THE GRACIOUS EXIT OF A GREAT SON OF ILORIN FROM THE BENCH. By Abubakar Imam

Date: 2021-02-13

Yoruba, as a people, are blessed with a very rich culture,which is replicated in their wonderful sense of dress, superlative use of oral expression and impeccable general worldview. Their scientific uses of words have won them respect in the evaluation of respected scholars of sociology, classical linguistics and anthropology. The appreciation of that great feat in human civilisation has also secured for the Yoruba language, a respectable rank in the comity of languages, which elements impact on human existence and reality.

One of the commonest and impeccable idiomatic expressions of the Yoruba people go thus; *Omo Ajanaku Kii ya rara, bi kan ba ya rara, O ju Ogoji lo*. This can be simply translated as "a good progeny does not deviate from the footprints of his illustrious progenitors". By the import of that saying, one is bound to think that those who came up with the expression from the time immemorial had a truly great son of Ilorin Emirate, Justice Salihu Saidu, in mind. This is because the ancestry, life and career of His Lordship perfectly fit into that "saying" in such a way that one would think he was seated among those who racked their brains to evolve the expression that has endured generations, times and circumstances.

Justice Saidu is not only from the famous Alikaki Isale Ajanaku family of Ilorin,he is also one of those who pursued the career that gave his ancestral family its name and reputation in the history of Ilorin Emirate with total dedication. He has served the nation and humanity meritoriously. He has consequently and glowingly attained the age of retirement in a most fascinating way and without any form of blemish whatsoever. He has also deservedly booked a space for himself in the arena reserved for distinguished statesmen and stateswomen who swam in the ocean of jurisprudence and emerged out of it with their immaculate attires unsoiled.

Honourable Justice Salihu Saidu, an eminent jurist, conscientious teacher and outstanding administrator, was born to the famous Alikali Saliu Usman (Alkali Agba) family of Isale Ajanaku Quarters, Ilorin, on February 14,1956. His birth took place in the abode of his illustrious progenitors, Ilorin. His father, Alhaji Saidu Alkali a.k.a Oniwapélé (d. 2007), was a prominent civil servant, who started his career in the defunct Ilorin Native Authority and ended his sojourn in the public service as a staff of the erstwhile Ilorin Local Government in 1987. The mother to this outstanding patriot was Alhaja Maryam Ayinke (d. 2017), a great teacher, exemplary community leader and aunt to the 5th Grand Kadi of Kwara State, Honourable Justice Salihu Olohuntoyin Muhammad. She hailed from Ori-Okoh Quarters, Ilorin.

Young Salihu, as not unexpected of a child born into the family of distinguished Muslim scholars and celebrated jurists, started-off as a pupil of a traditional Quranic school at Ile Alfa Aladua in the same Isale-Ajanaku neighbourhood, Ilorin. He was trained in the arts and science of Quranic reading and recitation at the school along with his contemporaries who included late Engr. Imam Yahaya, who worked with the Kwara State Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources; and a Magistrate with the Kwara State Judiciary, Alhaji Ahmed Ibrahim Dasuki. While being nurtured in the best of Ilorin cultural nuances, Justice Saidu was also granted exposure to the fundamentals of the Islamic faith, which accounted for his rise as a decent Muslim, upright jurist and patriotic citizen of this great country.

As he was undergoing training in Quranic studies, Justice Saidu, who is well-known among his contemporaries across Ilorin Emirate as Salihu Ajanaku, was enrolled as a pupil of Oke-Aluko Primary School, Ilorin. He was educated at the school from 1963 to 1969 at the end of which he received his First School Leaving Certificate in flying colours. His contemporaries at the school included Alhaji Amasa Yusuf and Alhaji Abioye Bello Saadu, both of whom were staff of the Federal Ministry of External Affairs; and the late Engr. Saidu Yusuf, who was a staff of the Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority, Ilorin. Others included the earlier mentioned Engr. Imam Yahaya; a retired Comptroller of the Nigerian Correctional Service, Alhaji Mosadi Usman; and Alhaji Yusuf Kawu Daibu, former Head of Civil Service, Kwara State.

