Former Attorney General of Kano State, Aliyu Umar, SAN, on Friday, passed on to the land of great beyond. He was buried in accordance with Islamic rites. The late legal warlord is fondly remembered for his role in the prosecution of ex-Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen who awkwardly was his classmate.
All was set for the groundbreaking case heralded to shape Nigeria’s legal landscape on April 16, 2019. You could cut the suspense with a knife. While neutrals awaited the axe’s fall, the plaintiff sharpened his blade. The defendant, though, made last ditch efforts to save his neck from the executioner’s block.
Everything Onnoghen worked for was on the line. An illustrious career that spanned four decades, his integrity and job too, having risen to the pinnacle of the legal profession. An allegation over ownership of sundry accounts primarily funded through cash deposits in 2016 the clipper.
Then a mild drama broke out. The prosecution team clashed, the lead and a team member known as Zainab Duke. Duke wanted to make an observation but her boss said: “Sit down, I am leading.” It was as though the female lawyer was going against the script.
Code of Conduct Tribunal chairman, Danladi Umar, had to wade in. A police officer offered a microphone to Duke to speak but the senior lawyer snatched the microphone. He said: “She wants to address the tribunal but I have not given her permission to do that.”
Thereafter, the lead counsel applied that her name be removed from appearance. “I want to apply that her name be withdrawn from appearance,” he said. Ruling on the application, the CCT chairman said Duke should “take her leave or take her seat at the back bench.”
The day’s session was adjourned but there were lessons aplenty. Chiefly among them a desperate legal team aiming to make a mark. Onnoghen was found guilty ultimately and Umar was that lead counsel.
The late Umar cut a divisive figure afterwards. To many, he was an upright, honest and intelligent lawyer who pledged his life to the service of humanity and the development of the legal profession. Umar’s contributions on seeking justice to Pfizer victims endeared him to this group. “He had the opportunity to chase money but he, unlike the majority, chose humanity instead,” Sani Ammani, a legal practitioner said.
“If the law were a lady, she’d have been weeping by now and refused to be comforted as her true love is gone. Lawyers remember him as a mentor and ordinary people pray for him as a hero.”
President Muhammadu Buhari extolled Umar for his sacrifices, dedication and commitment to the pursuit of justice in the country. He said the deceased gave his life and intellect to the service of Nigeria and humanity.
According to the president, Umar’s investment of time and resources in handling some of the most sensitive criminal cases in the country would always be remembered, and his willingness to prosecute for the benefit of the state and downtrodden had left an indelible mark on Nigeria’s justice system.
However, others, especially those in his line of business, don’t share in this sentiment. They believe he murdered the rule of law in Nigeria.
“Late Aliyu Umar was among the people that used motion ex-parte that was never moved by any lawyer to suspend the then CJN. He was used by the Executive arm of the government to embarrass the entire judiciary and at the end divided the Nigerian Bar Association,” Abuja-based human rights lawyer, Dim-Udebuani Marcel said.
“ At the Abuja NEC meeting where it was agreed that lawyers should boycott Court sitting, he was among those that treated the decision with total disdain and contempt, after a total show of shame and bias contributions, from some Members but thank God for High Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN for his erudite submission that day which I personally went to thank him for saying it the way it is.”
Late Alhaji Aliyu Umar SAN was born on the 19th June in 1952. He was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1978 and was elevated to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2012.
Umar served in various capacities with the Kano State Ministry of Justice, twice as a Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General between 2003 and 2011. He retired as a Director of Public Prosecution. He ventured into private legal practice as a Principal Partner with A.A. Umar (SAN) and Co.
Umar will be remembered by neutrals as a fiery criminal law expert. His last major outing, though, that culminated in the exit of Onnoghen, who many clam he shared the same class with at a point, will hardly be forgotten.