By Abubakar S. Imam
There is no doubt in the fact that apart from Arabic and Islamic Scholarship, which earned the City of Ilorin the appellation of “Ilu Alfa”; – the home of the learned-among the Yorubas and “Geri-Alimi”-the abode of the knowledgeable-among the Hausa-Fulani speaking compatriots of Northern Nigeria; the other discipline of note in which Ilorin, as a community has excelled exceptionally is Law. Ilorin has over the years produced hundreds of jurists who have done and are also doing very well as Lawyers, Law teachers and Judges of great veneration; who have not only toiled to protect this veritable heritage, but are working assiduously towards ensuring that Ilorin maintains a frontline position in the practice of Law in Nigeria and beyond. The interest of many people of Ilorin extraction in Law is traceable to the foundational training they received from their Quranic Studies which emphasizes uncompromising adherence to rules and regulations at all times and on all issues. It is therefore difficult to come by any “educated family” in contemporary Ilorin without at least; a Lawyer!!!
Besides, some families are renowned as abode of famous jurists. Such families are the Belgore, Alkali Sokoto and Alfa Ikokoro, to mention a few; whose forebears were outstanding Islamic Jurists. The present generation of those families could be said to have “inherited” legal practice from their famous progenitors; who displayed great versatility in the study and application of Islamic jurisprudence for more than a century. To the descendants of such distinguished families, law practice is considered as a sacred inheritance which they must perpetuate to ensure that the labour of their “heroes past” does not end in antiquity. It is therefore not surprising that the very first University graduate produced by Ilorin Emirate turned out to be a Lawyer.
The pioneer legal practitioner of Ilorin origin is Alhaji AbdulGaniyu Folorunsho AbdulRazak OFR, SAN (b.1927). He was not only called to the bar in February, 1955 but also emerged as the first “learned personality”(as Lawyers often called themselves) produced by the defunct Northern Nigeria. He eventually became the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria produced by Kwara State in 1985 and today remains one of the surviving most senior Lawyers in Nigeria. He is a well accomplished legal practitioner and a remarkable statesman; who is also a biological father to many Lawyers among whom is Dr. Alimi AbdulRazak – a politician and technocrat; who holds a Doctorate degree in Law while a nephew of his -Mohammad Taofiq AbdulRazak, (whose father, Alhaji AbdulMumini AbdulRazak (d.1972) was a Lawyer as well) is equally a seasoned Lawyer, and the first Ilorin man to sit on a Law Professorial chair; apart from being a one-time Registrar and Chief Executive of the Chattered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN).
The legal titan; Alhaji AbdulRasak, served as the National Legal Adviser of the First Republic ruling party, the Sir Ahmadu Bello-led Northern People’s Congress, between 1956 and 1966. He was also the Nigerian Ambassador to Ivory Coast between 1962 and 1964. This outstanding son of Ilorin also served as a Federal Minister in charge of Railways from 1964 to 1966.Lawyer AbdulRazak was the man who took the minutes of the meeting of the surviving Members of the Sir Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa’s led Federal Executive Council presided-over by Alhaji Zanna Bukar Dipcharima; following the January, 1966 coup, where the historic decision to hand over power to Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi led Armed Forces was taken. He thereafter served as a pioneer Commissioner and Member of the Kwara State Executive Council when the “State of Harmony” was created. He served in this Council till 1972 when he resigned from the Council to face his private legal practice squarely. The success of Alhaji A.G.F. AbdulRazak, undoubtedly, propelled his younger compatriots to follow suit as by 1960, Ilorin produced her second Lawyer in person of Justice Mahmud Babatunde Belgore (1936-2010).
Justice M.B. Belgore was the first Northern Nigerian to sit on a Federal bench in 1973. He retired as the longest serving Chief Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria in 2001. Having been appointed in 1987. Justice Belgore also bequeathed so many Lawyers to humanity one of whom is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. The third modern Jurist produced by Ilorin was the late Justice Saidu Kawu CON (1928-2013). Justice Kawu became a Jurist in 1962 after many years of service as a teacher and public administrator. He was also a biological father to many Lawyers one of whom is the current Chief Judge of Kwara State. Justice Saidu Kawu was also the pioneer Chief Judge of Kwara State. He held the office from 1974 to 1984 and it was from that position that he was deservedly moved to the Supreme Court, where he retired in 1993. He was the second Judge to be moved from the State Judiciary to the Highest Court of the Land without passing through the “intermediate” Court of Appeal. The first was Justice Danley Alexander, -a naturalized Nigerian; who was appointed by General Murtala Mohammed from a state bench as the Chief Justice of Nigeria following the removal of Justice Teslim Elias in 1975. Justice Teslim took over from the first indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria, the late Justice Adetokunbo Ademola who held the office between 1958 and 1972.
