A.O. Belgore: The Retirement of A Just Jurist By Abubakar Imam

Date: 2023-04-17

In the discharge of my self imposed duty of documenting the strives and strides of sons and daughters of Ilorin Emirate, this piece was in view prior to a presidential directive to yours sincerely to get it done. The concerns of Barrister Shehu Ahmad Moyosore,the Chairman of the Northern Zone of the Union on the need to celebrate Justice Belgore also convinced the author that it is a task that must be accomplished.

The National President of Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union(IEDPU),Alhaji Aliyu Otta Uthman,fsi,who does not intervene in what I do with my energy, time and thinking faculty, broke the jinx this time around. He specifically directed that this piece should be written in celebration of the 70th birthday and concomitant retirement of Honourable Justice Ahmad Olanrewaju Belgore from the services of the Federal Republic of Nigeria after several years of his glowing tenure on the bench. Alhaji Uthman even handed down a specific target date of delivery to me! Who am I to flout a presidential directive,particularly the one issued by a retired Director of the secret police? 

The President insisted that the retiring jurist deserves every honour from IEDPU not just because of his services to the Union and the community at large in the past but also because he flew the flag of Ilorin Emirate very glowingly throughout his sojourn in the bar and on the bench as well as within and outside Nigeria. He insisted that it was much better to celebrate our heroes while they are alive than when they have returned to Allah. 

Considering all I knew and heard about His Lordship, I could not agreed less with Mr President. A perusal of the annals of the IEDPU showed that Justice Belgore served as its National Legal Adviser at a very significant period in its history. He did so in addition to his remarkable membership of the Kano Branch of the Union where he lived prior to his appointment as a Judge of the High Court of Kwara State about 35 years ago. He was not a bench warming Legal Adviser but an official who benefitted the Union and the community with his profound legal knowledge, varied experience and wide contacts in a way that his tenure would remain unforgettable.

While his appointment as a Judge prevented him from active participation in the regular activities of the Union, he was,nevertheless, a regular attendant and active participant in most of its programmes over the years. His Lordship did not turn down any invitation from the IEDPU. He would not only share his time with us but also donate generously to its cause. For a long period,the Union took it for granted that at least close to a quarter of N1 Million would come to its purse annually from this great son of Ilorin Emirate. This shows nothing but his loyalty, fraternity and devotion to Ilorin Emirate. He was also supportive of efforts of all the branches of the Union in all the cities he served as a Justice of the Court of Appeal.

Understandably, when yours sincerely, as the IEDPU's National Publicity Secretary, published a piece in commemoration of the visit of the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Aminu Ado Bayero,CFR, to Ilorin in 2020 it led to an appropriate concern from the celebrant. The article took into account some of the indigenes of Ilorin Emirate who sojourned in Kano over the years and no member of the respected Belgore dynasty was mentioned therein, His Lordship was reported to have expressed "measured dissatisfaction" with the unintended omission. He didn't know that the piece in question was authored by a small boy whose knowledge was evidently limited. 

It was his concern that led to another article entitled "Alfa Belgore: A Treasured Statesman @ 84" by yours sincerely and which the younger Belgore,being celebrated here, kindly assisted in editing. This shows that Justice Belgore loves his family as much as he loves his community and the nation. I think his disposition is emulative as there can be no community without families while the combination of communities make a nation.

Only a neophyte would or should be surprised with the dispositions of Justice Belgore to Ilorin Emirate. I am not. This is because he comes from a family whose activities, for generations and in different spheres, defined the essential Ilorin in royalty,spirituality,erudition and community service.

Justice Belgore has a deeply illustrious genealogy. His progenitor, Shaykh Muhammad Ahmad Belgore,who lived between 1831 to 1913, was said to have taken over as the leader of the second generation of Islamic scholars of Ilorin after the demise of Shaykh Alimi. The first generation,according to Shaykh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory, was led by Shaykh Abubakar Bube. Shaykh Belgore was the one who also discovered the intellectual ingenuity and leadership potentials of Shaykh Taju-l-Adab who was later not only recognised as the leader of the third generation of Ilorin Islamic scholars but also ,according to Dr Aliyu Sakariyau Alabi in his "Transmission of Learning in Modern Ilorin: A History of Islamic Education 1897 2012" acknowledged as "the precursor of the innovative scholars of the twentieth century in Ilorin".

