The date was Tuesday, April 12. The valedictory court session attracted top practitioners in the legal profession and other prominent Nigerians who converged in Minna, the Niger State capital, to wish an icon of justice, the retiring Chief Judge of Niger State, Justice Fati Abubakar, CON, farewell as she took her final bow out of office as the first female Chief Judge of Niger State.
Justice Fati Lami Abubakar is an unusual woman who asserted, by her work, that the purpose of human life is to serve by showing compassion and the will to help others. At 65, she has a fire inside of her that burns brilliantly and true, brightening her features and framing the feline girth that shelters her persona. Her compassion and will, like preternatural folds of flesh, serve as furrowed pillows to her speech and windows to a femininity that captivates almost too often at first glance.
Justice Abubakar saw her calling, as service to mankind; thus she sought to ennoble her work and herself. Left to the now retired judge, anyone who considers his or her occupation as merely a means of earning money, degrades it. At a time when history becomes capricious in its awards of fame, fixating on dramatic incidents while ignoring the quiet service that counts for more, the 65-year old wife of former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, GCFR, attracts enviable plaudits by her diligence in public service.
Every first gaze at Fati Abubakar arrests the attention of the looker, irrespective of gender. The worthier breed or, put precisely, more discerning class of men and women, basically lose their heads and gape in awe at the extraordinary woman. Though vaguely rakish in demeanour and often mistaken as too strict, the retired chief judge is chummier than often imagined. Cloaked in swathes of moral and pleasant punch lines masqueraded as sardonic humour, the foremost justice and legal luminary flaunts that rare spark and spiritedness that most women of her ilk suffer a dearth of.
The spark within her soul shines brilliantly today as it did in her youth. It was the lure that ensnared and kept on the leash of love that has blossomed and glowed between her and elder statesman Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar. Spurred by innate zeal and resolve, Justice Abubakar found the wherewithal to turn her gaze finally outward even as she summoned strength from within to achieve her dreams.
In pursuit of her dreams, she had to juggle wedlock, motherhood, the justice system, helping the needy and the world’s disadvantaged. There is no limit to her bid to foster the rule of law and societal stability. She adjudicates and resolves the most troubling legal quagmires even as she jumps in the trenches to lay the bricks for the homeless’ shelter. She could do just about anything. Anything, to safeguard her profession. Left to her, walking the talk and doing her bit is the only comfort and assurance that she truly lives.
Before being the first female chief judge of Niger State, Justice Abubakar was a former Attorney General of the state, a former Solicitor General of the state and a former state counsel among others. She held sway as the First Lady of Nigeria during the 11-month reign of her husband, General Abdusalami Abubakar, as Head of State (June 1998 to May 1999).
Born on April 12, 1951, the retired Chief Judge holds an LLB in Law and Doctor of Laws (LLD) Honoris Causa from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. She’s the second child and eldest daughter of Alhaji Umaru Audi, the late first Waziri of Minna and Hajia Nana Asmau (daughter of the late Sarkin Hausawa of Minna). In line with Hausa tradition, she was taken away from her parents and brought up by her father’s elder sister, Hajia Hadiza. This notwithstanding, her father, a highly-educated administrative officer, ensured she enjoyed the finest education.
She attended a Christian missionary school from where she proceeded to the Queen Elizabeth School in Ilorin, in 1965 and the Federal Government College, Sokoto (1970-1971). As at that time, Queen’s School was a unity school that picked the best female brains from all over Nigeria. After finishing high school, she gained admission to the prestigious University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, to study law and graduated in 1975.
Justice Abubakar got married to General Abdulsalami Abubakar around the same time and even had her second child, Fati Ladidi, now a lawyer, at the time she was still a student at the Nigerian Law School, Lagos. This, no doubt, attests to her mettle as a tough, extraordinary woman. Unlike most women, she effortlessly combined family life with her career, with enviable results. Her husband, General Abubakar, became the Head of State following the sudden death of General Sani Abacha in 1998. Not a few pundits and political historians credit her for encouraging her spouse to be a man of honour and not hold on tenaciously to power.
Even while her husband was Head of State, she was so committed and dedicated to her job as a lawyer that she never left the legal profession. This is very impressive as some other women see the ‘First Ladyship’ as a role of glamour and wanton frivolities. Her attitude and disposition as the country’s First Lady distinguished her as a woman of unusual morality and personal ethics among the country’s First Ladies.
Like some other First Ladies before and after her, she had her own pet project. But unlike the others, even though her husband spent the shortest time in office as the country’s Head of State, her own foundation is still very much alive. In 1999, with just 11 weeks left for her husband in office, she established the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative, WRAPA. It was registered as a Non-Governmental Organisation, NGO, non-political, not-for-profit, charitable organisation for advocacy and mobilisation for the promotion, protection and realisation of women’s human rights, the elimination of all forms of repugnant practices, as well as violence against women and the enhancement of their living standards.
The acronym WRAPA, which denotes the one or two-piece cloth worn by Nigerian women irrespective of age, tribe or religion, underscores the national spread of the organisation. WRAPA enjoys considerable support from various bodies, agencies and other corporate bodies. WRAPA has 11 vocational training centres in nine states, 22 adult literacy centres in 12 states, and 10 legal aid centres in 10 states of the Federation.
On October 12, 2001, Safiya Hussaini Tungar Tudu, a divorced mother of four, was sentenced to death in Sokoto State for adultery. Similarly, on March 22, 2002, a Sharia court in Funtua, Katsina State, also sentenced Amina Lawal to death for a similar offence. Both of them were to be executed by stoning. It was Saudatu Mahdi, WRAPA’s administrative and programme head and her legal team that battled to save the lives of the women. Unknown to many, it was Justice Fati Abubakar’s WRAPA, and other bodies fighting for Women’s Rights, that saved both women in March 2002. One of them, Amina Lawal, has since remarried.
By virtue of her professional and academic achievements, Fati Abubakar, is unarguably the most erudite of all of Nigeria’s First Ladies. Yet, Hajia Fati, as she is popularly called, remains the most humble of all the country’s First Ladies and her humility taught her how to avoid the arrogance of power. In my numerous encounters with her either in their home or her office in Minna, she comes across as a serious – minded, highly principled, disciplined and firm woman. She is blessed with six lovely children – Amina Lami Abubakar-Bello, Fati Ladidi Abubakar, Rahmatu Tassallah Abubakar, Isa Danasabe Abubakar, Umar Danjuma Abubakar and Muhammadu Mustapha Abubakar, who are all doing well in their chosen professions.
This is wishing her a happy retirement even as she is going to devote more time to her family and her pet project – WRAPA.