In my career as a journalist, I have had to interface with all manners of newsmakers, particularly in the judiciary, my preferred area of interest.
It was in pursuit of this self-inflicted pastime of reporting from the hallowed bowels of the courts, where lawyers slug it out to resolve the mystery of legal cases or at workshops, seminars or other learned conferences where they dig deep into the foundation, practice and interpretation of the Law, that I met Hon. Justice Abdulkadir Abubakar Jega, the immediate past Presiding Justice of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal.
The erudite jurist was one of the numerous victims of the calamitous and unfortunate stampede that claimed many lives during the recently concluded 2015 annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
I met Jega, who was dubbed NADECO judge, on account of his no-nonsense posture, during his stint as the Judge at the Federal High Court, Fate Road, Ilorin, beginning from 1993.
A cord of acquaintance was soon struck between Justice Jega and myself as with others like Kayode Abdul wahab of Thisday newspaper, Biodun Awani of the Daily Times and Emma Okere of Radio Nigeria as well as Tunde Oyekola of the Nigerian Tribune.
Let me recall the case of Panat Nigeria Ltd Vs Kwara State Government, its Attorney-General and others. Not a judge given to frivolities, there was this particular sitting when the upright, downright and forthright Judge gave a ruling against the state government and some of its principal agents in very strong words on account of the way the sale of then Kwara State Feedmill (which was bought by Panat Nigeria Ltd) was handled and the case prosecuted.
Of course, this writer reported the proceedings as contemporaneously and as detailed as possible the following morning, a development which led to his being invited by the Kwara State Command of the Nigeria Police, for allegedly reporting what was not contained in the record books of the court presided over by Jega.
The former NBA President and Attorney-General of the bigger Ondo State, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, former Osun State Attorney-General, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN and Jimoh Lambo Akanbi, Esq, as he then was (Akanbi has since been invited to the Federal High Court where he has being holding sway in the last decade or so) as well as Tunde Olomu, Esq, then a State Counsel with the Kwara State Ministry of Justice, who participated in this prosecution of this case, would remember this very vividly.
Following this ruling, which the state government considered harsh and unbecoming of a Judicial Officer, it found a way of hitting back at Jega: pronto, his Police Orderly was withdrawn. As early as 7.50 am the following day, the largely unruffled Jega called me (may he never call me again.) and asked about my whereabouts. I told him I was already in my office, some 10-minute drive to his court.
He immediately “issued a subpoena” for me to come to his court before his 9.00 o’clock customary sitting time which he observed without fail. On getting there, the first thing I noticed was that his Police Orderly was not with him and I asked why to which he quipped: “Your people have withdrawn him, but I can assure you that will not prevent me from sitting.”
Because of the sterling qualities inherent in him, the dandy and sartorial Jurist was soon elevated to the Court of Appeal Bench where he rose rapidly to become the Presiding Justice of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal until his demise in faraway Saudi Arabia recently.
That was the stuff this Kebbi prince was made of. He was a quintessential judge who adorned his Bench with proven integrity, industry, character and learning as well as honour. He approached his job with humility and reverence, and if one may borrow the lingo of the law, he did justice to all who bow before the throne, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.
Painful as his death is, one is persuaded by the fact that the renowned Jurist and defender of the lowly and the oppressed lived a most fulfilled life fighting for the emancipation of the down-trodden, characteristic of the Jega dynasty, thereby leaving his giant steps on the sand of Judicial times.
His sterling and robust contributions to the Judiciary and the administration of Justice will remain in the psyche of many as they will be written in indelible ink. While wishing the departed Jurist a most-deserved rest, I pray that God will grant the Judiciary, his primary constituency, the people of Kebbi Sate and the entire Jega dynasty the grace and the equanimity to bear the irreparable loss.
Olofintila writes from Lagos.