Justice Belgore's paternal grand father,Shaykh Mahmud Belgore,who moved the ancestral residence of the family from Koro-Guromo to Isale Ajanaku,where it stands till date,was a son-in-law to Emir Shuaib Bawa. His maternal grand father, Prince Saidu Alao Omo Oloni,was also a son of the 7th Emir of Ilorin, Shaykh Shuaib Bawa and a younger brother to the 8th Emir of Ilorin, Shaykh Abdulkadir Shuaib Bawa who reigned from 1919 to 1959.His paternal grandmother, Princess Mariam Ayoka Belgore, was the daughter of Emir Shuaib Bawa, the 7th Emir thereby making her a sister to Emir Abdulkadir and the District Head of Ballah(Prince Saidu Alao Omo-Oloni), which by implication meant that His Lordship' parents were first cousins, a familiar trend in Fulani culture just as the present Emir's parents were first cousins.

His maternal grand father( Prince Saidu Alao Omo-Oloni) was an influential figure in the traditional political system of Ilorin Emirate who served as the District Head of Ballah in the present-day Asa Local Government Area of Kwara State. Prince Saidu Alao Omo-Oloni consequently influenced the establishment of Ballah LGEA Primary School in 1943. The efforts of the late "super prince" ,as he was described by an elder of my family some years back, in this regard, can be appreciated in the calibre of the pioneer set of pupils of the school,who he personally ensured their enrollment. These include Honourable Justice Abdulkadir Orire,CON,the pioneer Grand Kadi of Kwara State; Honourable Justice Saka Yusuf,OFR,the third Chief Judge of Kwara State and a former National President of the IEDPU; Alhaji Saidu Ajao Gomih,the third republic Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly and the late Queen Mother of Kano, Hajiya Maryam Adeoti Ado Bayero as well as Alhaja Belawu Hassan Ori-Okoh,the mother of Ilorin Emirate's first female medical doctor,Dr Zainab Funmlayo Ambali, who retired as a Permanent Secretary in the Kwara State civil service.

It is,therefore, trite that this outstanding jurist took the path of erudition and community development as did by many other members of his family. He not only emulated his progenitors but also built a good reputation for himself, which his own descendants would enjoy forever. 

The decision of Justice Belgore to study and practice law was evidently in emulation of his progenitors who were outstanding Islamic jurists. This is because law and erudition,according to Shaykh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilory, run in the family's blood as it has been largely known for jurisprudence.

This tradition began with the founding father of the scholarly dynasty, Shaykh Belgore, who upon settlement in Ilorin became and served as a principal Shariah judge before the coming of colonialism. He continued thereafter to the recognition and admiration of the British imperialists. The tradition was perpetuated by Shaykh Mahmud Belgore who was also a distinguished jurist like his father and Maaji of Ilorin and fondly called Alkali Mamudu Ma’aji. Alkali Mahmud's sons,namely, Yusuf Amuda Belgore and Muhammadu Belgore were also eminent jurists in their own rights as their children such as Justice Saliu Modibbo Alfa Belgore,GCON,who rose to become and served as the Chief Justice of Nigeria between 2006 and 2007; and Justice Mahmud Babatunde Belgore who held office as the longest serving Chief Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria from 1987 to 2001.Other judges produced by the family included late Justice Safiya Titi Daibu, who was maternally related to the Belgores (as a first cousin to Justice Ahmad Belgore) and died last year as next in rank to the immediate past Chief Judge of Kwara State,Justice Sulyman Durosinlorun Kawu,OFR; and Justice Suleiman Bolaji Belgore of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.

The family equally parades several leading lawyers including Alhaji Mohammed Dele Belgore, who is a distinguished Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

Honourable Justice Ahmad Olarewaju Belgore was born in Ilorin on April 18,1953.His father was Shaykh Yusuf Amuda Belgore who was a jurist like his father(Alikali Mahmud) and his grandfather(Shaykh Muhammad Ahmad Belgore) and his brother(Alkali Muhammad Belgore) while his mother was Princess Arinola Belgore who was a grand daughter of Emir Shuaib Bawa and daughter of Prince Saidu Alao Omo-Oloni. 

