AbdulHakeem Uthman Mustapha SAN is the principal partner of A.U. Mustapha and Co. He is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria with decades of experience in the Nigerian legal system. A member of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA), International Bar Association (IBA) and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (FCIT). AbdulHakeem is the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Board of Appeal Committee, member of the Legal Committee of the National Council on Privatization, and member, the Governing Council National Open University of Nigeria NOUN and the Chairman of Future of Legal Education in Nigeria.
AbdulHakeem, in this interview with the PEACE magazine, explains issues concerning the Nigerian judiciary and his expectations from Muslims as regards Dawah’s works.
Excerpt: Regularly, we hear the expression: “the police are your friends” can we conclude that the Nigerian Judicial system is a friend to the commoner?
The Judiciary of a country is an important part of the government. If juxtaposed against the welfare and circumstances of human and capital resources available to this arm of government, certainly, the Nigeria Judiciary is truly a friend to the commoner. Having said this, the Nigerian state has not been fair to the judiciary. Over the years, the arm has not enjoyed the same financial allocation that the two other arms of government enjoy. The Legislative and the Executive arms have been enjoying a steady increase in monetary allocations and infrastructure upgrades but that of the Judiciary has been stagnant and perpetually low. A situation where an adjudicator sits from 9 am to 5 pm five times a week and takes proceedings in long hand-writing, under a suffocating environment further explains the working environment and sacrifices of the arm to the country. If we compare this to someone in the Legislative or Executive arms that sits for a few days or hours in a week and takes an obscene amount as honorarium, confirms the unfairness of the Nigeria State to the Judiciary. Also, take a tour of the courts and you will see its state of deterioration. Some are bedraggled and judicial officers come to courts on bikes; they do not have the necessary tools for their jobs. Yet, the Judiciary continues to play a critical role as expected. A fashion designer who is in politics can be the leader of Nigeria, so a carpenter can be a governor of a state but only a learned attorney can head the Judiciary. We certainly need to do more for the Judiciary to perform better.
As a learned Silk, are you happy with the relationship between the Bar and the Bench?
The job of a Judge or legal official in Nigeria is a thankless occupation. When the judgment is pronounced in one’s favour, such will say the adjudicator has done well. But if it went the other way, such a person will call the Bench unprintable names. Unlike the average person in a society that can stand up to defend self judges do not have that privilege. In essence, we need an exceptionally dynamic NBA and the body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), to work in tandem to ensure that harmony co-exists among the two.
Sir, is the NBA of today comparable to that of yesteryears?
In the past time, we used to have an extremely energetic NBA. It is assumed to be a watchdog that guarantees the country is ruled in a just manner and secured. One may say, that was because we were battling to guarantee the enthronement of democracy, and have the rule of Law entrenched in governance against the then military government which was in vogue then. However, the seeming lull in the dynamism of the NBA can be corrected by ensuring henceforth, while choosing the officials for the association, we need to scrutinize their credentials, characters and commitments to the ideas of the umbrella organization of lawyers to ask them what they are bringing to the table. Law practitioners and other partners must up their games and avoid setting a bad precedence for the future generation of lawyers. NBA now requires someone that can move it off the cliff and go all out to reinvigorate it more than before. A lot of lawyers rely on the association for help.
Is the Proliferation of Nigeria’s Law Schools helpful to the growth of the law Profession?
I believe it is helpful. Today, Nigeria is graduating large numbers of lawyers than when we were in the Universities and we attended the only law school in Nigeria – proliferation is a necessity. We need much more of such schools to prepare law graduates for practice. Nigeria, in comparison to other countries in Africa, turns out more lawyers. Globally, the nature of our training and the type of individuals these schools have delivered is truly outstanding.
How do you think Nigeria’s Judiciary can be repositioned for the challenges ahead?
The most essential thing to do is to embrace the use of technology in our judicial system. The world of today and tomorrow will be directed and shaped by Information Communication Technology ICT. The judiciary must brace up to that reality. What currently operates cannot deliver the expected cut-edge judiciary of the future. A situation where judges and law officials, use long handwriting to prepare judgments and addresses, should be jettisoned for a fast and reliable format. The government of Nigeria needs to put a great deal of cash and assets into the judicial system, if we want the judiciary to be the judiciary of our dreams. The second is that the process of appointments to the bench ought to be reviewed. We need to make sure those who are going to be on the bench, have the capacity and proper frame of mind to sit on the bench. Lack of capacity will not allow a judge to understand the intricacies and challenges of sitting on the bench. Therefore, we need to ensure, in the best interest of everybody, to make sure that the selection process is transparent and the system is allowed to bring out the very best to be on the bench.
