OPINION: Alfa Belgore: A Treasured Statesman @ 84. By Abubakar Imam
Right from the establishment of Ilorin as a human settlement, the entity has always been an abode of eminent people. This classification did not begin with the incorporation of Ilorin into the Sokoto Caliphate,the exciting annals of Ilorin has always been replete with stories,strides and accomplishments of great individuals who made the Ilorin of their times tick. The significance of Ilorin as an abode of people of unrivalled qualities significantly propelled its transformation into an Emirate. This was consequent upon the success of the missionary cum intellectual activities of Shaykh Alimi(1740-1816). The status was further boosted by the efforts of many of his contemporaries and the attendant efficacious sociopolitical engineering shouldered by the progenies of the founding fathers of the Emirate. All those efforts attracted many more sophisticated scholars,impeccable saints,gallant soldiers,ardent learners and distinguished nobilities and other categories of people from the Northern and Southern parts of what later became Nigeria and beyond for subsequent settlement at the sociocultural confluence, which Ilorin had become since circa 1807.
Ilorin Emirate, as a community, is so much blessed that hardly a decade passes without the emergence of one or more distinguished figures with superlative qualities among its citizens whose place in the sociopolitical and economic configurations of Nigeria would not but be significant. This has been so before the nation's independence and it has continued ever since, so consistently that our neighbours were often "forced" to ask "se Ilorin ni kan ni?"
Among the most preeminent personalities with which Ilorin Emirate of the contemporary era is blessed is the man who was not only named after the founding father of the southernmost Emirate, Shaykh Salihu(Alfa Alimi), but has through industry,diligence and integrity created a niche for himself in the annals of Ilorin, Kwara State and Nigeria as a whole. He is no other person than the Honourable Justice Salihu Modibbo Alfa Belgore,an outstanding jurist,exemplary administrator and accomplished statesman,who was born to the famous Belgore family of Isale Ajanaku Quarters,Ilorin, on January 17,1937(exactly eighty-four years ago). The father to this distinguished jurist was Mallam Yusuf Belgore (a. k. a Alikali Amuda),who was not only a son to Princess Maryam,a daughter to the 7th Emir of Ilorin, Shaykh Shuaib Bawa but also a distinguished Muslim Jurist of note. His beloved mother was Princess Aishat,a daughter to Alhaji Saidu Alao Omo-Oloni,the very powerful Daudu Ballah,who himself was a son to Shaykh Shuaib Bawa,who reigned as the Emir of Ilorin between 1915 and 1919.
Before delving into the fascinating curriculum vitae and exciting contributions of this birthday boy,who is often addressed as a "Double Prince" by His Royal Highness, the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji (Dr) Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, CFR,it is very important to also take an excursion into his illustrious paternal ancestry. This is because no one is what he is without a background. Justice Alfa Belgore is a proud descendant of Shaykh Muhammad Belgore(1831-1913) who originated from Bunza in the present-day Kebbi State. Shaykh Belgore's father was Shaykh Abubakar Sambo while his grandfather was Shaykh Ahmad. The progenitor of the Belgore Dynasty of Ilorin was a brilliant and determined scholar who was born and raised in the best of the Fulani intellectual culture of Sokoto Caliphate. It was at Bunza and its neighborhood that he was educated to a level that he became a renowned specialist in Islamic jurisprudence.
As it was common in those days,Shaykh Belgore,who was a Toronkawa Fulani and a son to a remarkable scholar and jurist, armed with nothing but brilliance and faith in Allah left Bunza,his homestead, at around the age of 33 with the resolve to spread Islam beyond the frontiers of Sokoto caliphate. Endowed with sufficient knowledge,which convinced him that he was better by far,Shaykh Belgore left the comfort of his home with the determination to assist in the diffusion of Islamic knowledge and possibly "dip the Holy Quran into the Atlantic ocean" upon winning more souls for Islam and making those who are already Muslims better ones.
