ADDRESS By Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama, OFR, MFR, SAN, FNIALS, FICMC, DiplCArb, FNICArb, FCIArb, C.Arb. (Of Lincoln’s Inn, Barrister/Life Bencher) Shettima Ilmuye of Borno, Sardauna of Uba, Bobajiro of Akure Kingdom and Okwulora of Ukpo Chairman, Mentoring Committee of the Body of Benchers of Nigeria On behalf of The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN)
At the Valedictory Session of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in Honour of Honourable Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammed, JSC, CFR Held on Friday, 27th October, 2023
“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you are at the beginning of something else.” – Fred Rogers
It is a great privilege and honour to deliver this address at today’s Valedictory Session, on behalf of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN), in honour of a trailblazer, renowned for his virtues of honesty and cerebral sagacity, Hon. Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammed, JSC, CFR; who is retiring at 70 years after an admirable and meritorious service at the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Today, for the Honoree – Hon. Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammed, the curtain falls on a glorious career of 43 solid years on the Bench. Reflecting on the ageless wisdom of the Holy Books, the Bible in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 provides that for everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. Similarly, the Quran provides in Surah Ra’d 13:38 that for everything there is a time prescribed. My Lord, indeed today is undeniably yet another significant milestone in your life. It is the time you retire and retire meritoriously without any dent, blemish or scar.
3. THE EARLY LIFE OF HONOURABLE JUSTICE MUSA DATTIJO MUHAMMED, JSC, CFR
The renowned jurist was born on 27th October, 1953 in Chanchaga Local Government Area of Niger State. His Lordship attended Sheikh Sabbah College (now Sardauna Memorial Secondary School), Kaduna from 1967-1971 where his Lordship obtained his West African School Certificate. From 1971-1973, his Lordship attended the Abdullahi Bayero College (now Bayero University) and obtained a Pre-Degree Certificate. Following the completion of his Lordship’s studies at Abdullahi Bayero College, his Lordship proceeded to pursue a degree in law at the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University and graduated with an LLB (Hons) in 1976. In the same year, his Lordship attended the Nigerian Law School, Lagos campus and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1977. In a quest to gain additional knowledge, his Lordship obtained an LLM from Warwick University, United Kingdom in 1983. Furthermore, his Lordship obtained an Advanced Certificate in Practice and Procedure in 1983 from the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Lagos.
His Lordship is an astute career jurist having risen through the ranks from a Registrar to the Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. His Lordship started his legal career as a Higher Registrar of the High Court of Justice, Minna in 1976. In no time, his Lordship was appointed as Magistrate Grade II in 1978 where his Lordship served commendably and was subsequently promoted to Senior Magistrate Grade II then Chief Magistrate Grade II in 1982 and 1984 respectively. In recognition of his Lordship’s many years of meritorious national service, his Lordship was appointed as a Judge of the High Court of Justice, Niger State in 1989. Between 1991-1993 his Lordship served on multiple occasions as a member and subsequently as the Presiding Judge of various Niger State Election Petition Tribunals. In 1998 his Lordship was elevated to the Court of Appeal and following a laudable service, his Lordship was appointed as the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Sokoto Division in 2009. Thereafter, his Lordship was transferred to the Port-Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal as the Presiding Justice in 2010. In 2012 his Lordship was appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court where he served with integrity, hard work and resilience till date.
4. THE LEGACY OF A QUINTESSENTIAL AND ASTUTE JURIST
Your Lordship’s colleagues, members of the legal profession and the larger society, have all met here today to tell your Lordship’s story once more. We have gathered, not only because it has become conventional to do so, but because we want to openly acknowledge and appreciate the remarkable contributions your Lordship has made to our profession, jurisprudence and the institutions of justice during your Lordship’s time in service. I will borrow from the wisdom of the great philosopher, Socrates, who aptly summarized the essential qualities of a good judge. Socrates said: “Four things belong to a judge: To hear courteously; to answer wisely; to consider soberly; and to decide impartially.”
These words remain as true today as they were when Socrates first spoke them more than 2,400 years ago and they are the very qualities that best describe Hon. Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammed. Your Lordship epitomized the integrity that cannot be compromised even in the face of adversity. Like all great men, your Lordship is a man of unrivaled wisdom, unquenchable thirst for knowledge and passion for substantial justice.
With a radical stance for justice and rule of law, your Lordship has immensely contributed to Nigeria’s jurisprudence as evidently demonstrated in your Lordship’s landmark judgments which solidified numerous principles of law on various issues. Indeed, your Lordship has set the pace for generations to come. As a result of your Lordship’s uncommon dedication, tenacity, teamwork, intelligence and hard work, your Lordship has achieved an uncommon level in his professional career that God in his infinite wisdom reserves for just the selected few. On an occasion such as this, it is customary to review and acknowledge the strides and efforts of the honoree. We do this to show that sheer grit, tenacity, and readiness to make sacrifices are virtues worthy of emulation and very much fashionable. Even still, in our present generation, borrowing from the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi:
“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment”.
If we take it a step further, imagine a life filled with efforts, and regaled in attainment. Such is the professional life of Hon. Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammed, a life filled with efforts and attainment.
