Justice Abdulkadir Orire (rtd) was born in 1934 at Obaninsunwa in Ilorin, Kwara State. He was the first Grand Khadi of Kwara. He was instrumental to the establishment of the University of Ilorin. In this interview, he spoke on a wide range of issues, including how to correct the rot in the judiciary.
At 83, would you say that life has been fair to you?
Life is interesting. After birth, one grows up with the determination to achieve something in life. In one's life there is always a stepping stone to higher stages. I had the feeling of becoming something in life; that's why I worked hard when I was in school. Without hard work, one cannot attain anything in life. When I was in secondary school, I always worked as hard as possible, to the extent that I used to be first in class in all subjects. That's why when I was leaving secondary school, the head teacher wrote in my certificate, "All-round pupil of very good character and one of the best in the class." With those adjectives the head teacher qualified me, I had no other option than to continue working hard to maintain that height. As an all-round pupil of very good character, I didnít venture into any act that could dent my image. I didnít mess around nor involve myself in anything that would destroy my future. The head teacherís statement motivated me a lot.
After secondary school, I went to the School of Arabic Studies in Kano, where many people used to go to become lawyers or teachers. I used to travel to Kano by rail. It was difficult, especially as one didn't know the place, but one must adapt and mingle with people. And once they knew you were a stranger and student, they would help and make you comfortable.
When I finished from the Kano school, I was above some of my colleagues in knowledge and other aspects; hence I was appointed to teach at Baboko Primary School. As I taught I also looked for correspondence courses at Mayflower College, London. The college usually prepared people in different subjects. I continued doing that because I felt I should go further. They used to grant people from northern Nigeria scholarship. I wrote to them, stating that I wanted to go further. They invited me and I went there with my result from the Kano school and all the papers from Mayflower College in London. That was what motivated those in charge of the scholarship to interview me. I remember one of them asked why I studied privately and I told them that one must continue to seek knowledge.
I wanted to go to Cairo in Egypt because of Arabic language. They asked where I wanted to go and I told them. But because I went with all the correspondence papers from Mayflower College, members of the interview committee changed my request from Egypt to London.
I was asked to go to the School of Oriental and African Studies. The school celebrated her 100 years of existence on April 27, this year and some of us who were foremost students were invited. I was to undergo a diploma course for one year. Five of us were given scholarship that year. When I finished my diploma programme, I told the scholarship board in Kaduna that I wanted to pursue a degree course. Having engaged in private studies in London and written the General Certificate in Education (GCE), I had the qualification to be admitted into the university. I sent the photocopies to Nigeria. When they saw it, they approved it for me, saying I should continue with my degree programme. I was admitted to continue with Language and Arabic in the aspect of Islamic Law. I got my degree in London in 1963 and came back to Nigeria.
When I got back, I was posted to one of the special schools in Zaria, Kaduna State, known as Barewa College, where I taught for about four years before they transferred me to Sokoto to head a school. I was the principal of the Sokoto Arabic Teachersí College. I used to go to many places in the northern region, including Ilorin, to recruit students. I took almost 45 students for diploma, GCE and other certificates. Alhamdulillah, some of them are in high places now.
What did you study at the Oriental School in London?
I studied Language and Law, which is part of Shariah. I later came back to become a judge.
Can you remember other beneficiaries of the scholarship you enjoyed, and your mates in the schools you attended?
I remember some of them, but I cannot remember their names. One of them is Shehu Ahmad Lemu. We met in London. A white lady who was our colleague in the school later got married to him and was renamed Aishatu Lemu. My mates in Kano donít reach out to one another, but one of them, Musa Kiida, who was the Grand Khadi of Borno State, died about six months ago. There is also Abass Ahmad from Katsina. Donít mind me, I forget a lot of things these days. We also had a classmate who came from The Gambia to study with us in Nigeria.
Can you remember some of your students?
Yes, one of them is Aliyu Tanko, who is now a judge at the Supreme Court. Former Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State was also one of my students. There are about four of them at the Court of Appeal, Ilorin, such as Olanrewaju Belgore. One of them from Offa is also in the Court of Appeal, but I can't remember his name. There are many of them who are Khadis and Grand Khadis in some of the northern states. In Ilorin, we have S. O Muhammed, who was Khadi at the Shariah Court.