Justice (Professor) Teslim Olawale Elias later served as the President of the World Court, Hague.
Justice Mohammad Mustapha Adebayo Akanbi CFR (b.1932) is the fourth Ilorin indigene to hold a degree in Law. He was called to the bar in 1963.Justice Akanbi, the pioneer Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and one of the surviving Nigeria’s most respected Jurists; is the first Kwaran to be elevated to an appellate court. He was the third President of the Court of Appeal and the first Nigerian Judge of such status to voluntarily retire from the bench. He did so in 1999 when he still had three more years to go. Akanbi is also a biological father to many Lawyers one of whom is the second Professor of Law produced by the southern-most emirate. The Honourable Justice Saliu Modibbo Alfa Belgore CON, GCON (b.1936),who was called to the bar in 1964 has the record of been the highest-ranking Judicial Official produced by the great city of Ilorin. He is the only Member of the first generation of these eminent Jurists who was a Judge throughout his career which lasted between 1964 and 2007. He started as a Magistrate and creditably distinguished himself by passing through all the layers of the nation’s judiciary before meritoriously attaining the pinnacle of his noble career as the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Honourable Justice S.M.A. Belgore is the first and only C.J.N produced by Kwara State. He is also the first from the North-Central Nigeria, the third from Northern Nigeria and the eighth Nigerian to hold the enviable office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Before attaining that position, he was the Chief Judge of Plateau State and a Justice of the Court of Appeal from 1977 to 1979 and between 1979 and 1987, respectively, from where he was elevated to the Supreme Court. His tenure as the Chief Interpreter of the Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria also remains remarkable as he, (due to age); spent the shortest but positively remarkable tenure in office so far.
The former Chief Justice of Nigeria is also a father
to many distinguished Lawyers while one of his younger siblings is currently a Justice of the Court of Appeal. This class of pioneering Jurists will also not be meaningfully enumerated without a reference to the glorious accomplishments of the reigning Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari CFR (b.1940) who made history as the first indigene of Ilorin to obtain a Master Degree in Law. That was in 1967. He was called to the bar in 1968. He, thereafter, served as the Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary of the defunct Gongola State Ministry of Justice. He was also a Judge of the High Court of Borno State before his promotion to the Court of Appeal in 1983; making him the third indigene of Ilorin to serve as a Justice of the Court of Appeal. He was also the Presiding Judge of the Lagos Division of the Appellate Court and the third highest-ranking Justice of the Court of Appeal as at the time he was appointed as the 11th Emir of Ilorin in 1995. His own father, Alhaji Sulu-Gambari Mohammad (1914-1992), the nineth Emir of Ilorin (1959-1992),who was trained at the Institute of Administration, Zaria, between 1955 and 1956 along with Alhaji Yusuf Amuda Belgore; father to Chief Justice S.M.A. Belgore was an Inspector of Courts in the defunct Ilorin Province before his appointment as the Emir of Ilorin about six decades ago. The incumbent Emir also produced many outstanding Lawyers among his offsprings.
Leading the pack of Lawyers who adopted Ilorin as their operational base is a distinguished son of the soil, Alhaji Aliyu Alarape Salman, SAN.
Alhaji A.A. Salman; a two-term National President of the influential Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union was born in 1942. He graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in 1967.He was subsequently called to the bar in 1968. The acclaimed doyen of the Ilorin Bar was appointed a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 1987 along with Chief Afe Babalola; which made him the first Alumnus of A.B.U Zaria, to be so decorated. He is also the second Kwaran who will wear the silk. Alhaji Salman was also the first Kwara-resident Lawyer to be so honoured. Between 1975 and 1978, this outstanding Lawyer was the Attorney-General and Honourable Commissioner of Justice in Kwara State. His chambers has equally produced many outstanding Lawyers while he, himself, has also begotten many legal practitioners of note; one of whom served as a Technical Assistant to Chief Bayo Ojo S.A.N.; when he was the Attorney-General and the Honourable Minister of Justice between 2003 and 2007.
