Bar and Bench Watch ICON: JUSTICE MAHMUD MOHAMMED, GCON
For serving on the bench for 32 straight years without scandal; for his humility, transparency, hard-work, courage and candour on issues; for his powerful reasoning in countless cases and invaluable contributions to the development of jurisprudence in Nigeria; for deploying the instrumentality of the law to save the nation’s democracy before, during and after the 2015 general election and for his commitment to protection of the independence of the judiciary at all times, the outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed, OFR, CON, CFR, GCON, is the Bar and Bench Watch Icon for the Week
On Thursday, November 10, this year, the 15th Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed, OFR, CON, CFR,GCON, will honorably bow out of the bench for attaining the mandatory retirement age of 70 years with unblemished record.
He is expected to handover the baton of leadership to the most senior judicial officer on the Supreme Court bench, Justice Walter Onnoghen after spending a cumulative 32 years on the bench
Although he became the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) at a time the political temperature of the country was at a boiling point owing to the (then) impending 2015 general election which eventually upstaged the incumbent President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Jonathan Goodluck and a couple of anointed candidates of some powerful (then) outgoing state chief executives, Justice Mahmud succeeded in piloting the judiciary to stabilise the ship of the nation’s democracy which was evidently heading towards the precipice at the time.
While he led the highest court of the land in the last two years, he was personally in the field like a true General, not only directing proceedings in some touchy issues submitted to the apex court for determination, but also writing lead judgments in some of the cases without allowing any leaks in his duty as the chief administrator of the Supreme Court.
He was so committed to stabilising the polity that even when politicians purportedly attempted to influence his court to give judgments in their favour against the weight of evidence and applicable laws of the land, he handled the situation maturely without rocking the boat
Even when an unprecedented crisis of confidence created by the executive under the guise of fighting corruption, hit the judiciary with operatives of the Department of State Service raiding, at midnight, houses of serving judicial officers working under him without informing him, he remained composed, firm and refused to compromise the independence of the judiciary for any reason.
Specifically, he refused to kowtow to suggestions by the executive and in fact some egg heads in the legal profession to kick out the affected judicial officers without any petition against them or probe undertaken by the National Judicial Council to determine their guilt as stipulated in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
He was able to meander his way through a new judicial policy launched by him to empower the NJC to stop the arrested judicial officers from sitting in the open court without suspending them as desired by the executive to enable the affected judges defend the allegations against them.
For the record, all the judges are still resuming in their offices but are barred from sitting on any case until they are given clean bill of health in order to protect the sanctity of the judiciary.
An uncommon intellectual jurist, seasoned administrator, unrepentant believer in the rule of law with a reputation for humility, hardwork, painstakingness, honesty, love of God and forthrightness, meet Justice Mahmud Mohammed, the outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria who is retiring with unblemished record.
Born to the family of Mallam Mamman Maikato on November 10, 1946 in Jalingo, the capital of Taraba State, in the present North-east region of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud received his elementary education at Mallam Kasimu Koranic School, Jalingo from 1950 to 1956. Specifically, he did his junior primary school education in Jalingo between 1953 and 1956 and his senior primary school in the same Jalingo from 1957 to 1959.
Soon after his primary school education, he proceeded to Secondary Technical School/ Government College, in Kaduna from 1960 to 1964 where he obtained his West African School Certificate. Because he had good grades in his ordinary level school certificate examinations, he registered for his Higher School Certificate popularly called HSC in those days at Government College/Rumfa College, Kano between 1965 and 1966. He passed out in flying colours.
He did not waste any time after his HSC programme as he applied and gained admission into the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria in 1967. By 1970, he was done with his degree programme as he was awarded a Bachelor of Law (LLB) degree in 1970 and was called to the Nigerian bar on July 18, 1971 immediately after he graduated from the Nigerian Law School, Lagos.
After bagging his first degree, Justice Mahmud did not stop updating his knowledge. Five years after he was done with his training at the Law School, he also proceeded to Commonwealth Institute of Legislative Drafting in July 1976, the National Institute of Public Management, Washington DC, USA in 1982 as well as the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London in 1983.
Mahmud started his legal career in public service as a state counsel in the ministries of Justice of the then North-eastern State and Gongola State. While he was a state counsel, he came across a number of judicial officers including the second longest serving Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais who made impact on his career. He rose to become the Attorney-General of Gongola State from October 1, 1981 to December 1, 1983.
Justice Mahmud’s judicial career started on October 25, 1984 when he was appointed as a Chief Magistrate (Grade One) in the defunct North Eastern State and Gongola State. He served in the magistracy for just five months and four days when he was elevated to the high court bench of Gongola State by then Military Head of State, Maj.-Gen Muhammadu Buhari. He rose in the state judiciary to become the Acting Chief Judge of Gongola State on July 19, 1988. He acted as the Gongola State Chief Judge for exactly one year, one day. On September 30, 1991, he became acting Chief Judge of Taraba State. His appointment was confirmed two and a half months after as he was made the substantive Chief Judge on December 18, 1991.
He served on the Taraba high court bench for just one year, one month and twelve days when he got elevated to the Court of Appeal on November 12, 1992. He became the presiding justice of the Court of Appeal from December 30, 2002 till June 7, 2005 when he was appointed as a justice of the Supreme Court. On November 20, Justice Mahmud made history as he was elevated as the 16th Chief Justice of Nigeria. The feat was capped with a conferment of the rank of Grand Commander Order of the Niger (GCON).
Apart from the litigative functions of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud also performed some administrative functions in the last two years as the administrative head of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Some of the major administrative functions of the court which he performed included supervisory and advisory roles over some parastatals as well as those relating to the internal administration of the Supreme Court. For instance, he presided over the apex regulatory judicial institution called National Judicial Council for the period. He also supervised the activities of the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) as its chairman, that of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) as Chairman of its Governing Council. He also superintended the activities of the National Judicial Institute (NJI) and the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) as their chairmen.
As a public servant, Mahmud had served as member of several committees and panels.
Mahmud Mohammed had attended several workshops and seminars; he had also presented papers at different judicial workshops.
He is a member of numerous legal associations some of which include: The Nigerian Bar Association, International Bar Association, the Nigerian Body of Benchers, the National Judicial Council, the Bar Council and the Council of Legal Education, among others.
He is married with children, and his hobbies include football, reading, swimming, farming, animal rearing and photography.