The southward journey and determination of Shaykh Belgore, according to Shaykh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory(1917-1992) ,was targeted at either establishing an Emirate or becoming a Chief Judge of one , was "halted" at Ilorin at the request of the fourth Emir of Ilorin, Shaykh Aliyu ibn Shitta,who reigned between 1868 and 1891.It was the Emir who persuaded the adventuring, agile and idealistic young man(Shaykh Belgore) to settle in his domain to help the Emirate advance its status as a hub of Islamic jurisprudence. Upon his settlement in the city of Ilorin, Shaykh Belgore faced the characteristic initial rebuts from the established scholars of Ilorin who felt such a young man could not displace them with his youthful exuberance and challenging brilliance .The "new comer" endured the lukewarm reception of his predecessors and eventually got himself acquainted with the culture of his new home. Following the passage of time and consequent acculturation, coupled with his consistent demonstration of deep knowledge of Sharia along with general knowledge of Islam and a number of languages which was enhanced by his uncommon courage, Shaykh Belgore not only became the most resourceful and respected authority on Islamic jurisprudence to whom students, including Shaykh Ahmad ibn Abubakar Omo-Ikokoro(1870-1936) ,"who pioneered the writing of history of Ilorin in Arabic" flocked, from Ilorin and beyond,he eventually succeeded Shaykh Abubakar Bube as the acknowledged leader of the second generation of Muslim scholars of Ilorin after the demise of Shaykh Alimi.
Shaykh Belgore,according to the second Grand Mufti of Ilorin, Shaykh Khidir Salaudeen Apaokagi Al-Adabiyy (1917-2013) and Shaykh AbdulRaheem Ameenullahi Al-Adabiyy(d. 2012), the immediate past Chief Missioner of the Ansarul Islam Society of Nigeria,was a fascinating multitalented scholar, a contented vegetarian and a highly mystical personality, who later played very significant roles in the growth of general scholarship,Islamic jurisprudence and overall development of Ilorin Emirate. He served as a Counsellor on religious and spiritual matters to the Emirs of his time and members of the royal family. He was also identified by the Ilorin Emirate's first Professor of Islamic Studies,Musa Ajetunmobi(1949-2008),as "a prolific writer and(the personality) through whom printed Arabic materials spread among the scholars of Ilorin".
One other very important contribution of Shaykh Belgore was the "discovery and subsequent endorsement of the spiritual talents and intellectual ingenuity" of Shaykh Tajul Adab(1877-1923).He was the one who "did everything within his province to offer his protegee and intellectual comrade (Shaykh Tajul Adab)the much needed protection upon his return to Ilorin after his intellectual sojourn at an unknown citadel of learning, which lasted a decade".
The "testimonial visit" of the highly respected Shaykh Belgore to the hitherto despised Shaykh Tajul Adab in 1910 at his residence in the Masingba axis of the Okemale area of Ilorin,according to Shaykh Al-Ilory,was said to be a momentous moment in the career of the eventual teacher of the pioneer Grand Mufti of Ilorin and founder of the Ansarul Islam Society of Nigeria, Shaykh Muhammad Kamaluddeen Al-Adabiyy,MFR,OFR,ORSA (1905-2005).The intellectual depth of Shaykh Tajul Adab was vigorously and publicly tested by Shaykh Belgore in order to let the doubting Thomases know that the former was far better than the imagination of those who took him as an intellectual pretender. The action by Shaykh Belgore attracted veneration to Shaykh Tajul Adab and turned the widespread disregard and distrust previously cultivated against his person and scholarship into affection,which spread like wildfire. The changes in the dispositions of the people of Ilorin towards his mentee empowered Shaykh Tajul Adab to launch his "unmatched intellectual revolution",which Arabic and Islamic studies witnessed under his watch across Yoruba land. It was also believed that the visit "marked the beginning of transfer of leadership of Ilorin scholarship from the former to the latter" as Shaykh Belgore died not long after Shaykh Tajul Adab had graduated his first set of students including Shaykh Zakariyah Tajul Mumini of Omoda(d. 1934),who was the grand teacher of the Zummuratul Mumini,otherwise called Mankodoro Group, and Shaykh Yahaya Tajudeen of Pakata(1875-1956),who institutionalised Islam in Ebiraland,among several others.
