CON, LIFE BENCHER, DSSRS, CHIEF JUDGE (RTD.) BAYELSA STATE
HON. JUSTICE KATE ABIRI, previously known as WARITIMI during her maiden name, was born on January 13th, 1958, in Aleibiri, located in the Ekeremor Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. She was born to the late Chief and Mrs. M. Y. Waritimi. Among her 33 siblings, she held the position of the first daughter and second child in the family. Her father, Morungbe Yeipeigha Waritimi (1928-2001), served as a Police Officer, which led the family to reside in various regions of the country due to his job assignments.
She received her education at various institutions. She started at Ighodola Memorial School in Benin from 1964 to 1966. Later, she attended Community Primary School in Aleibiri from 1966 to 1968. From 1968 to 1970, she continued her studies at Apapa Methodist School in Lagos, where she earned her First School Leaving Certificate. Continuing her education, she enrolled at Bomadi Grammar School from 1971 to 1975 for her secondary schooling. Her outstanding abilities led to her being chosen as the Head Girl of Bomadi Grammar School.
Although she performed well academically, her father believed she had even more potential and could achieve greater focus in life. As a result, Katty (her affectionate nickname) went to live with her father in Jos, Plateau State. She then pursued her education at St. John’s College in Jos from 1978 to 1979, where she obtained her West African Senior School Certificate (WASC) with a Division One and Distinction.
There is an account that she initially harbored no desire to pursue a law degree in university. She believed that disciplines with the “logy” suffix, such as Sociology, Psychology, and Geology, held more prestige. Her father devoted considerable time to convincing and ultimately persuading her to choose law as her field of study. Eventually, she enrolled at the University of Jos in Plateau State for her tertiary education, where she pursued law from 1979 to 1983. This decision brought great joy to her father. In 1983, she successfully earned a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B Hons) degree. During her time as an undergraduate, she held the position of Vice President within the Law Students Association.
Following the completion of her law degree, she advanced to the Nigerian Law School in Lagos, where she underwent training from 1983 to 1984 and achieved her qualification as a Barrister of Law (B.L).
Throughout her journey, it’s evident that hard work has been a constant companion in her life. Even during her vacation period between 1977 and 1978, she worked diligently as a Clerical Officer at the Ministry of Education in Jos, Plateau State. This work ethic continued as she embraced the roles of a new bride and an expectant mother.
During her early legal career in the Ministry of Justice and as a Magistrate in Rivers State during the early 1990s, a time when salaries were modest, she displayed her resourcefulness. To supplement the family income, she opened a small kiosk in front of their residence, selling foodstuff to ensure they never went without meals. Additionally, she crafted and sold lawyer’s bibs to her colleagues.
She embarked on her National Youth Service with the Ministry of Justice in Rivers State from 1984 to 1985 and was retained after her service term. Her dedication led to successive promotions: from State Counsel (1985 – 1987) to Senior State Counsel (1987 – 1989) and further to Principal State Counsel (1990 – 1992).
Her career continued to flourish as she became a Chief Magistrate in Rivers State Judiciary in 1992. She presided over Chief Magistrate Court 2, Port Harcourt, as well as the State Juvenile Court and Revenue Court. With the establishment of Bayelsa State in 1996, she transferred her services there and served as Chief Magistrate in the Bayelsa State Judiciary from 1996 to 1997.
In 1997, she reached another milestone in her career by being appointed as a Judge of the High Court of Bayelsa State. This role saw her involvement in various Election Petition Tribunals, including those in Bornu State (1998), Kwara State (1999), Edo State (1999), Imo State (2003), and Jigawa State (2007). Her service as a High Court Judge continued until March 20th, 2008, when she was appointed as the Chief Judge of Bayelsa State, a position she attained by the grace of God. Subsequently, on May 5th, 2010, she was appointed as a Member of the National Judicial Council (NJC).
On July 17th, 1984, she married Mr. Patrick Amaye Abiri, an Estate Surveyor from Tamugbene in Ekeremor LGA. Interestingly, he was not just a life partner but also her high school sweetheart, as both of them attended Bomadi Grammar School in Bomadi. Destiny brought them together again in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, during the 1980s.
In the initial years of her marriage, her household was a full one, comprising her children as well as her husband’s siblings. This demanded her to display qualities of industry, innovation, and enterprise to effectively manage her home. Despite her busy schedule, she was blessed with seven boys and one girl and yet managed her household with great efficiency. She was attentive to each member’s concerns and made efforts to resolve them.
As a wife, she impressively maintained her sense of duty, love, and respect for her husband. This was especially commendable given her positions of authority throughout her legal career and her ascent to the role of Chief Judge of Bayelsa State.
