Fallen Legal Heroes: Justice Dahiru Musdapher

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Justice Dahiru Musdapher

Late Justice Dahiru Musdapher (1942 – 2018) was born in Babura Town in Babura, a local government area in the north of Jigawa State. He had his early education at Babura Elementary School where he spent only two years in the elementary school before moving to Birnin Kudu Middle School. In the middle school, the teachers were convinced that the young lad must have been memorizing the dictionary as his vocabulary was clearly beyond the norm! He was a voracious reader that devoured everything that came his way.

He was also exposed to Islamic education through the traditional system and mastered a good portion of the Holy Qur’an and acquired intensive knowledge in Arabic Language and grammar; as well as the foundational principles of Islamic law. He spoke fluent Arabic.

In 1957 the late jurist enrolled in Rumfa College, Kano for his secondary education. While in Rumfa College he was consistently one of the best students in the school. After concluding his secondary education, he secured a job at the Northern Regional Ministry of Finance in Kaduna as a clerical officer in 1963.

Shortly after, he secured admission to study at the Institute of Administration, in Zaria (now Ahmadu Bello University). He left for the United Kingdom to conclude his legal training in 1964 and was called to the British bar in 1967 (Middle Temple).

He became quite famous as a regular outside contributor and discussant in the West African Service of the BBC as well as the Hausa service from 1964-67. Notably he was in the BBC studios as a discussant when the ugly events of January 1966 in which the Sardauna of Sokoto and Prime Minister Balewa were murdered in a bloody coup d’état.

On return to Nigeria he proceeded to the Law school where he was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1968.

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Unlike most of his colleagues and seniors who opted for a career in public service from the onset, he chose to pursue a career in private legal practice together with the late Kaloma Ali in Kano. During those early years, he was one of the most notable and sought after legal practitioners throughout the northern region. He made appearances before all the High Courts of the Northern region.

In 1976 he appointed the Attorney General of the old Kaduna State, even though he was from Kano State. In addition, he became a member of the Body of Benchers by virtue of his position. He was one of the longest serving members of the body and became a Life Bencher”.

In 1979, he was appointed a Judge of the High Court of Kano State by General Olusegun Obasanjo and later confirmed as the First indigenous Chief Judge of the State as he took over from Justice R. Jones (a British expatriate)

During his six-year tenure at the helm of the Kano State Judiciary, a new court complex was completed and still remains as the main court complex. Fittingly the building has since been named after him as a testament to his contributions to the Kano State Judiciary.

In 2003 late Justice Musdapher was elevated to the Supreme Court and in 2011 he became the 12th Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). He emerged as the CJN at a very turbulent and troubled time, when the nation’s judiciary was at its lowest ebb, following the face-off between the 11th CJN, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu and the then (suspended) President of the Court of Appeal (PCA) Justice Ayo Isa Salami. At the root of the altercation were perceived corruption and unethical conduct in the judiciary.

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The National Judicial Council (NJC) under him, however recommended that Justice Ayo Isa Salami should be reinstated as the PCA, but the executive jettisoned NJC’s recommendation.

Justice Musdapher, in his short tenure, tried to cleanse the judiciary through some policies, the most prominent being the reform measures he suggested in his recommendations to the National Assembly on the aspects of the constitution that should be reviewed to aid efficiency in justice delivery.

Justice Musdapher was a fearless jurist and during his headship of the nation’s judiciary, he openly condemned the emerging practice of ‘plea bargain (without legislative support)’ saying that it was a novel concept of dubious origin.

He condemned the practice of ‘holding charge’ which contributed in no small way to prison congestion as he said that “the State cannot incarcerate its citizen while scrambling for evidence to build a case against him.”

In a bid to fight corruption, Justice Musdapher issued a practice direction to judges handling corruption cases to ensure that they conclude trial within six months or dismiss such cases if the prosecution is not ready to pursue the matter diligently.

Today, to his credit, he has a large number of judgments which are still being cited in law courts by lawyers. This has made him immortal as he will be remembered for a very long time for his erudite judgments.

Justice Musdapher’s pronouncement in the case of Gani Fawehinmi vs General Sani Abacha is not only interesting but also a masterpiece. This is because Justice Musdapher was a classmate of General Sani Abacha while Justice Musdapher’s father was the head master of the primary school where both of them attended and they were friends for a long time. General Sani Abacha, the then Head of State, was much feared; but his friend Justice Musdapher, a judge of Court of Appeal gave judgment that struck down one of his most troublesome decrees and upheld the African Charter on Human Rights.

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Justice Musdapher was one of the best judges to grace the Supreme Court of Nigeria, and the Fawehinmi case was particularly illuminating part of his career.

In Inakoju Vs Adeleke, he held thus: “In the removal of governor or deputy governor the procedure clearly specified in Section 188 of the Constitution must be strictly followed and strictly complied with before such removal becomes constitutional and valid. Any breach of any of the said provisions renders such removal ineffective, null, void and of no effect.”

Other cases of constitutional significance include AG Abia Vs. AG Federation, the case of tenure elongation (by five governors who wanted third term), and the case of Alamieseigha Vs. Yeiwa. His judgment in Ameachi Vs. Omehia, would be better commended when viewed against the practice of lack of internal democracy in party politics in the country.

Some of his interesting judgments were based on Islamic law. In the case of Alake Vs. Abalaka, Justice Musdapher held that “the obligation of a court to be impartial in its deliberations in a dispute before it is so basic and fundamental a principle in our adjudicatory system that it cannot be compromised on any ground whatsoever.”

Justice Musdapher  died on January 22, 2018 at the age of 75 in a London Hospital.

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