Tribute to Hon Justice A. B. Wali JSC (rtd)

A. B. Wali, Died, Supreme Court, Tribute

By Ibrahim Ahmad Kala

Retired Supreme Court of Nigeria Justice, A. B. WALI JSC died in Kano yesterday after a protracted illness, and has been buried the Islamic way.

Hon. Justice Abubakar Bashir Wali, CON was born in Kano city on 21st July, 1932. He attended Emir’s Palace School, Kano from 1942 to 1945; Kano Middle school, Kano from 1945 to 1950; School for Arabic Studies, Kano from 1950 to 1955; Khartoum Technical Institute of Education, Sudan from 1955 to 1956; Institute of Administration, Zaria from 1959 to 1960; School for Oriental and African Studies, University London, England from 1961 to 1962.

His Lordship was admitted to the Lincoln’s Inn, London, and was called to the English Bar on 4th February, 1964. He later attended the Nigerian Law School, Lagos from October 1964 to Nov 1964, and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1965.

Hon. Justice Wali served as a Scribe with the then Kano Native Authority from 1954 to 1955. Thereafter, he was employed by the Northern Regional Literacy Agency, Zaria, as an Arabist and Calligraphist. He also served as an interpreter and translator with the High Court of then Northern Nigeria in Kaduna.

In 1965, after being called to the Bar, he started his judicial career as a Magistrate in the Civil Service of Northern Nigeria in 1965. He remained in that position until 1968 when he was promoted to the post of Senior Magistrate in 1968. He later became Chief Magistrate in 1969, and acted as Chief Registrar, Kano State High Court in 1970. He was later appointed as Kadi, Sharia Court of Appeal of Kano State.

In 1975, he became the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice of Kano State. In the same year, he was appointed a judge of the High Court of Kano State but was allowed to retain the post of the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice until 1977 when he returned to the High Court. In 1979, he became a Justice of the then Federal Court of Appeal.

In 1987, he was appointed to the Supreme Court Bench. In 1999, he was appointed as the Justice of the Supreme Court of Republic of Gambia, a post which he combined with that of the Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

Justice Wali was also appointed a member of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly, which between 1977 and 1978, drafted the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He has been a member of the Body of Benchers since 1987, and was made a life member. He was elected as Vice Chairman and later its chairman from 1998 to 1999, 1999 to 2000.

Hon Justice Wali was a quite essential jurist per excellent. His deep knowledge of the Islamic law and jurisprudence had been an asset to the Nigerian copus jurist. He also contributed immensely in other areas of law and politics cum fundamental rights.

Few instances of his cases is the classical 12 2/3 provision and the interpretation in 1979 Constitution in the case of Awolowo v. Shagari (1979)6-9 S.C. 51 where the main question before the court was what constituted two-third of nineteen bearing in mind that Nigeria, at the material time, was made up of 19 states – a mathematical division of 19 by 2/3 and whether we could have a fraction of a state or not.

The heated arguments which surrounded the presidential election of 1979 had to be resolved by the Court. Wali J. among the corum judice in the court of first instance gave the ordinary meaning of the provision and ruled that two-thirds (2/3) of nineteen (19) states was 12 2/3. The apex court later affirmed the said judgement.

Ditto in Fawehinmi v Akilu in 1987 on the locus standi of a party to sue as liberalized by the apex court. Again, in the protection of personal liberty of citizen, the famous case of Alhaji Shugaba Abdulrahman Darma of 1983 comes readily to mind. Reported as Shugaba v. Minister of Internal Affairs (1989)1 N.C.L.R. 2, Alhaji Shugaba was then the Majority Leader in the Borno State House of Assembly. He was suddenly deported on the order of the Federal Government on the ground that he was not a Nigerian. The Wali’s Supreme Court panel finally upheld his rights and ruled that he was a bonafide Nigerian.

In Alh Usman Hada v Alh Abdu Malumfashi (1993)7 NWLR Pt.303, p.1, His Lordship’s apex court panel laid down the “Doctrine of long possession of a landed property under Islamic Law (Hauzi) or prescription” with highly embedded rules and exceptions.

Similarly in the famous case of ALKAMAWA VS. BELLO (1998) 6 SC PAGE 92 AT 88102 PARA 2, where the Supreme Court speaking through Wali, JSC (as he then was) in expatiating part of the nature of Nigerian legal system held that: “Islamic Law is not same as customary law as it does not belong to any particular tribe. It is a complete system of universal law, more certain and permanent and more universal than the English common law”.

All the above cases and many more have become launch-pad in ascertaining a true legal position of a state of law in Nigerian legal system, and which therefore, the lower courts are willy-nilly, bound to follow on the footing of stare decisis. Thus, they are beneficial to the system and ensure greater degree of certainty in our laws.

Hon. Justice Wali who died on the 21st January, 2020 after a protracted illness, would surely be remembered for his contribution to the development of Nigerian laws. May Almight God forgive his shortcomings. Amen.

Ibrahim Kala Esq wrote this tribute from Yola.


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