After a very solid and fruitful primary education, Honourable Justice Saidu was admitted into the Government Secondary School (GSS), Omu-Aran, the headquarters of the Irepodun Local Government Area of Kwara State. It was at that school that he successfully sat for his West African School Certificate (WASC) between 1970 and 1974. Among his mates at GSS Omu-Aran were Alhaji Idris Musa, the Director-General, National Oil Spill Research and Development Agency (NOSRDA); Prof. Jonathan Bello, who teaches at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta; Engr. Samuel Adewumi Ogundare; and Dr George Ogunyemi, an Abuja-based foremost legal practitioner. Others with whom he had his WASC included Barrister Gani Abidoye, an Ilorin-based Lawyer; Mr. Kehinde Fadipe, a retired Assistant Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Correctional Service; and Alhaji Musa Salami, the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, MUSCENT Hotel, Omu-Aran, Kwara State and Dr. Rasheed Lawal, who retired as a Director from the Kwara State Ministry of Education.

Shortly after his School Certificate programme, this outstanding jurist was trained as a teacher at the Omu-Aran Teacher's College, Omu-Aran. He was trained at the school between 1974 and 1976 after which he obtained national minimum teaching qualification, Grade II Teacher Certificate. At the College, he met Alhaji AbdulWahab Muhammed, a former Auditor at the famous Kaduna Polytechnic, Kaduna and also a onetime Chairman IEDPU, Northern Zone; Alhaji Baba Akanbi, an highranking topnotch of the Department of State Services; and Alhaji Ganiyu Bello, a retired Director of Personnel Management in the Kwara State Local Government Service Commission.

Determined to pursue higher professional training and qualifications to keep the reputation of his family as an abode of outstanding jurists afloat, this illustrious son of Ilorin Emirate proceeded to the School of Management and Vocational Studies of the then Kwara State College of Technology(now Kwara State Polytechnic), Ilorin, where he obtained Diploma in Law after a rigorous academic programme, which ran from 1978 to 1980. Honourable Justice Tunde Garuba, a retired Judge of the High Court of Justice, Ilorin; Barrister Yahaya Kale Saadu, a onetime National Secretary, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union (IEDPU); Hon. Justice Iyabo Olalere of the National Industrial Court; and Mr Fabunmi Dada, a retired Magistrate in the Kwara State Judiciary; were some of his coursemates.

Consequent to his successes in the above programme and considerable experiences garnered as an official of the Court of Justice, Justice Saidu was admitted to read Law at the Bayero University, Kano. He successfully studied for LL. B programme at the institution renamed after the longest-serving Emir of Kano, Alhaji Abdullahi Bayero, between 1981 and 1985. His contemporaries at the second generation University included Alhaji Aliyu Oba Ajikobi, a retired Director, Finance and Accounts, Police Service Commission; and Barrister Mahmud AbdulRaheem, a onetime General Manager, Kwara State Broadcasting Corporation (Radio Kwara); Ilorin. Others include a late Khadi of the Kwara State Sharia Court of Appeal, Justice Abdullahi AbdulKareem and Prof. Abubakar Imam Aliagan, a renowned media personality and Head, Department of Religions, University of Ilorin.

As a lawyer, who was not only determined to practice but to also excel, his next port of call was the Nigerian Law School, Lagos, where his knowledge and skills in the study of law and its practical applications were broadened, sharpened and strengthened for his future role as a judge. He concluded the programme between 1985 and 1986, at the end of which he was called to the Nigerian Bar along with hundreds of his professional colleagues from allover Nigeria. Those with whom he attended the One-Year training programme included Prince Kolapo Aliyu Abdulkadir, an Ilorin based legal practitioner and a son to the 10th Emir of Ilorin, Shaykh Aliyu Babaagba Abdulkadir; and Lawyer S. B. Sambo, a onetime National Legal Adviser of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union; as well as Mrs Afusat Olumo Oyebode, a highranking staff of the Central Bank of Nigeria. His Law School peers also included the Honourable Justice Gabriel Kolawole and His Lordship Justice Bunmi Oyewole, both of the Court of Appeal. Mr. Duro Adeleye, SAN; Mr. Rowland Otaru, SAN; Mr. Joe Gadzama, SAN; and Chief Niyi Akintola, SAN, were also among his most accomplished coursemates at the Nigerian Law School and with whom he was called to the Nigerian Bar.