What's your most striking memory or experience?
There were a lot of difficulties in those years, especially in all the schools and places I went. But in life, everything could be very hard, but if you are determined to achieve your goal, you will perceive everything as being simple. The one I can never forget is how we would travel for two days through the railway. And on getting there, you won't know anybody. You would head straight to school where people would help you to get accommodation. Those periods seemed to be the most striking and difficult.
Why were there less animosity between Christians and Muslims in those days?
What is responsible for the religious crisis now, if I can put it that way, is because people want their names to be known. They have taken their preaching beyond where it is expected of them and want others to join them. In those days, Europeans were the preachers. How they did their preaching was different from what is happening now among African Christians. In those days, when Europeans came for preaching, they did just that and went back, but now, Christians will move into an area that is a Muslim community and would want to build churches there. There were harmony and peace between the two religions in those days because nobody would come and tell you that his or her religion was better than your own. They only preached and went away, but now, preachers go beyond that. For example, here in Ilorin, Christians want to build churches near mosques while majority of the people in the area are Muslims.
The Jama'atu Nasril Islam (JNI) secretariat was rebuilt after it was burnt during the Zangon Kataf crisis in Kaduna State, how did you do it?
I was the secretary of the JNI in Kaduna during the Zangon Kataf crisis. The headquarters of JNI was not burnt down; it was a mosque, which the organisation used as their meeting point that was burnt. The Zangon Kataf crisis was regrettable. Apart from burning down the mosque, many people were killed. It actually happened in Southern Kaduna, not Kaduna town where the JNI secretariat was located.
What do you think should be the role of emirs in the society?
Emirs are the fathers of various communities, so any government in power should seek their blessings on whatever they want to do. On their part, the emirs should protect their subjects because they are fathers to everybody. They must ensure that their people live in peace irrespective of their religions without any rancour. As fathers, they should ensure the happiness of their subjects.
You were appointed a judge of the Shariah Court of Appeal, covering Kwara and other North Central states, how were you able to cope?
There were other judges from Kaduna, Kwara, Kogi and other North Central states. We were about five judges, and each of us resided in different locations. I was in Ilorin while others resided in other North Central states. It is only when we had an appeal that all the judges would come together. If we had a case in Kwara, I was always the presiding judge, but I didn't do the job alone.
You became the first Grand Khadi of the Shariah Court of Appeal. Can you share your experience?
Once you are committed, nothing is difficult. We didnít have difficulties in discharging our duties. You had a vehicle that was always on standby to take you to anywhere you wanted to go for your job. If there were appeal cases, judges in Lokoja or Khadis would join me in Ilorin while those in Niger would join Kaduna people to hear the appeal.
What were your achievements as a Grand Khadi?
I was the pioneer Grand Khadi in Kwara State. I was the one who initiated the building of the Shariah Court of Appeal here. I also initiated the building of that of Lokoja. I served for 30 years, and that gave me the opportunity to do so many things.
My major achievement was making the Shariah Court known to people. It was when I came that people knew Shariah Court of Appeal, a judge and Khadi. It was during my tenure that people recognised Shariah Court and its Khadi as part of the judiciary.
You said you were instrumental to the introduction of Shariah. Its implementation has caused a lot of crises in some northern states; what do you think is responsible for that?
The issue you just raised prompted me to write my book, titled, Shariah, a Misunderstood Legal System. I discovered that people only saw Shariah as a law that encouraged cutting off hands and stoning to death as punishment for stealing and adultery. Such punishments only form a minor part of the law; the other 99 per cent, if applied in this country, would ensure complete peace and happiness. But we don't know those ones.
I was a member of the 1999 Constitution Review Committee, where our Christian brothers rose vehemently against the Shariah law. I was the one who explained the principle of Shariah to them. It is one of the best systems of law any society can adopt in this world. If you see the procedure, system and laid down rules in all aspects, you would be surprised.