In her role as a mother, she embraced an open-minded approach. She never imposed her career preferences on her children and consistently encouraged them to pursue their aspirations. She approached their career choices with patience and support, intervening only when necessary. As a result, all her children are now thriving in their chosen paths. She also successfully imparted her core values of dedication, devotion, and hard work to her children.
Her remarkable dedication and selfless service garnered numerous awards and commendations. Notably, she received the ‘Judge of the Year’ award in 2006 from the Nigeria Bar Association’s Yenagoa Branch. She was recognized as the ‘First Female High Court Judge of Bayelsa State’ by Her Excellency, Dame Patience Jonathan, and the Government of Bayelsa State in the same year. Her achievements also led to the distinction of becoming the ‘First Female Chief Judge of Bayelsa State.’
Her alma mater, the University of Jos, acknowledged her accomplishments with the ‘Distinguished Alumni Award’ in June 2010. In a significant honor, she was granted the National Honours Award of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) by His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, on September 29, 2014.
Her legacy of service and excellence continued to be acknowledged in subsequent years. In May 2023, she was recognized and conferred with the Distinguished Service Star of Rivers State (DSSRS) by His Excellency, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, the Governor of Rivers State. These accolades stand as a testament to her exceptional contributions and dedication to her profession and her community.
- Hon. Justice Kate Abiri CON achieved a remarkable feat by becoming the first Chief Judge of a State to administer the oath of office to the Governor-Elect of another State, specifically the Governor-Elect of Rivers State.
- In her commitment to embracing innovation and advanced technology, she collaborated with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to establish an ICT laboratory. This facility has proven immensely useful in facilitating legal research through electronic law research software, streamlining the process for legal professionals.
- Furthermore, her leadership led to the successful implementation of the Electronic Recording System in the Bayelsa State Judiciary. This achievement positioned Bayelsa State as the second in the nation to adopt this system. This advancement significantly improved efficiency in justice delivery by eliminating the need for judges to manually transcribe records and thereby reducing case hearing times.
- Justice Kate Abiri pioneered the establishment of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Centre in Bayelsa State. The center, operational since July 2016, provides a platform for dispute resolution through negotiation and mediation. Additionally, she commissioned the Bayelsa State Multi-Door Court House on February 11th, 2020, further enhancing access to alternative methods of dispute resolution.
- Her proactive approach led to the implementation of the Nigerian Case Management System (NCMS) and e-Filing in the High Court of Bayelsa State in collaboration with JITPO.com. Through a partnership with the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), she introduced e-Affidavit and e-Probate systems, simplifying the process of obtaining affidavits, registering wills, and acquiring letters of administration for the public.
- Under her leadership, media visibility and information dissemination were greatly enhanced through various channels, including print, radio, social media, and an official judiciary website that receives regular updates on judicial activities.
- Numerous court facilities underwent extensive renovation, aimed at providing a suitable and conducive environment for court users. One such example is the transformation of the High Court Onopa, which was renamed the Hon. Justice K. D. Ungbuku High Court and remodeled under her administration.
- In recognition of the importance of effective procurement processes and contracts, she established a Due Process Department within the judicial arm to ensure the standardization of these procedures.
Upon reaching the age of 65, Hon. Justice Kate Abiri gracefully retired from her distinguished career in the judiciary. Her retirement was celebrated with grandeur and festivity, honoring her remarkable 15-year tenure as the Chief Judge of Bayelsa State. Her retirement marked the conclusion of an illustrious journey of service and leadership within the judicial realm.
Hon. Justice Kate Abiri was deeply committed to her Christian faith and displayed unwavering love for God. Her devotion was steadfast, and she held a strong belief in the importance of family fellowship through daily devotions. She imparted valuable lessons of godly living to her household by leading through practical examples.
As an active practitioner of Christianity, she regularly attended the Greater Evangelism World Crusade Church. Her dedication to her faith extended beyond attending services; she also served as a Pastor within the church and held a position on the board of trustees. Her involvement in various capacities within the church community reflected her profound spirituality and commitment to her beliefs.
Among her interests, Hon. Justice Kate Abiri found joy in reading, swimming, and cooking. These hobbies provided her with a means to relax, engage her mind, and express her creativity outside of her professional and personal responsibilities.
Justice Kate Abiri passed on to eternal glory on Thursday 3rd August, 2023 in Yenagoa, Bayelsa state. Her contributions and legacy will undoubtedly be remembered and honored. Timeless persons’ deepest condolences go out to her family, friends, and all those who were touched by her life.