One of the major news last week in the judiciary was that on the death of Justice Mohammed Saifullahi Muntaka-Coomassie (rtd) on 12 October, 2017.
This came to many as a surprise, coming just a year and eight months after he retired from the Supreme Court bench.
He retired from the Supreme Court bench on February 10, 2016 having attained the mandatory retirement age of 70 for justices of the appellate courts.
The late Justice Muntaka-Coomassie was a foremost expert and specialist in Islamic Law and was a determined practitioner of his religion. Though not so many Islamic Law matters got to the Supreme Court for determination, he contributed immensely to the propagation and development of Islamic Law and Case Law in Nigeria. He approached each case with much enthusiasm and dealt with the issues involved to the admiration of his fellow justices.
In the area of Criminal Law, he used his insightful judgments to save accused persons who had been wrongfully condemned to death by the lower courts but who appealed to the apex court.
His firm belief in the dispensation of justice in accordance with law can be easily discerned from several of his judgments: In M.W.T (Nig.) Ltd vs. P.T.F. (2007) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1058) 451 at 482, he commented on the duty imposed by law on a party claiming the award of special damages.
Furthermore, in Onafowokan vs. Wema Bank Plc (2011) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1260) 24 at 53, while considering the attitude of the court on a finding or Order of Court not appealed against, he stated : “It is trite that the finding and order of a lower court not appealed against remain valid and subsisting, and without a ground of appeal challenging the finding and order of the lower court this court would lack the jurisdiction to interfere with the said findings or order. It is significant to state here that none of the grounds of appeal contained in the Notice of Appeal challenged the above stated findings and order of the lower court.
“It is trite that a finding not challenged by an appellant in any grounds of appeal remains, rightly or wrongly, the settlement of that issue as between the parties to the appeal. It follows that in the absence of any appeal against the finding and order of the lower court this court would have declined jurisdiction to consider and determine such an issue.”
Similarly, in Institute of Health, ABU Teaching Hospital vs. Anyip (2011) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1260) 1 at 17, the opportunity presented itself for him to comment on the power of the Supreme Court to correct error in judgment of the Court of Appeal.
In a most illuminating manner, he held as follows: “I must say, with tremendous respect, that the judgment of the lower court is a little bit confusing, and as it is, it may be very difficult for the respondent to execute the judgment and orders of the Court of Appeal. That being the case and this court being the final court of the land, something must be done to correct the situation. I invoke my powers under Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act to correct the judgment of the lower court.”
Late Justice Muntaka-Coomassie had always maintained a pleasant and cordial relationship with the Bar and the press. He was on 31st January, 2009, presented with an award of Excellence by the Nigerian Bar Association, Kaduna Branch in recognition of his immense contributions to the development of the legal system.
Born on February 10, 1946 in Zaria, Kaduna State, Justice Muntaka-Coomassie initially trained to be a teacher and taught Arabic and English language in Kaduna and Zaria before voluntarily bowing out of the teaching profession as the Principal of Provincial Arabic School in Fada, Zaria, Kaduna State, after a decade spent in the profession.
He went to obtain his Law degree (LL.B) in 1976 from the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and was called to the Nigerian Bar, after attending the Nigerian Law School, Lagos in 1977.
As a State Counsel, he served at the Ministry of Justice Kwara State and Kaduna State in various capacities.
Initially he was a magistrate in the Saminaka Magisterial District in August 1978 and a Chief Magistrate in 1981, Deputy Chief Registrar (CR) of the High Court of Kaduna State in 1986 and finally the CR in 1987. He was appointed a judge of the Kaduna High Court in November 1988.
Prior to his elevation to the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2008, he was at the Court of Appeal. He served in Port Harcourt, Jos, Abuja, Ilorin and Benin divisions.
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