After reading Hon. Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammed’s profile, I am convinced that his Lordship’s life story should serve as an inspiration for all of us especially the younger members of our noble profession of both the bench and bar who need role models for guidance. Although the honour measured in time, given by this occasion to reflect on Hon. Justice Musa Dattijo Muhammed’s achievements in our legal jurisprudence may not be sufficient, it is imperative to mention that his Lordship has made significant contributions to the development of the law and advancement of our legal system. His Lordship’s decisions demonstrated clarity and precision of thought, as well as capacity to use the law as a tool for substantial justice rather than dwell on technicality which serves as a hindrance to the rights of the aggrieved. His Lordship’s judgments were always rooted in law and wisdom. We must not forget his Lordship’s lifelong interest in using the legal system to promote social stability and development.
As a Jurist, his Lordship was inclined towards substantial justice rather than technicalities as can be seen in numerous Appeals that His Lordship sat on. One of them is the case of Thomas v. Federal Judicial Service Commission reported as (2016) LPELR-48124(SC) where His Lordship, on effect of an application brought under a wrong Order or rule of Court, held that the requirement that parties state the rules of Court by virtue of which they assert a relief is technical and merely prescribes procedural steps for the guidance of the parties and the Court. In that case, His Lordship reiterated that the essence as a Court is to do substantial justice and that once a remedy is provided for by any written law and it is properly claimed by a party, the remedy cannot be denied the party simply because he has wrongly stated the Rule of Court under which the relief is sought. His Lordship was indeed an exceptional jurist.
I had the privilege to mentor his Lordship’s daughter, the brilliant and well behaved Fatima Musa Dattijo Muhammed, who worked briefly at my firm, J-K Gadzama LLP. Fatima is currently doing well within the profession and I am pleased that she went through the firm and the firm went through her. Along with the members of the legal profession, both of the Bar and Bench, I have followed with admiration his Lordship’s journey through the bench. His Lordship is a father, role model and mentor to me and has been an indefatigable lion in the temple of justice. I have also had the honour of appearing before his Lordship at the Supreme Court on numerous occasions.
5. BODY OF SENIOR ADVOCATES OF NIGERIA (BOSAN)
Let me also use this opportunity to restate BOSAN’s usual cooperation with the Judiciary and commitment to the enhancement of administration of justice in Nigeria. BOSAN can always be counted on as partners in progress as we will continue to contribute our quota to the success of the Judiciary and the nation at large.
6. NATIONAL JUDICIAL COUNCIL (NJC)
Furthermore, on behalf of BOSAN, it is crucial that I impress on the NJC on the urgent need to expedite the process of appointment of additional Justices to the Supreme Court in order not to overburden my Noble Lords who are still in active service to this nation particularly considering the volume of litigation dockets at the Supreme Court and the number of Justices attending to them. The need to appoint additional Justices is very imperative now than ever because this is an election year and the Supreme Court will have numerous election matters which are time bound to attend to.
Admittedly, there is no provision for the minimum Justices which the Supreme Court can have per time as section 230(2) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) only provides that the Supreme Court can have such number of Justices not exceeding twenty-one, as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly. However, there is no gainsaying the fact that the present 10 Honourable Justices at this apex Court who are already overburdened will be further overburdened. I therefore vehemently appeal to the relevant authorities to urgently look into this and take immediate necessary steps to address this issue of national importance.
I must not conclude this address without applauding the Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria for addressing the appeals emanating from the decision of the Presidential Election Tribunal Court (PEPC) in good time. It is paramount and impressive that this matter has been put to bed timeously. It will also not be out of place to use this occasion to reemphasize and remind political players, members of the public and legal practitioners on the need to accord respect to the Judiciary. All the political players in our democracy must give the Judiciary the needed support to work and perform their judicial functions without intimidation and harassment. Members of the public are enjoined to be circumspect with how they criticize the decisions of the Court and talk down on the Judiciary and any attempt, whether direct or indirect, to intimidate, cow and/or suppress the Judiciary must be condemned and discouraged in all ramifications by all well-meaning Nigerians. However, this does not restrain, prohibit or preclude lawyers, researchers or academics from constructively analyzing or criticizing the decisions of the Court.
For our Judicial Officers, courage, probity and independence should be indispensable attributes. It is in the interest of the society at large, that our laws are interpreted and decisions given in line with current realities and developments. Law, they say by its nature, is not static but dynamic. If I may borrow the words of the Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning in Parker v Parker (1953) 2 All ER 121: “If we never do anything because it has not been done before, we shall never get anywhere. The law will stand still while the rest of the world goes on, and that will be bad for both.”
8. CONCLUDING REMARKS
As rightly stated by Abraham Lincoln:
“And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years”.
It is only appropriate that I conclude this address by congratulating his Lordship on the ability to promote discipline in the legal profession during his Lordship’s tenure on the Bench. His Lordship consistently advocated for legal practitioners to maintain the highest moral standards in order to earn the public’s trust and preserve the integrity of our profession. By this occasion, the reality has now dawned on us that we will no longer enjoy and benefit from the services of his Lordship on the bench as he bows out of the judiciary. We are forced to ask – why do all good things have come to an end?
On behalf of BOSAN, My Lord, please accept my congratulations once more. The legal profession, judiciary and Nigeria as a whole will undoubtedly miss your passionate drive for justice. We pray that the Almighty God bless you with a longer and happier life, overall wellness, and a more cheerful disposition for the rest of your life. Now, your Lordship will have the time to record his life experiences in a biography or autobiography for the benefit of future generations and it is our collective hope that your Lordship will continue to offer his wise counsel and services to our nation and the legal profession in the years to come. In the wise words of Melante Benjamin:
“What very mysterious things days were. Sometimes they fly by, and other times they seem to last forever, yet they are all exactly twenty-four hours. There’s quite a lot we don’t know about them.”