Aside the nonegarian Alhaji AbdulRasak and the unassuming doyen of Ilorin Bar; Alhaji Salman, other prominent indigenes of Ilorin who have been conferred with the coveted rank of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria are Mohammad Dele Belgore, Adebayo Adelodun, Saka Ambibola Issau, Kehinde K. Eleja, Abiodun Amuda-Kannike and of course, Kamaldeen Adeyemi Ajibade; who served as a two-term Attorney-General and Honourable Commissioner of Justice in Kwara State as well as AbdulHakeem Mustapha whose father is the traditional Attorney-General of Ilorin Emirate while his grandfather was the famous Alkali, (Sharia Judge) who held sway at Offa for many years. One other eminent Lawyer of Ilorin origin was the late Alhaji Akanbi Mahmud Oniyangi (1932-2006), who was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1970.He later served as an Honourable Minister of Communication, Defence and Industries at various times during the Second Republic under President Shehu Shagari.
Also worthy of mentioning is the late Alhaji Ismail Sadiq (d.2017); who was the Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly between October and December 1983; and, of course, the incumbent Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly and his immediate predecessor, Dr. Ali Babatunde Ahmad who is an Associate Professor of Law and Alhaji AbdulRazak Atunwa (2011-2015) who practised for many years in the United Kingdom, respectively. Three of the jurists profiled above also attained the apex as (Professors) in the teaching of Law. And they are Mohammad Taofiq AbdulRazak, Mohammad Akanbi and Abiodun Amuda-Kannike. There are several others who hold Doctorate degrees in various specializations of law and impacting knowledge in Universities all-over the world including Tajudeen Sanni who teaches at the University of Uganda, Kampala, while many others, including Alhaji Adesina Badir Shuaib, from Pakata Area of the ancient City, who retired as the General Manager (Legal) and Secretary of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, practise abroad. Apart from the late Justice Saidu Kawu and Justice S.M.A. Belgore, three other indigenes of Ilorin had or are serving as Chief Judges of states. They were the charismatic Saka Yusuf OFR(d.2018), who was the Acting Chief Judge of Kano State before his appointment as the Chief Judge of Kwara State(2006-2008);the indomitable Raliatu Elelu-Habeeb, the first female Lawyer and Jurist of Kwara State origin who succeeded Yusuf and,of course, level-headed Suleiman Durosinlohun Kawu, the Current Chief Judge of Kwara State.
The impact of the people of Ilorin Emirate on the dispensation of Islamic jurisprudence is also astonishing. Several indigenes of Ilorin Emirate had served as Grand Khadis of Kwara State. These included the Honourable Justice Abdukadir Orire CON (b.1934) who served between 1974 and 1999 when he retired. He was followed by Justice AbdulMutalub Ahmad Ambali OFR (b.1943) who served between 1999 and 2008 and Justice Abdulkadir Oba Imam-Fulani OON (b.1945) as well as Justice Idris Abdullahi Haroon (b.1948) who retired in 2013.He was succeeded by Justice Salihu Olohuntoyin Mohammad (b.1951) who retired in 2016 as well as the late Justice Shehu AbdulBaki (1952-2017) who acted as the Grand Khadi before his retirement and subsequent death last year. The current Grand Khadi of the State is Justice Abdulkadir Ola Mohammad (b.1957) while the man next in ranking to him is the youthful Justice Abdulateef Kamaldeen; a scion of the family of the pioneer Grand Mufti of Ilorin, Shaykh Mohammad Kamaldeen Al-Adabiy (1905-2005).Other distinguished Judges produced by Ilorin Emirate include Justice Ahmad Olarewaju Belgore and Justice Mudasiru Oniyangi who are currently Justices of the Court of Appeal. The list of the Jurists also includes Justice Salihu Saidu and Justice Bolaji Belgore, both of the Federal High Court as well as the Honourable Justice Lambo Jimoh Akanbi who retired recently.
This is not to mention the scintillating contributions and accomplishments of several other distinguished and up-coming Jurists of Ilorin origin who ply their trade at home or elsewhere.
Imam, Directorate of Corporate Affairs, University of Ilorin, Ilorin.