Shaykh Belgore ,who was very close to the Alimi Dynasty with which he shared similar cultural,historical and intellectual backgrounds,left behind many offsprings including Shaykh Mahmud Belgore. Shaykh Mahmud Belgore,who was the paternal grand father to this birthday boy, was a first class statesman and one of the most distinguished Islamic jurists in Ilorin of his time in addition to being an in-law to Shaykh Shuaib Bawa.
The Belgore family is not only one of the most popular and respected families in Ilorin but also a well-known social unit,which has given Ilorin significant prominence at the national and international levels. This description is premised on the production of highly distinguished members who had and are still impacting positively across many professions most especially in law and judiciary for which the family is most renowned.
Apart from this birthday boy,the family also produced the late Honourable Justice Mahmud Babatunde Belgore(1936-2010),the second Wali of Ilorin,who was also the longest serving Chief Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria and the first son of Northern Nigerian to sit on the federal bench ; Alhaja Hanatu Nagode(d. 2019),the mother to the Honourable Justice Titi Daibu(b. 1959); Alhaji Aliyu Kola Belgore,OFR (b. 1943), the Jarma of Ilorin,a distinguished banker and pioneer Chairman, Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria ; Alhaji Saadu Belgore,a renowned entrepreneur and petroleum engineer; Justice Ahmad Olarewaju Belgore(b. 1953), the Presiding Justice,Court of Appeal ,Enugu Division; and the pioneer Chief Executive of the Ilorin East Local Government Council and erstwhile Honourable Commissioner for Education, Kwara State,Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki Belgore. Other prominent members of the family is a distinguished politician and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Mohammed Dele Belgore(1961);the Honourable Justice Bolaji Belgore,a Judge of the Federal Capital Territory High Court; Dr. Shuaib Lamido Belgore(b. 1967), the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Interior; Alhaji Eyitayo Belgore,a retired Deputy Commissioner of Police and Arc. Abubakar Kale Belgore,Counsellor to the Executive Governor of Kwara State, to mention a few
Justice Alfa Belgore,as he is simply known, studied the Holy Quran just like other indigenes of Ilorin Emirate of his time. He literally became aware of himself as an human being at Ile Kewu as he was enrolled in a traditional Quranic school at a very tender age where he was nurtured with the skills of reading the Holy Quran. He was also exposed to the rudimentary knowledge of Arabic and Islamic studies as a progeny of one of the most respected scholars and jurists of all times.
This exceptionally brilliant and accomplished jurist attended the ancient Okesuna Primary School, Ilorin, from 1944 to 1948.He was also at the Ilorin Middle School, now known as the Government Secondary School, Ilorin, between 1949 and 1951.Honourable Justice Belgore left G. S. S. Ilorin, for the famous Ilesha Grammar School, Ilesha, in the present-day Osun State from where he received his West African School Certificate in flying colours after a schooling which lasted between 1952 and 1956.
Determined to pursue a career, which would enable him to serve as a jurist and perpetuate the calling,which according to the late Bapitan of Yorubaland and a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos ,Prof. Saburi Biobaku,gave his illustrious progenitors a secured page in history, in an interview. Justice Belgore left Nigeria for the Great Britain in order to be trained as a lawyer. Between 1960 and 1963,this elder statesman sojourned abroad where he enrolled for and eventually obtained Bachelor's of Law degree at the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, London, University of London in the United Kingdom.
On the completion of his academic programme, he attended the Nigerian Law School, Lagos, from 1963 to 1964 where he was enrolled as a Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. He was eventually called to the Nigerian bar along with several other Nigerians.
Justice Belgore subsequently began his exciting working career as a Magistrate in the defunct Northern Region in 1964.He served in Zaria,Kano and other parts of the erstwhile Northern Region. Having posted close to a decade as an efficient official of the lower stratum of the nation's judicial system, this great son of Ilorin was, in 1973, appointed as the Chief Registrar, North Central State, now Kaduna State. He held the position between 1973 and 1974.
In 1974,he was appointed an High Court Judge. He subsequently served as a Judge of the High Courts of Benue, Kwara, Kaduna, North-Western, Kano, North-Eastern and Pleatue States for three uninterrupted years between 1974 and 1977.
