by Dare Lawal
Justice Aloma Mukhtar concluded her tenure as Nigeria’s 14th chief justice of the Supreme Court on November 20th, 2014. She has now been replaced by Justice Mahmud Mohammed.
Mukhtar distinguished herself as the nation’s top judge and was revered by Nigerians for her discipline and the reforms she carried out during her tenure.
During the valedictory court session held in her honour, Mukhtar spoke about her rise to the top and revealed several interesting facts about herself.
Here are 10 things you may not have known about the former chief justice.
1. Although the 70-year old Mukhtar is an Hausa from Adamawa state and her mother was Fulani/Kanuri from Bauchi state, she was born in Lagos and speaks Yoruba more fluently than any of her native languages.
2. Her mother, Hadiza Mukhtar, and her father, Muktari Mukhtar, died exactly one year apart – her mum on August 29, 1991, and her dad on August 30, 1991. Speaking about their deaths, she said: “It was a devastating period for me, for they were both very loving parents, who spared nothing to ensure I achieved the goal I set for myself.”
3. At the time she attended the Rossholme School for Girls in Somerset County in England in 1960, she was the first black person to reside in East Brent. Here’s how she described her experience: “It was the most harrowing experience initially, because I was always inundated with most ridiculous questions, like whether people lived on trees in Africa, and if it was true that Africans had tails like monkeys. Some months after my admission into the school another Nigerian joined me, and I became relieved as their inquisitions were transferred to her, and with the two of us in that community they became more accommodating.”
4. At various times, she had ambitions to become a nurse, a librarian and a radiographer. After her A-levels in England, three male friends of hers ‘teased’ and cajoled her into studying law. “I say teased because I never thought I would be able to sit for lengthy hours reading books, the way I see them do,” she said.
According to her: “I heeded their advice and headed to the High Commission to meet with Malam Suka (Northern Students Affairs officer) again. As soon as I entered his office, he looked at me with frustration in his eyes and asked if I had made up my mind about going back to Reading. He had a dream for me to further my education up to a Masters Degree level in the University. At that time my view was that a minimum qualification would suffice for any woman, and I conveyed this to him. He gave me a stern look and said “yarinya nan kina da taurin kai” meaning I was a stubborn girl. I am afraid this description followed me!! Anyway, he agreed to process an admission for me into one of the Inns of Court to see if I could become a lawyer as I had earlier told him I wanted to try. He succeeded in enrolling me into the Middle Temple and also into the Gibson and Weldon School of Law on Chancery Lane London.”
5. Justice Mukhtar returned to Nigeria in September 1966, was called to the English Bar in absentia in November 1966. She was called to the Nigerian Bar in June 1967.
“There were only eight females in that set, and only three of us became Judges. Some became successful Private Practitioners, and one became a business woman,” she said.
6. After law school, a letter of appointment was already waiting for her as a pupil counsel in the Kaduna ministry of Justice. But how did she switch to the Bench? She said it was never her plan.
“In 1971 the state was short of Magistrates and there was a backlog of cases especially in Maiduguri. The late Alhaji Buba Ardo (bless his soul), after pondering the situation invited me to his chambers to discuss the problem with me. He wanted me to become a Magistrate. I was disturbed and it was palpable, for he immediately added that it would be temporary until they are able to recruit lawyers from outside the state. I did not like the proposition as I was happy with what I was doing then and did not want to leave my colleagues. He gave me an undertaking that it would be for only six months after which I would return to the Ministry. I became the first woman to be appointed a Magistrate in the Northern States of Nigeria. Of course, I never returned to the Ministry.”
7. In January 1977, she was made a judge of the Kano High Court. That made her the third female judge in the history of Nigeria, the first female judge from the North and being 32 years of age, she was the youngest judge in the country.
PS: The first female Judge in Nigeria was the late Mrs. Modupe Omo-Ebo, who was appointed in November 1969. The second was Elsie Oguntoye, a Briton married to a Nigerian, who was appointed in 1976. Today, according to Justice Mukhtar there are 277 women Judges in Nigeria as against the 749 male Judges
8. Justice Mukhtar rose in the Kano state judiciary to become the second ranked judge. But she stalled there. Whenever time came for the appointment of a new chief judge (in 1982 and 1985), she was bypassed for junior male colleagues. However, she said: “I took it in my stride and continued to work as though I was meant to be number (2) forever!! To me, Allah wished it that way, and if he had said ‘no’ nobody could have commanded it to be ‘yes’.”
9. In September 1987, she became a justice of the Court of Appeal, the first and only woman among 28 men. It took another six years before another female judge, Late Justice Atinuke Ige, was appointed to the Court of Appeal. Today, however, there are 20 women in the Court of Appeal. In 1992, Mukhtar was moved to the Ibadan Division of the Court, and at some point became the presiding justice there. In 20oo, she was made presiding justice of the Jos Division of the Court of Appeal until she was promoted to the Supreme Court in June 2005.
10. On July 16, 2012, Justice Aloma Mukhtar made history by becoming the first female Chief Justice of Nigeria. “That was the ultimate for me and I was extremely happy to be the first woman to be so sworn-in. On that day I was also conferred with the National Award of GCON (the second highest honour in the land) by His Excellency, a feat which no woman had ever achieved in this great country of ours. Early this year, I was pleasantly surprised when I was honoured during the Centenary Celebration of Nigeria with the Outstanding Contemporary Public Servant award,” she said.