Justice Saidu commenced what later turned out to be a very fruitful working life as a teacher. He was a classroom teacher under the then Ilorin Local Schools Board from 1976 to 1978, when he left the pedagogy. However, for the two years, he taught at the famous Okesuna Primary School, Ilorin. Those two years were not only exciting but also most engaging and memorable for him and his pupils. He taught many younger ones who later emerged among the very prominent citizens who made a success of their lives through various fields of human endeavours. The Diploma certificate in Law he earned from the Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin, propelled his destined departure from the classroom to the courtroom. He was given a job as a Court Registrar. He was on the job throughout his training as a Lawyer and subsequent qualification and call to the bar. He served as a Court Registrar in the Kwara State Judiciary from 1980 to 1987.

In between, he taught as a Member of the National Youth Service Corps. Having been trained as a teacher and working briefly as one did not make his NYSC teaching a difficult task for him. It was a repeat of the experience he had earlier acquired. He was an effective NYSC teacher at Orjis Commercial School, Orlu, Imo State, where he offered the mandatory youth service in Imo State in 1987.

Towards the end of 1987, Justice Saidu was appointed as a Magistrate in the Kwara State Judiciary. His appointment was made along with those of his Diploma coursemates at the Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin, as earlier mentioned. He was a Magistrate Grade II between 1987 and 1990. He also served as Magistrate Grade I from 1991 to 1992. He was appointed an Acting Chief Magistrate in 1993 and eventually promoted to the rank of a Senior Magistrate, a position he held between 1994 and 1996.

As a Magistrate in the Kwara State Judiciary, Justice Saidu served at Share, the headquarters of Ifelodun Local Government Area. He also dispensed justice as a Magistrate at Lafiagi, the headquarters of Edu Local Government Area. He was also a Magistrate in his ancestral home of Ilorin. In all of those places, this illustrious son of Ilorin Emirate left an astonishing record of a seriousminded, balanced and just jurist to the applause of his family, colleagues and admiration of Ilorin Emirate as a community.

His sterling performance as a Magistrate in Kwara State did not only attract the attention of higher authorities but also informed his elevation to the federal judicial service. Justice Saidu subsequently transferred his services following his appointment as a Deputy Chief Registrar (DCR) of the Federal High Court. He served as the DCR of the third layer of the federal judiciary from 1996 to 2001.

On August 1, 2000, he was appointed as the Ag. Chief Registrar till March 1, 2001, under the watchful eyes of the historic second indigene of Ilorin Emirate who qualified as a lawyer and the longest serving Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, the late Honourable Justice Mahmud Babatunde Belgore,the second Wali of Ilorin. Justice Saidu was eventually elevated to the prestigious rank of Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court of Nigeria, which he competently held between March 2001 and September 2002.

Being a brilliant legal technocrat and someone who maintained all the fascinating qualities desired in a would-be Judge, this illustrious son of Ilorin Emirate was appointed as a Judge of the Federal High Court on September 9, 2002. His appointment and swearing-in as a Justice of the Federal High Court was a sequel to the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the eventual approval by the then President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR. By the appointment, this outstanding "interpreter of laws" joined the league of his respected senior compatriots such as Justice Mahmud Babatunde Belgore (1936-2010); Justice Mustapha Akanbi, CFR(1932-2018); and Justice Lambo Jimoh Akanbi (b. 1952); to mention a few, who had been privileged to serve on the bench of the Federal High Court at one time or the other.

As a Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Saidu served across this heterogeneous country. He served at Jos and Abeokuta Divisions. He also worked at Osogbo and Abakaliki Divisions as he did in Lagos and Port-Harcourt Divisions of the Court at one time or the other in the course of his services to the people and government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is gratifying to note that Justice Saidu did his best towards quick and impartial dispensation of justice so well that the appellate court and the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court of Nigeria had, at many a time, affirmed his well-researched, well-delivered and impeccable judgements on various matters brought before him.

Justice Saidu, who attended many career enhancing programmes in the realm of conferences, seminars and workshops, at home and abroad, is also a distinguished Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators of Nigeria.