In 1977,Justice Belgore was appointed as the Chief Judge of Plateau State. He was the Chief Law Officer of the "Home of Peace and Tourism" and creditably held the position till 1979,when he was deservedly elevated to the Court of Appeal.
As a Judge of the Court of Appeal,Justice Belgore served in various Divisions of the appellate court from 1979 to 1986.He was the Presiding Judge of some Judicial Divisions of the Court.
After seven years stint at the Court of Appeal,which saw him serving in several parts of Nigeria,this illustrious patriot was elevated to the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court of Nigeria, during the administration of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida,GCFR(b. 1941) who served as the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria between 1985 and 1993. Having been on the bench of the Supreme Court for 20 years, he was eventually appointed as the Chief Justice of Nigeria in June 2006 to succeed the Honourable Justice Muhammad Lawal Uwais,GCON(b. 1936) who held the office for an unprecedented eleven (11) years. Justice Belgore,therefore, served as the Chief Law Interpreter of the Federal Republic of Nigeria until he attained the mandatory age of 70 on January 17,2007 which eventuated in his retirement from service after putting 43 years of dedicated services to his fatherland as a Judge.
Prior to attaining the pinnacle of his career, Justice Belgore served the nation in several other ad-hoc capacities. He was the Chairman of the Tribunal, which looked into the complaints of the Proprietors of the Voluntary Agencies on the take-over of schools in the then North-Central State. He was also between 1970 and 1975, the President of the Nigerian Magistrate Association. He also served as the Vice-President of the Commonwealth Magistrate Association in 1971.
Justice Belgore was also the Chairman of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee,which recommended the appointment of Senior Advocates of Nigeria. He also served as the Chairman of the Commission of Enquiry on the University of Ife(Obafemi Awolowo University),Ile-Ife,in 1981.He as well presided-over the Judicial Inquiry on Crisis occasioned by Petroleum Shortage in Nigeria in 1992.
This distinguished jurist was,until his retirement, the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the National Judicial Institute. He also served as the Chairman of the Governing Council of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. His Lordship was also the Chairman of the Body of Benchers from 1997 to 1998.
Those who had interacted with Justice Belgore described him as a walking encyclopedia. His knowledge on many branches of learning is fantastic. Little wonder,the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi,SAN,GCON(1938-2009),as brilliant and thorough as he was,saw Justice Belgore as "an extremely brilliant judge",whose opinions in matters of the law must be respected, while commenting on Justice Alfa Belgore's erudition,in an interview.
A piece on this learned jurist would also been seen as uncompleted if no mention is made of his generousity. Justice Belgore is a cheerful giver and a man who could go to any length to put a smile on the faces of those who are fortunate to secure an audience with him. His generousity,according to those who are close to him,knows no bound. He is also very hospitable and accommodating so well that his boy's quarters, in all the places he had dwelled, are always occupied by those whose origins, he knew little or nothing about. All one needed to do is to convince him of one's need and integrity and you will be accommodated for as long as possible.
In terms of facilitation of employment for younger ones,Justice Belgore is also exceptionally outstanding. An high ranking official of a secret security organisation,who hails from the Pakata area of Ilorin, once told me a little over two decades ago that this birthday boy was always delighted to be approached for such an assistance. Justice Belgore would not only give you an exciting letter of introduction, but also ask you to go through such correspondence to be in absolute agreement with its content before it is sealed for onward delivery. Justice Belgore was also reported to have followed up such efforts to ensure that they yielded desired dividends for the applicants.
Just like many other great men and women who were not only misunderstood but also misrepresented in the course of their careers,this great son of Ilorin did not find things rosy at some points. He is one judicial officer who faced tremendous media persecutions,which he could do little to controvert as legal officers are often prevented by code of professional ethics from instant self exoneration unlike other public servants. Not a few Nigerians would forget the media bashing and pernicious propaganda this outstanding patriot faced particularly in the early 1990s even as a sitting Justice of the Supreme Court .So many damaging media pieces and pernicious publications were orchestrated and sponsored against him by those who were fed up with the hitherto military rule simply because of his perceived closeness to General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida,GCFR, forgetting that the presumed winner of the historic June 12 Presidential Elections,the late Chief M. K. O. Abiola,GCFR (1937-1998) was far closer to the then military ruler. He, along with other Justices of the Supreme Court of the time were also libelled by some national dailies and other periodic publications . It is,however,to his eternal glory that none of the allegations levelled against him was found to be true as those behind the allegations eventually tendered unreserved apologies to him.
