Tribute To A Quintessential Jurist :Ajanah

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The late Hon. Justice Nasir A. Ajanah, CON. until his demise last Sunday, was the Chief Judge and head of the judiciary of Kogi State. It is with inevitable sadness that I say goodnight to an exceptional and quintessential jurist, bosom friend and classmate.

I know I speak the minds of many people who knew him, when I say, we will miss his intellect, leadership, sagacity and collegiality. Justice Ajanah attended Ahmadu Bello University, Kongo Campus, Zaria, with me, where he graduated with Bachelor of Laws degree (LL.B. Hons) in 1978. He proceeded to the Nigerian Law School and was called to the Nigerian Bar in July 1979. He had a stint at the Kwara State Ministry of Justice as a state counsel. He left the ministry early to set up his own chambers: Nasiru Ajanah & Co. He achieved a significant feat when he was appointed a judge of the High Court of Kwara State, few months after he clocked 10 years at the Bar.

Upon the creation of Kogi State in 1991, he was deployed to Kogi State, where he took another judicial oath as a judge of the High Court of Kogi State. He became the Chief Judge of Kogi State in 2009. Nasiru, as I fondly called him, according to the report of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), died as a result of complications arising from Covid-19.

This was in the face of demonstration of juvenile ego, arrogance and foolhardiness of Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State over Covid-19 pandemic, who, by his high level of ignorance and varying degrees of incompetence, has held to the view that Kogi State is Covid-19 free. Coronavirus is ravaging the whole world, killing people in their hundreds and thousands, but it is convenient for Yahaya Bello to play games with the disease, thereby exposing the health of his people to an unmitigated danger. Sensible leaders around the world have been relentless in addressing the scourge of the coronavirus, but the governor of Kogi State has been grandstanding and living in denial.

If the governor had had a proactive attitude towards the disease and co-operated with the NCDC to acquire testing machines, such facilities would have been available to Justice Ajanah to determine his status early.

A timely attention and treatment might have saved his life. Yahaya Bello is a disaster and tragedy to Kogi State. On Wednesday, violent attacks were unleashed on doctors, nurses and other health workers at the Federal Medical Centre, Lokoja, by armed thugs, for daring to admit that Covid-19 exists in Kogi State. The hoodlums vandalized the offices in the hospital and carted away vital equipment like infra-red thermometers, laptops etc. The hospital has now been shut down indefinitely.

In the light of the absolute silence of the federal government against the excesses of the governor of Kogi State, the question in the lips of well-meaning Kogites is, what will deliver the helpless and hapless people of the state from the yoke of the oppression of Emperor Bello? Nasiru’s extraordinary contribution to the legal system in Nigeria is outstanding. I do not intend to say anything about his professional achievements as a legal practitioner prior to his appointment as a judge of the High Court, first, in Kwara State, and later in Kogi State, where he became the Chief Judge of the state. His lordship’s tenure as Chief Judge provides more than enough evidence of the outstanding contribution made to judicial life and to the community generally.

Since his appointment as Chief Judge of Kogi State in 2009, he provided exceptional administrative and intellectual leadership to the entire judiciary of Kogi State. He ensured that the courts operated efficiently and expeditiously, notwithstanding the ever-increasing weight and complexity of matters before them, while maintaining the highest quality of judgments. He brought absolute commitment to his leadership role and set high standards for himself and the courts in upholding efficiency, accessibility and transparency in the administration of justice. He was highly principled and had zero tolerance to corruption.

He was always vigilant in ensuring that anything that had the potential to disrupt the working of the court system was dealt with firmly and quickly. He was able to maintain these high standards of efficiency and intellectual rigour while always exhibiting concern for the welfare of workers.

He managed the High Court of Kogi State with great personalism and empathy. He was invariably attuned to everything that was going on, including personal problems his colleagues might be facing. With quiet and unswerving attention, he was always able to get to the heart of any issue at hand and intervene supportively. As a leader, he always had a very clear idea of what he wanted from his subordinates.

He was always readily available to guide them, which invariably made their work easier. It is an understatement to describe Justice Ajanah as brilliant. He was one of the finest jurists in this country. His quickness of intellect, depth of knowledge and rigorous judicial approach combine to produce judgments that are of the highest calibre. Invariably, he incisively drew together the fundamental legal principles in a given area, articulating not only the relevant rules but their historical development, theoretical underpinnings, nuances and logical cogency. His judgments demonstrated his genuine love and mastery of the law as an intellectual discipline and a scholarly approach, no doubt, partly informed by his early experience as a legal practitioner. His judgments were also a testament to his belief that the legal system can be used as an instrument of social change. At this point, something must be said as to his manner in court, and this is because it is a model of judicial behaviour. He was always patient to listen to the evidence of witnesses. He was firm but polite, penetrating but courteous, and unfailingly respectful of counsel and the parties before him. These attributes are also reflected in his out-of-court interaction with people. In return, he was held in high regard by his friends. Justice Ajanah was a Bar man to the core. He ensured he attended all annual conferences of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) as much as practicable.

His cooperation and cordiality with the four branches of the NBA in Kogi State in Lokoja, Okene, Kabba and Ankpa attest to his commitment to the Bar. In his lifetime, he was a Life Bencher, the highest body of distinction in the legal profession in Nigeria. At different times, he was a member of the Governing Board of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee, Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee, National Judicial Council and chairman, Judicial Service of Kogi State, amongst others.

He held the prestigious National Honour of the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON). He was also an active and proud member of Keffi Old Boys Association (KOBA). Justice Ajanah had two extra-judicial pursuits: basketball and fitness. He organized the Ajanah Annual Basketball Championship, which has endured over many years. The basketball championship held in Okene every December. He was the grand patron of the championship. 

It is hoped that the championship will not be allowed to die with him. There was another passion which combined the two pursuits, and that’s his love of travel. His Lordship enjoyed travelling. His lordship’s struggle to sustain and maintain independence of the judiciary and fiscal autonomy is legendary. He saw these as lifelines for the judiciary. The struggle brought him into a direct confrontation with the executive arm of Kogi State Government, which, by an unprecedented high-handedness, starved and crippled the judiciary of funds, by withholding fiscal allocations to her for a period of 12 months, in direct violation of extant constitutional and statutory provisions. Justice Ajanah did not blink an eye.

Courageously, he stood firm, in the face of excruciating circumstances, intimidation and blackmail. It is an enduring testament of his leadership qualities that all the staff of the judiciary solidly stood with him throughout the period of the struggle. I mourn the passage of a legal icon, a jurist par excellence, an epitome of humility and simplicity, a principled and courageous jurist who was incorruptible. He surely had his faults. That’s simply because he was human. He was not perfect. No man is. On the whole, he was a good man. Hon. Justice Nasiru Ajanah left enduring legacies and footprints on the sands of time. His memory will ever remain evergreen in our hearts. Kabiru Isah Legal Practitioner

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