Since 2006 I have written many tributes to public figures that departed this world, but also three painful personal tributes respectively to my close friend Mohamed Idris Koko in 2007, to my father Alhaji Muhammadu Jega in 2008 and to my elder brother Ibrahim Jega in 2009. I wrote another one yesterday for my former editor Hajiya Bilkisu. Today, I must write yet another one for Justice Abubakar Abdulkadir Jega, my first cousin who also died in the hajj stampede.
Although he was our cousin, Justice Abubakar was such a visible presence when we were growing up that many of my younger brothers and sisters for long thought that we were of the same parents. His father, the veteran schoolteacher Malam Abdulkadir Jega, left Birnin Kebbi for Kaduna in 1962 and was the headmaster of Kakuri Primary School for three decades. Baba Na Kakuri, as we called him, had a policy of sending his children back to Sokoto for their secondary schooling, so Abubakar was sent to the College of Arts and Arabic Studies, Sokoto in the late 1960s. During those years we were going to primary school from our grandfather’s house in Jega. Abubakar used to visit Jega for a few days before proceeding to Kaduna on holidays. We easily noticed that Magatakarda and his wives dotted on Abubakar. This was partly because he was a maternal grandchild but maybe also because his mother died when he was an infant.
I became even closer to him when I entered Government College, Sokoto in 1973. He was in his final year at CAAS and every weekend I will walk to his compound and then we will go home together. From CAAS he went to the ABU’s Kongo Campus in 1973-75 for a combined diploma in common law and shari’a. He then joined the Judiciary of the old Sokoto State in 1975 and became an assistant registrar at the Upper Area Court, Birnin Kebbi. He was an avid reader of novels and magazines in those days, which he always turned over to me.
I once visited his office in Birnin Kebbi and he told me of an incident that happened that day. A local woman came to file for divorce from her husband and she reeled out all the man’s evil deeds. As she spoke, the elderly office messenger was cleaning the office and eavesdropping on the conversation. Abubakar asked for the husband’s name and she said, “Ade,” then added, “He is a Yoruba man.” On hearing that, the messenger dropped his broom and charged at her saying, “You, why did you marry a Yoruba man? Are you mad?”
After a year as court registrar Abubakar and all his mates applied for study leave to return to ABU for a degree in law. For reasons that we have never found out, the then Sokoto State Commissioner of Finance approved all the requests except Abubakar and his friend Mohamed Kalgo’s. One by one our father, who was a permanent secretary; the Attorney General, the chief registrar and all the judges of the state High Court appealed to the commissioner. After every appeal, their files will be sent to him and he will return them the next day with “not approved.” The High Court chiefs were so furious that they did something unusual. They told Abubakar and Kalgo to proceed to ABU on their salary, though without study allowances, while the Judiciary covered up their absence for three years.
During those years, Abubakar shuttled between Zaria, Kaduna and Sokoto. His father was a leader of the Sokoto community in Kaduna and always had messages of cloth to be dyed. I always went with Abubakar on his white Vespa to dye them at Alhaji Jibo Gagi’s dyeing pits in Sokoto. Baba Na Kakuri liked me alot, stemming from one incident. In 1979 I was returning to Sokoto from Lagos when I missed my plane, so I took another plane to Kaduna. Partly because I had no idea of the distances involved, I went from the airport to Kakuri to greet Baba before I proceeded to the motor park. Many times in subsequent years he told of that incident as proof of how good a boy I was, and he sent me numerous gifts through Abubakar of Kaduna’s famed Idris Morrow bread and cakes.
Abubakar was closest to my elder brother Ibrahim by virtue of their being together at Kongo. However, Ibrahim did not share Abubakar’s extreme love for Coca Cola, so almost every day the two of us will go to the kiosks near College of Arts. You could see from the way he licked his lips that he really liked Coke. After we finish a bottle each, he will lean over to me conspiratorially and say, “mu kara!”
Apart from Coke, there was nothing Abubakar liked more than sitting down with family members and friends to discuss politics and world affairs. At the onset of the Second Republic he was a PRP supporter and when it split into two, he stuck with Malam Aminu Kano’s tabo faction. Abubakar did not share the other passions of youths such as music, disco parties and wild motorcycle riding. Often times we had to dodge him when we were going to some places, and he will be angry when we reappeared, asking why we went away without telling him.
Abubakar did his NYSC at the Legal Aid Council in Bauchi in 1980-81. He was assigned to help a man who played with a hyena in the market and it killed a girl. Abubakar was interviewing the man in order to prepare a defence but the man was not interested; all he wanted from the lawyer was a cigarette stick.
Soon after his NYSC, Abubakar was appointed a magistrate and he served in Kaurar Namoda, Gusau and Sokoto. Magistrate Abubakar saw no reason why laws that existed in the statute books could not be enforced. One year he ordered the police to close all brothels in Sokoto. Hundreds of prostitutes fled Sokoto overnight. In the late 1980s he became the Chief Inspector of Area Courts. Every day I found Abubakar dealing with an Area Court judge who did one misdemeanour or another.
In 1990 he attended an interview in Lagos, came out tops and was appointed Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal. That was the beginning of his very close relationship with Appeal Court Presidents Justice Mamman Nasir and Mustapha Akanbi, under whom he served. He became a Federal High Court judge in 1993 and was elevated to the Court of Appeal in 2002. He served variously in Lagos, Kaduna, Owerri and Enugu. Until last week he was the Presiding Judge of the Appeal Court’s Abuja Division.
Justice Abubakar was highly devoted to family matters. Since his days as a young magistrate, he devoted his energies to securing school admission for relatives, securing jobs, career progress, settling disputes, extricating some from legal trouble or leading the way to get wives for brothers and cousins. Uncle Justice, as his numerous nephews and nieces called him, was also very religious; after evening prayers he will sit with half-stretched legs and do a wuridi for up to two hours.
Telephone calls from Justice Abubakar were something else. He called me frequently and could speak on the phone for two hours. Back in the 1990s when he served in Lagos, he would call me on a land line to complain about what Tell and Tempo magazines wrote about the North. I counselled him to stop reading those magazines, saying even as a newspaper editor I did not read them.
In my mind’s eye I can still see Justice Abubakar praying at Ibrahim Jega’s funeral in 2009. I also stood at his side while he prayed at his second wife’s graveside in May last year. In his own case, we cannot even pray at his graveside. In fact, we are only assuming that Abubakar is no more because no one has seen his remains. He is survived by a wife and five children. May Allah reward Justice Abubakar Jega for his decades of devoted worship and selfless service to humanity.