How I Was Pressured To Join Politics, By Belgore
Justice Alfa Belgore was Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, between July 2006 and January 2007 and, he was credited for reforming the Nigerian judiciary. In this interview with AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE (Abuja), Justice Belgore spoke on life in retirement and his alleged interference in the on going trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki by the code of conduct tribunalShare with us your life in retirement?
I travel a lot; I still have duty in the National Council of State. I am a member, and we hold meetings from time to time.
I travel to Europe, Tunisia and Ivory Coast, African Development Bank. They have what we call Administrative Tribunal, I belong to it and I go at least thrice in a year to Cote d'ivoire to preside over cases. Depending on how many cases we hear, I stay for at least one week or more, otherwise I stay at home with my few friends who have retired also.
I am alright, I do some writings, it is a bit slow but it is going on. I have a secretary who assists me.
I am in good health. When I am around, my friends are always around.
May we know some of the celebrated cases you have handled as a lawyer and as a Judge?
Lawyers decide that, I can tell you, everything is important to me; from the time I was a little lawyer, as a magistrate. I have presided over many cases; some controversial, some straight forward. But as a judge I cannot say which one is more important than the other; every case is important. It is only outsiders; people in the profession while reviewing what have happened, they will mention some of the cases. But, every case is important.
To a judge, every case is very important. Some will last just one hour while some will take almost a month or more to hear and determine. But it depends on the reviewers, they may not even agree among themselves. It all depends; some are political, ordinary, civil and criminal and, sometimes you head a committee, or tribunal.
Can we know how you ferried in the Judiciary?
I did not want to be a politician, there was that pressure on me from the people who were ruling then, so I ran to join civil service as a state counsel so as to discourage them. They said that 'he is young, he is not married, so appoint him as a magistrate but he will not accept'. They wrote to me, as I was about to refuse, my very good friend who also became Chief Justice of Nigeria called me and said this is a conspiracy, accept it. We will look at what will happen to you, when the time comes we will transfer you to where you want.
That is why I accepted being a magistrate. I was the youngest magistrate in age; I was posted to Kaduna, then to Zaria. They used to be two magistrates in Zaria then, but when I got there, they transferred the others who were expatriates, one to Makurdi, while the other one to Jos. So I was left as the only magistrate between Zaria and Kaduna. It was like that between 1964 and 1969.
I was not sleeping before 1am each time and as a Muslim, I'll be up by 5am to pray. They later transferred me to Kano, I was covering part of Borno Province, that is Katsina and Sokoto province which is now three states; Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi.
By 1973, I wanted to leave to go back to practice and the pressure started from my family, especially my uncle the emir of Ilorin who said if I refused to be a Judge I must not come to Ilorin again. I started in Kaduna then sent to Kano, to Sokoto. I was the first resident judge in Sokoto, they wanted to retain me because they said I am from Sokoto. To a certain extent it was true, so I accepted been a judge that is how it was.
I have serve everywhere they called the north. I was appointed the chief judge of Plateau.
I was in Plateau for 3 and half years, I moved to Court of Appeal. I was posted to Enugu where I spent 6 years.
I got on well with everybody in the east. So when I was been transferred to Benin, the lawyers in the east protested that they don't want me to leave. They wrote, probably they liked me, my style. I went to Benin, I thought I will spend another 6 years there like, Enugu.
I wanted to go for my medical check-up in Enugu in 1986 and the then Chief Justice of Nigeria who never knew I was in Lagos phoned me and I told him I am in Lagos to negotiate my going to Enugu for my medical check up.
He said from today, you are a Justice of the Supreme Court. I thought he was joking. I got my letter from the Supreme Military Council. In the Court of Appeal seniority I was number 11. So I went and came back and was still thinking it was a dream. So, I was In Supreme Court for 21 years. In the last few months I was the CJN, when I looked back, i don't think I regretted serving the country.
What is your view on some of the recent Election Tribunal judgements?
As a professional, you cannot comment fully unless you see all the evidences, and after all, that is not the first in the country.
Let's hear what the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court will say, that is how it is done. .
How was the judiciary during your time?
The whole judiciary in the country did not have up to 30 judges. The state with a lot of judges were the West, they were about 11 or 12, when I say West it induces Mid-West, then north, we had just about 9 of them.
The judges in the north were only in Kaduna, Jos, Kano and Makurdi. They were magistrates in Kano and Makurdi. No magistrate in Yola, Maiduguri and Sokoto, you could see how it was. Things changed when they created the state. Each state was having a chief judge and many judges. Whether they have work load or not I canít say at the moment. But when they created the state, the north retained the common judiciary; just one judge to about six states in the north. Only a state appointed attorney general, it was later that when Murtala came in that they started having judges for each state in the north. It is not an old thing because the judiciary is still very good.
Many are of the opinion that lawyers walking out of court before a judge is unprofessional. What is your take?
Well, it depends, It's not right, it's not good. The one that happened recently is a political case involving Saraki. They denied that they walked out. They said they mentioned something which was not right.
You have been accused of allegedly trying to influence Judges to arrange soft landing for Senator Bukola Saraki standing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Did you play any role in the case?
The whole thing is a very big lie. I have known him perhaps since he was a boy. When the father was marrying, I attended the wedding in London. I never knew the father was from Ilorin. I thought Saraki was from Mid-West. It was because of the woman he was marrying that I attended, who was a law student.
But sometimes in 1964, I was on leave in Lagos, a late friend of mine Sanusi came to pick me from the Airport and we were driving along Marina. He said a Doctor is leaving in this house whose wife is a lawyer, I then said let us branch there. Then, Mrs Saraki saw me and came to embrace me. I said so, you married an Ilorin man.
Dr Olusola Saraki was working in a General Hospital in Lagos, he was not yet in politics at all. When I went there, Bukola was just about a year and two months old. He came out and I picked him. But, otherwise, since Saraki entered politics, I had very little to do with him. I would not say he did not come to my house; that is the father. In Ilorin, whenever we had anything to do in the family he would come.
Serving the country is a great thing. They called themselves something; they said they are in America but I can tell you that I am used to being attacked ones in a while.
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