Justice Alfa Belgore is, no doubt ,one of those who have brought tremendous honour to Ilorin Emirate using the instrumentality of the judicial services to which he committed his entire working life. The annals of Ilorin Emirate and indeed Kwara State would remain shallow and inadequate until the professional attainments of this exceptional statesman are captured for posterity.
This first class jurist is a member of the first generation of lawyers produced by the Emirate. He is the only member of the first generation of Ilorin Emirate's lawyers who never worked elsewhere except on the bench. He served as a Judge throughout . Justice Belgore is the first indigene of Ilorin Emirate to serve as the Chief Registrar of the judiciary of a state. He is also the second son of Ilorin Emirate who served as the Chief Judge of a State and clearly the only one who held such an exalted position outside his state of origin. Justice Belgore is also the second son of Ilorin Emirate appointed into the bench of the Court of Appeal. He also has the record of being the second and the last indigene of Ilorin Emirate and Kwara State, as at the date of this publication, to serve on the bench of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
This illustrious son of Ilorin Emirate also has the enviable record of being the first son of the North-Central Region and the third person from the Northern part of the country who had the privilege of serving as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the only Kwaran to hold such an exalted office. He and Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki,CON(b. 1962) are the only two indigenes of Ilorin Emirate and,in fact,Kwara State who had the privilege of heading an arm of the Federal Government. His tenure as the Chief Justice of Nigeria was also the shortest and one of the most remarkable in the history of the country.
One of the most unforgettable roles in nation building played by this sage was the suggestion of the invocation of the famous "Doctrine of Necessity",which resolved the logjam the nation found itself as a result of the inability of the late President Umaru MusaYar'Adua to transmute power to his Deputy, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, when he(Yar'Adua) was bedridden in the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2010.The patriotic intervention of this elder statesman really saved the nation from disintegration.
Aside other roles placed on his shoulders by the Federal Government, the Kwara State Government and other private organisations towards national development including being the Chancellor of the Kwara State University, Malete,for many years, Justice Belgore was also the Chairman of the Committee saddled with the responsibility of processing and selecting recipients of the national honours awards.
For his contributions,Justice Belgore has received so many awards and honours. Apart from being a titled chief of Iloriin since 2004,he has also earned the honour of the Commander of the Order of Niger(CON) and the second highest national honour of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger(GCON).He has also bagged several honourary fellowships and doctorate degrees from respected institutions of higher learning within and outside Nigeria. He is also one of two sons of Kwara State to be currently Life Members of the National Council of States under the Chairmanship of President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR(b. 1942).
This outstanding patriot was married to Hajiya Fatima Belgore(d. 2012), an elder sister to Arc. Halima Tayo Alao(b. 1956),a former Minister of the Federal Republic. He is,at present, married to Hajiya Aisha Belgore,a younger sister to the late Major-General Abdulbaki Babatunde Idiagbon(1943-1999).Justice Belgore is blessed with successful children who are also doing very well like their father. His children include the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Interior,Dr. Shuaib Lamido Belgore;Dr.(Barrister)Yakubu Belgore, who works with Total Unlimited; Barrister Maimuna Belgoree-Shiru,a Director at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Abuja; Barrister Hadiza Belgore-Yusuf,an accomplished Lagos-based legal practitioner; and Barrister Abdulsalam Belgore,who is also a seasoned legal practitioner.
On behalf of the National President of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union, Alhaji Aliyu Otta Uthman, fsi, and the good people of Ilorin Emirate, I sincerely congratulate His Lordship on his birthday and at an advanced age. I join his friends,relations and colleagues in wishing this great patriot many more years of fruitful services to Allah and humanity as we appreciate Allah's grace on his impactful life
Imam is National Publicity Secretary, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union.