How did A.U. Mustapha and Co. start?
I was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1989 and very much like every young Nigerian then, the frenzy was to serve in the Nigerian bar. I served in the Nigeria Bar before I completed my NYSC and was offered transitory employment. I worked with a bank for five years by working in all the departments of that bank. After a while, I realized I needed to leave there. The curiosity to leave was further fueled by a colleague whose husband was an attorney. I was told I had no business in the bank and that my calling is lawful practice. After a great deal of reflection, I pulled out in 1994 and set up A.U. Mustapha and Co. I could recall when I resigned, the bank Managing Director directed that my resignation should not be accepted, but when I met him in flesh and told him, “Sir my dream is bigger than this” the man shook my hands and said I needed to go, so I left. At first, it was tough leaving the banking terrain where one’s salary is secured to where one must work before having a meal to eat. The practice was challenging initially. Assuming I had a matter in court, I would go three to five times to that court before the day of my matter. I would watch the Judge and individuals who were making submissions, and how the cases were adjudicated. Also, the portion of law books I read with regards to most of my cases helped me to find my way in the labyrinth of law practice. With that, I began picking a few things about interactions with clients, secrets of court proceedings and professional ways of relating with the court. Alhamdulillah, to the greatness of Almighty Allah, I became a SAN in 2016. The rest is history and I thank Allah for His kindness because there are not many individuals that passed through the banking hall to courtrooms and have the honour to be admitted to the Silk cadre of the profession Who are your legends and Mentors in and outside the legal Practice?These are the set of individuals who influenced my law practice. For example, the Late Justice Mustapha Akanbi who was my uncle and guide was instrumental to my study of Law. I admired him for his trustworthiness and emulate him in my practice. I learnt tremendously from him. There are two others I can mention: Mr Kanu Godwin Agabi SAN, a onetime Nigeria Attorney-General; Minister for Justice and Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN CFR. I learnt the professional tenets of the practice from them. The two have also coached me in readiness for excellence in the law practice. Which case was a difficult one to figure out for your firm?One of the selling points here in our firm is that we maintain uprightness and we take each case with earnestness and winning consideration. Therefore, it will be hard for me to single out a particular case as being difficult. As a matter of first importance, the hallmark of a good Attorney is to offer appropriate guidance to clients. If a client does not have a decent case, we educate such person and propose a better dispute resolution mechanism, that may include an out-of-court settlement and the client does accept. Although not all cases we won, lessons are learnt in most cases. We do not go to courts for mere arguments or contention.
Can we have an understanding of the beauty of Sharia law over Civil law on Inheritance?
Allah, the perfect Law-giver has made it simple for us as Muslims, through the Qur’an to know the rules on inheritance. For example, in the Qur’an, there are certain individuals called “Qur’anic inheritors”, dissimilar to ordinary law that one can say because your child annoyed you or your better half does not honour you and for that, you delete their names as part of your inheritors as obtainable in the Western law on inheritance; in Islam, that is not done- everyone that has right to one’s properties must do so. By way of comparison, Western Laws on this are bankrupt. Sadly, Muslim that need to abide by the Sharia Laws on this subject, have abandoned such, and many opted for the western idea of inheritance. The same way we borrowed Western technology is the same way we also borrow their bankrupt values on inheritance.
Have you at any point prescribed the Islamic Inheritance model to your clients?
Yes. I once had a Muslim client that wanted my firm to supervise his Will and when he brought out the contents, it was full of hatred for his kids, wife and relations. I sought a session with him and told him the implications of what he wanted to do and what the Quran says about such. Alhamdullah, he had a change of mind – we have done that severally. Let me say that arising from that experience, I realized that the Muslim community has to do more to educate members of the Ummah. Ironically, most of our clerics do not lecture from the contents of the Qur’an and Hadith, often times, they assumed many key aspects of Islam. Inheritance is one of such. As Muslims, we often discuss what Islam is not intentionally neglecting what Islam is. There are a few essential fundamentals about Islam that, many Muslims including the Islamic clerics know, but much more they do not know. This is where an organization like the PEACE Magazine should be encouraged to do more to enlighten Muslims about their duties and responsibilities to each other as laid out in the Qur’an and Hadith the two books left for Muslims by the prophet for guidance. This is our jihad; the jihad of sword is gone. What we have now is the jihad of pen and scholarships.