Rejection of the suggestion to have Shariah law during the 1999 Constitution review prompted me to write my book because some of the laws we are using in Nigeria are based on Christian ideology. And they donít want Shariah, which is based on Islam. The present constitution of Nigeria is 99 per cent Christian law, which was remodelled. Can the customary laws cope with the situation in the country because it is limited to certain issues? The Shariah law will help in many ways, particularly the distribution of a deceased personís properties, which is the best in the world. It gives explanation on how to share a deceased personís properties. All these are laid down properly in the Shariah law. There are other things such as the kind of people to call to court to witness for or against a person.
You were instrumental to the establishment of the University of Ilorin, what prompted you to do that?
In the 1970s I met the first Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Abdulrahman Okene in Ilorin when he retired. When he said he was the vice chancellor of the University of Ibadan, I asked him if he could help us do the same thing in Kwara. He said I should talk to the then Emir of Ilorin, Sheik Zulu Gambari to talk with the Emir of Okene and Emir of Busau, and if they wrote him he would know what to do. I went to the Emir of Ilorin and explained what I did to him. He wrote a letter to the vice chancellor, and in less than a year, he ensured that they transferred a college of the university here. He spoke to the government and they gave them the mini campus of the University of Ilorin, opposite the Queen Elizabeth School. That is where they first gave us a branch of the University of Ibadan to do some courses. When I met him again, he asked me if I had seen what he did, and I said no. He said he had brought two professors to start some colleges in Ilorin, which later became what is today known as the University of Ilorin.
As a member of the Advisory Judicial Council of Nigeria, what were your contributions?
I was only a member of the committee to appoint judges by interviewing them and writing reports on them for the judiciary.
As a member of the Constitution Review Committee in 1987 and the Constitutional Conference from 1988 to 1989, are you satisfied with our constitution, or do you think some of its sections should be amended?
What we did at that time is what is helping the country to move forward now. Our work also allowed Shariah to be in our constitution. If we need to amend it again, the authority will invite people to do so. It is a continuous process.
You were also a member the 2005 confab, can you remember some of the recommendations? Was any of them implemented?
We gave what we could during the conference and it has helped a lot in moving the country forward.
You were instrumental to the formation of many Islamic organisations; would you say you are satisfied with your contributions?
I am fulfilled and satisfied. I was instrumental to the formation of several Islamic organisations like the Muslim Corpers Association and a host of others I cannot remember now. I formed them to bring Muslims together to work for the development of Islam and the peace of the country. That was my mission, and I think these groups are doing fine.
Why did you fight for the establishment of the department of imams in the Nigeria Police Force?
When I was the secretary-general of the JNI in Kaduna, I discovered that there were imams and bishops in the army, so I felt there should also be imams in the police. They needed more discipline than any other security agency because they are the ones closer to the grassroots. I spoke to the authority in Kaduna and they got in touch with government at the federal level and they asked me to recruit imams for the police all over the country, with at least two policemen for each state. And we recruited them. This happened during the Obasanjo regime as a military president. We did that for all the states. When our Christian brothers heard it, they also said they wanted the same thing, and the president accepted. I was also instrumental to building a mosque at the Ilorin police command headquarters
The Federal Government honoured you with the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON); what does that mean to you?
I just felt it was for the recognition of my little contributions to the development of the country. The government cannot give you an honour when they donít see anything coming from you. I believe anybody who wants to work should do so with determination, not considering possible gains.
What is your take on the calibre of people conferred with national honours in Nigeria?
The people giving the awards know why they are doing it. I donít want to antagonise.
Some judges are involved in some corruption cases, what do you think is responsible for that? How can it be corrected?
When you have a large community and are bringing people to positions of authority, bad characters are likely to infiltrate the system. That is why people feel that the judiciary is bad. But it is not the judiciary that is bad, it is people with their bad characters. The problem can be solved if more vigilance and thoroughness are applied in recruiting judges. This will ensure that the best are brought into the judiciary.
You retired at the age of 65 and you are now 83; what have you been doing since your retirement?
Since I retired I have been working day and night, not only for personal gains, but to see that the world achieves something through me if Allah wants it to be so. That's why I became a secretary to one Islamic organisation when I retired. I ensured that many bodies are set up to bring peace and happiness.
What would you want to be remembered for?
That I lived to see that people lived in harmony and happiness irrespective of their religions. This is because Allah created us from the same source and made us to live together for a purpose.