The subject of this piece, had his primary education at Oke-Oyi, Afon and Baboko,all within Ilorin Emirate. His subsequent education were received in other parts of Nigeria and abroad including the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He was at the end of his mandatory one year training at the Nigerian Law School, Lagos, enrolled as a Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in July,1979.

The profound knowledge of the law,industry and integrity of the then Lawyer Belgore became very infectious and he was subsequently invited from the bar to join the bench. On August 9,1990,this great jurist was appointed as a Judge of the High Court of Justice, Kwara State of Nigeria. He was posted to Offa as the Resident High Court Judge,Offa Judicial Division, where he competently served between August, 1994 and September, 1999.

Justice Belgore served as the Chairman, Special Tribunal(Miscellaneous Offences),Abuja. He was also on secondment to the Judiciary of the Republic of The Gambia from September, 2001 to December, 2005.While in The Gambia,he was appointed as a Justice of Appeal, Gambia Court of Appeal from February, 2003 to December, 2005.He was also for a while appointed and acted as Justice of the Supreme Court of the Gambia from June to December, 2005.

Sequel to the conclusion of his tour of duties to The Gambia,Justice Belgore returned to his table as a Judge of the Kwara State High Court. He was at the court between January and April,2006.

Justice Belgore was deservedly elevated to the Court of Appeal of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on April 27,2006 and was sworn-in as such on June 8,2006.He was not only on the bench of the appellate court since then but also served as the Presiding Justice, Sharia Panel of the Court of Appeal from 2008 till his retirement.

This exemplary jurist served as the Presiding Justice of several Divisions of the Court of Appeal. Among those he has headed were Ekiti,Ilorin and Enugu Divisions. His last place of work was,of course, the Ilorin Division of the Court.

In the course of his career, Justice Belgore received several other professional trainings at home and abroad. These include an Al-Thanawiyya Course at Brikama Islamic Institute, The Gambia between 2004 and 2005 and a Course of Study in Alternative Dispute Resolution in The Gambia at the end of which he was Certified as a Mediator in June,2004.He was also trained as a Network Manager in Dubai in September, 2012.He has also participated in no fewer than 15 training programmes for Judges where he equally delivered papers on various topical issues.

This renowned scholar and jurist,who is one of the five sons of Ilorin Emirate so far appointed as Justices of the Court of Appeal,has received more than eleven(11) honours and awards for his contributions to national development. 

He is the fourth son of Ilorin Emirate appointed to the bench of the appellate court. He was preceded by Honourable Justice Muhammad Mustapha Adebayo Akanbi,CFR, who was appointed in 1977 and retired as its President in 1999. An elder brother of the subject of this piece, Justice Alfa Belgore, GCON, was equally at the Court of Appeal from 1979 to 1986 when he was deservedly elevated to the Supreme Court before retiring as the Chief Justice of Nigeria in January, 2017; while the Emir of Ilorin, His Royal Highness,Alhaji(Dr) Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari,CFR,was the third. The Emir served at the Court between 1983 and 1995 after which he left the bench for the respected  throne of his illustrious forebears. The fifth and the last,for now,is Justice Mudashiru Nasiru Oniyangi,who retired from the Court last year upon his attainment of 70 years of age. Justice Belgore was,however, the second longest serving of the five at the Court of Appeal. He spent a total of 17 years at the Court while Justice Akanbi posted 22 years. He is,in fact,the last of the titans.

Apart from giving a good account of himself on the bench, Justice Belgore was also very helpful to many younger ones across Ilorin Emirate. He has the record of offering quality assistance to many in the realm of job facilitation,career progression, counseling and financial support. The only thing his beneficiaries needed to present,according to one of them, to deserve his support is personal integrity and he would treat such a person as his "next of kin". But once your integrity is in doubt you would pray never to meet him again as he distances himself the way a saint distances self from sins.

One is very delighted that Justice Belgore,who is happily married and blessed with children,is not only retiring with an unsoiled reputation,he is also doing so when the ovation is loudest. He should therefore devote more time and energy to community development for Ilorin Emirate to be far better and greater than he met it.

May I on behalf of the President and members of Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union congratulate His Lordship on his glorious retirement as I wish him many more years of quality and rewarding services to Allah and humanity.

Imam is National Secretary, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union.


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