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Justice Umaru Abdullahi at 80: Epitome of judicial, human excellence

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Justice Umaru Abdullahi had an illustrious judicial career that spanned decades and brought forth many decisions key to the evolution of our nation’s jurisprudence. He made significant contributions to the judiciary and to the advancement of the important concepts of the rule of law and independence of the courts in our young democracy.

Called to the bar in 1968 and appointed to the Court of Appeal as Justice in 1983, Justice Abdullahi was elevated to the position of President of the Court of Appeal in 1999. His body of work on the Court of Appeal was one of sustained excellence that placed him among Nigeria’s foremost jurists and gave him a global reputation as one of the most able judges of his era. Because of expertise and breadth of legal acumen, Justice Abdullahi also was selected to serve as Justice of the Court of Appeal of the Republic of Gambia from 1992 to 1993 in an effort to help strengthen our sister nation’s judiciary and rule of law. Justice Abdullahi remains the longest serving President of the Court of Appeal.

For the 10 years he was its president, the appellate court was a unique institution at the forefront of judicial independence. Justice Abdullahi demonstrated courage in his role as an impartial arbiter. He interpreted the law and adjudicated cases before him with a clear eye on the law and a diligent search for justice. His excellent qualities as a top judicial officer have been attested by many. Those who worked closely with him acknowledge him as a man of integrity and strong moral fibre.

His immense intellect combined with his love of justice to articulate landmark decisions that strengthened our democracy and promoted the rule of law. Two such cases I particularly recall pertained to Dr. Olusegun Mimiko and APC National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole, where the Court of Appeal under Justice Abdullahi affirmed that elections in Ondo and Edo states had been unfairly decided. He bravely and then declared Mimiko of the Labour Party and Oshiomhole of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria as winners of those elections. The decisions showed Justice Abdullahi as a person of strong character and honesty – he simply would not tolerate electoral fraud.

The Court of Appeal he served so well speaks glowingly of his tenure even to this day. Indeed, it’s a fitting testament to his remarkable performance as President Court of Appeal that the appellate court’s website thusly states: “Under Justice Abdullahi, new rules of practice and procedures for the court were made. He facilitated the construction of its headquarters within the Three Arms Zone, Abuja. He is a very unusual transparent, accountable, democratic, charismatic, amiable and erudite jurist.” The court added: “Justice Abdullahi adjudicated several electoral cases since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999 and, on the whole, under him, the Bench is believed to have acquitted itself creditably.”

During his November 2009 Valedictory Session at the Court of Appeal, I described Justice Abdullahi as a reference for intellectual rigour. I said he was the exposure of law and epitome of credibility and unquestionable nobility.

Rather than change, my view of him has been reinforced the more I learn about the inner character of the man. Justice Abdullahi is an excellent human being and a shining example of fairness, objectivity and transparency. You only need to encounter him to appreciate his goodness.

Just as his contributions to law and jurisprudence are remarkable, his roles in other spheres of life are no less laudable. He has been conferred with the prestigious traditional titles of Walin Hausa and Shettima Ilimuye of Borno among others. Justice Abdullahi is also a recipient of many honors and awards, including the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON).

As he joined the Octogenarian Club in November last year, I also join the family, friends and associates of Justice Abdullah in thanking Allah for giving him the grace of turning 80 and for giving Nigeria this rare man possessed with such a fine legal mind and dignified character at a momentous time in our history when we needed to enshrine democracy and establish the rule of law.

As we mark this day, we are happy to celebrate such a great excellent man. However, our hearts are also heavy because of the recent passing of his dear wife who was a wonderful partner and pillar of support to Justice Abdullahi. Our prayers are with him and his family such that Allah may console and comfort him.

My prayer is also that Almighty and Beneficent Allah grant Justice Abdullahi more years and imbue him with robust health, physical and mental energy to continue to contribute to our national cause and to mankind as the good Justice has always done.
•Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu is the National Leader, All Progressives Congress (APC)


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