What is the meaning of Da’wah in your understanding?
In my opinion, Da’wah is for us to be good ambassadors of Islam. To preach Islam with our body language and in the manner we conduct ourselves and get things done. Personally, the first thing I do wherever I found myself under the sun is to identify the nearest mosque to always have my congregational prayers and supplicate till I depart for my country. Similarly, we need to project Islam reasonably, and discuss what Islam is and what Islam is not. I remember how I opted to go for a Juma’ah service on one occasion in a foreign land against the wish of a Jewish Professor which turned out to be a lesson in Da’wah and a subtle way to tell him more about Islam. I let him know what the Qur’an says as regards Juma’ah salat and the commandment about it. In the end, he appreciated my stance. That to me is Da’wah and not the divisible preaching that some people are known for.
As a member of the Governing Council of the National Open University of Nigeria NOUN, do you believe Noun is meeting the aspirations of its founders?
Yes. The National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) is the only University; I would like to think is ready for the future. Soon, particularly, with the recent world pandemic, the methodology of teaching and learning will change irreversibly. And that change will change instructional frameworks to web-based learning, technology-driven and advanced study hall. If going by what I have seen in the school, the activities of the Governing Council’s Chairman and members, the Vice Chancellor and the staff of the school, I am optimistic, that NOUN is already preparing for the future, where University education becomes a mobile class available on the touch of a button. I mean where one can learn without physically present in a classroom. NOUN is taking the advanced University framework to a higher level.
How do you want history to record you as a Muslim, a legal advisor and a person?
Most importantly, I consider myself lucky to be a Muslim; every other thing is peripheral. I attempt to learn more regularly and read materials that will make me a superior Muslim. What is more, my first prompt petition to Allah is to make me that Muslim that He would be satisfied with. What are your jobs as the President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Board of Appeal?The appeal committee is the final decision-making organ of CAF on dispute resolution in Africa. When there are infractions or complaints about football-related activities, the concerned parties may want to result to report the matter to the disciplinary Board of Trustees and when such parties in disputes are not satisfied or if the disciplinary council takes a decision and the concerned parties are not fulfilled, the Board of Appeal becomes the last arbiter on such complaint and the decision there is final.
Are you happy with the current status of things in Nigeria football?
Nigeria football has accomplished greatly; yet, we need to do substantially more. On profound reflection, I discover that perhaps the most concerning issue Nigeria’s football faces is the broadcast of European Football in our different homes. That is not helpful for the growth of Nigerian football. Another issue of concern is the level of officiating and Security in our football. If these can be addressed, we shall have more interesting situations.
Why do you think it is difficult for a member of the Anglophone nations to head the CAF?
Well, there was a time Dr Amos Adamu was exceptionally near it but the Nigerian press nailed him with their negative reports on him. The Nigeria syndrome, “what I cannot get I can obliterate” is a factor as far as I am concerned. If in future, we cooperate, it is possible. In addition, Anglophone countries need to understudy the procedure and process that can lead to the office of the CAF president.
What is your advice for Young upcoming lawyers?
I have my fear for the forthcoming ages, not just lawyers; they are a lot in a rush to bring in cash and to live flamboyant lifestyles. My advice for them is that they should put hard work first and money would come later and not another way round. For Muslims, they should take to Allah and follow the teachings in the Quran and Hadith.
In your legal Practice, how much help do you get from the home front?
Alhamdulillah, starting from my parental background, I will count myself very lucky. Allah blessed me with good Muslim parents who are pious and prayer warriors. They inculcated into me, sound Islamic values. I am also grateful that my wife is another wonderful gift from Allah. She is very supportive of my career and extremely strong, she is my Pillar, and with her, Allah’s benevolence has being uncountable.
Thank you for sparing your time, sir.