano state; and then went ahead to read Law in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and then to the Nigerian Law School in Lagos, and thereafter called to the Bar in 1976.

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‘’It is all this that culminated in her been the first female Justice from the North Eastern Region comprising Borno, Bauchi, Gombe, Yobe, Adamawa and Taraba states, and the 4th female Justice to be appointed into the Supreme Court Bench’’, General Gowon said.

Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi

The former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar also remarked; ‘’I’ve always advised that hard work doesn’t kill, but that only laziness leads to perdition. Justice Ogunbiyi I know for a long rose to the Supreme Court bench through dint of hard work. She has not just made the northeastern women proud but the entire Nigerian women’’.

Early Life and Education

Hon Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi JSC was born on 27th February 1948, at Lassa, Borno State into the family of Baba Bata and Malama Awa Shallangwa. She attended the Lassa Primary School between 1955 and 1958 after which she went to Waka Primary School where she completed her Primary education in 1960.

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Between 1961 and 1965, she attended Government Girls Secondary School Dale, in Kano. Thereafter, she worked briefly at Barclays Bank and the Northern Nigeria Marketing Board between 1966 and 1969. In October 1969, she gained admission into Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, where obtained a Diploma in Law in 1971. Between 1971 and 1972, she worked briefly as an Assistant Registrar with the High Court of Justice of North Eastern State.

She commenced her Law Degree Programme at ABU in 1972 and successfully completed same in 1975. Justice Ogunbiyi then proceeded to the Nigerian Law School in Lagos and was called to the Nigerian Bar on 3rd July 1976.

In 1978, she proceeded to the University of Hull in the United Kingdom where she obtained a Master’s Degree in Criminology. She also attended continuing legal education courses at the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies Lagos, in 1985.

Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi’s Legal career

Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi commenced her legal career with the mandatory NYSC Scheme at the Ministry of Justice Kaduna, as Pupil Counsel.

Thereafter, she was appointed as State Counsel at the Ministry of Justice in Borno State, in July 1977 where she rose through the ranks. From February 1983 to November 1984, she held the position as Deputy Director of Public Prosecution (DDPP) and was promoted to the position of Director Civil Litigation (DCL) in December 1984.

She held this position until 23rd January 1987 when she was appointed a Judge of the High Court of Justice of Borno State thus becoming the first female Judge from Borno State and the entire North-Eastern region. After serving for 15 years as a Judge, she was appointed to the Court of Appeal on 17th October 2002. She served in Enugu and Lagos Divisions and as Presiding Justice in Ibadan, Lagos, and Jos Divisions.

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On 13th July 2012, Hon Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi was appointed as Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria thus becoming the first female Justice from North-Eastern Nigeria to be appointed to the Supreme Court and the fourth female Justice in Nigeria to be appointed to the apex Court.

Hon Justice Ogunbiyi is a jurist with a passion for the rule of law. Her 31 year judicial career was marked with several notable judgments that mark her as a quintessential and rare kind of a jurist. In resolving issues and conflicts, she combines the analytical mind of a scientist with the precision of a mathematician.

Her Judgments are well researched, painstakingly written and eloquently delivered. They remain a focal and reference point for lawyers, legal academics and law students all over the country She has given her best to the nation’s judiciary and jurisprudence through her judgments At the Supreme Court, His Lordship wrote about 200 Judgments in her capacity as a Justice of Supreme Court of Nigeria – 90 head judgments and 110  contributory judgments. She wrote far more in her 10-year service at the Court of Appeal.

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She retired on 27th February 2018 on the attainment of 70 years of retirement age for Supreme Court Justices after 31 years of honourable and meritorious judicial service. Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi has been a member of the National Association of Women Judges since its inception and its one time President.

His Lordship became a member of the Body of Benchers in Nigeria in 2009 and was made a life member on 31st March 2017. She is a member of Nigeria institute of Chartered Arbitrators.

Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi is an active member of the EYN Church and has held several leadership positions including Church Adviser in Maiduguri, Lagos and Abuja Churches. She is the Chair of several faith-based organizations including Missions Supporters League (MSL), Peniel Outreach Ministry, Chapel of Grace University of Maiduguri.

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She was on the Governing Council of Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students (NIFES) between 1984 to 1992 and 2016 to date. She is also a Life Patron of Boys Brigade of Nigeria (BEN) and a Chancellor of Ekiti Kwara Anglican Diocese from 2014 to date.

Furthermore, she also serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of Tolbert Specialists Hospital Abuja and Namu Model Schools, Maiduguri.

Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi has received several awards and recognition including the Legal Magnates of Excellence in recognition of her contribution to the rule of law and sanity in the legal profession in 2009 and the Distinguished Trail Blazers award as the fourth female Justice of the Supreme Court. She has also been conferred with awards by the Nigeria Bar Association. She has delivered several papers at national and international conferences.

Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi has been married to Dr. Bamigboye Ezekiel Ogunbiyi, a Senior Consultant Gynaecologist and Obstetrician for 45 years. They both have 5 biological children and grandchildren. She is an avid reader and loves gardening, walking, and faith-related activities.

Honey from the Rock’’ is Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi’s Biography

‘’Honey from the Rock’’ is Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi’s Biography which captures in great detail her humble roots, upbringing, challenges and faith, she emerged from a village settlement, Lassa in North-Eastern Nigeria, but slowly and systematically, climbed the Legal and Judicial ladder till she got to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

– Culled from “Honey from the Rock,” Justice Ougnbiyi’s Biography


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Chila Andrew Aondofa

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