Despite his commitment to studies during his school days and tight engagement as a young man growing in Ilorin many years back, he was able to create time to work with others towards making Ilorin Emirate better than it was met. He was the Speaker of the Students Representatives Assembly of the then Ilorin Students Union under the presidency of the late Prince Abdulkadir Okunlola Abdulkadir. He simultaneously served as the Secretary of the Bayero University, Kano, chapter of the Union, which is now known as the Ilorin Emirate Students Union (IESU), in 1981.

Prior to his appointment as a Judge, Justice Saidu was a Member and one time President of the Ajanaku Progressive Youth Association (APYA).Members of APYA included Alhaji Saliu Belgore, Alhaji Oba Abdulsalam, Special Adviser on Security to the former Governor of Kwara State, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed; and Alhaji Salihu Tunde Bello, the Director of Administration, Nigerian Law School. Justice Saidu was also the President of the Young Friends Club, which comprised members from other parts of Ilorin such as Dr Lanre Suleiman, a former Executive Secretary, Kwara State Town Planning and Development Authority and currently a Senior Lecturer at the Federal University of Technology, Minna; and Prof. Suleiman Alege Kuranga, a one-time Chief Medical Director, University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, Ilorin. Other members of the club included Arc. Saifulahi Ahmad Alege, the Chairman of the Islamic Orphanage Foundation, Ilorin; Dr. Toyin Agbabiaka of the University of Ilorin and Alhaji Idris Amosa Saidu, the Director, Treasury and Finance,Tertiary Education Trust Fund(TETFUND) as well as Alhaji Yakub Duro Hameed, a Chartered Accountant and tax consultant.

The career of this outstanding patriot on the bench, however, did not allow him to remain a functional member of any of the sociocultural organisations throughout his sojourn on the bench. Nevertheless, he offered them and others periodic support as allowed by the laws of the land. An affirmation of his true character came glaring when yours truly was opportune to meet him. However, the meeting has left an enduring impression on him. It might not be contemplated that a man who had the power of life and death entrusted on him could be so simple and humble to a citizen of my status. Justice Saidu was so friendly that one felt at home to ask him a few questions. His response was not devoid of his characteristic humility. He explained that his unassuming nature was inborn. To him, all are equal before the Almighty Allah, the Creator of all. His response made one speechless. And, his disposition quickly reminded yours sincerely of the previous encounters he had with the Honourable Justice Issa Ayo Salami, OFR, the retired President of the Court of Appeal, who does not know that anyone was too young to be accorded respect. Two other jurists also left one with such impressions but the fact that they are still in active services would make it save to keep their identities in anonymity for obvious reasons for now.

This outstanding patriot is married to Hajiya Khadijat Titilayo Saidu, who is an Ilorin-based businesswoman. He also consummated another marriage with Hajiya Habeebat Saidu, Director (PFS) in the Kwara State Ministry of Energy, Ilorin. His marriages are blessed with successful children who are doing very well in their various careers.

As Justice Saidu gloriously settles down in retirement, I can only encourage him to count his blessings. He has been blessed in many ways that he cannot possibly enumerate. The Yoruba has another beautiful saying that *Atari Ajanaku Ki Se Eru Omode*(an elephant head is too heavy for an infant). Yes, legal interpretation is not a job for just anyone. It is meant for the deep, the erudite, the contented and those who are God-fearing. This hero of our time from the Isale Ajanaku (Elephant Valley) Quarters, Ilorin, carried the head of an elephant (Atari Ajanaku) on his shoulders. He succeeded in keeping it afloat for over three decades. He should be grateful to his Creator who saw him through the arduous task. He should, therefore, emulate his older professional compatriots who returned to the home of their forefathers to serve humanity the more. He is needed in the realm of mentoring, counselling and conflict resolution as well as general human empowerment. His family, his *adugbo* and the larger Ilorin Emirate require his presence and services in more ways than he can imagine. He has carried the banner of Ilorin Emirate very well and with pride. He has used the citizenship of Ilorin Emirate to the applause of all. Now is the time for him to give back to the land of his ancestors in many ways and manners but within his capacity so that the record of patriotism and service he has rendered would continue to remain shinning glittering and admirable for future generations to appreciate imitate and emulate.

Imam is National Publicity Secretary, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union.

 


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