Justice Ahmad Belgore: That Compassionate Lawyer in Kano, By Yushau A. Shuaib

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Belgore: He heartily observed the fast from the first to the last day of Ramadan. Throughout the 30 days, from 10 March to 9 April 2024, as was his tradition, Justice Ahmad Olanrewaju Belgore provided plenty of food and gift items to the poor and the needy and various families and groups.

On the last day of Ramadan, just a week before his 71st birthday, after breaking his fast, observing his night prayers and performing Zakat Fitr, the retired Justice of the Court of Appeal answered the call of Almighty God. He could not witness the Eid-Fitr, which was only hours away the following day.

His death shocked everyone. In various tributes, Justice Belgore has been described as a jurist par excellence, with sterling qualities and without blemish. He was ranked him alongside Niki Tobi and Karibi Whyte for his deep knowledge of jurisprudence. Others described him as a bold and erudite judge with a keen sense of justice.

In his condolence message, the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, who is also a retired Justice of the Court of Appeal, said Belgore was one of the finest Justices who contributed in no small measure to the growth and development of the justice system, the judiciary and humanity in general.

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Before his death, political and community leaders acknowledged and appreciated his sterling qualities, as evident during his 70th birthday last year, when Kwara State Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq said the bench and other stakeholders in the justice sector would miss him for making the nation proud with his brilliance, industry, and sound character.

Also, in a tribute, renowned biographer and author of “Ilorin Emirate’s Frontliners,” Abubakar Sidiq Imam, wrote, “Apart from giving a good account of himself on the bench, Justice Belgore was also very helpful to many younger ones… offering quality assistances to many in the realm of job facilitation, career progression, counselling, and financial support.”

I had a memorable encounter with this legal luminary when he came to Kano as a humble, well-dressed, and jovial lawyer who always gave us small boys sweets and biscuits. So, when I read the tributes pouring in after his death, focusing only on his time on the bench, without any background to his practice at the bar, I wondered what the reason could be.

The now-late Justice Belgore came to Kano in the early 1980s after his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme in the Niger State Ministry of Justice, where he also headed the Legal Aid Council and chaired the state’s Rents Tribunal.

He was then a lawyer at the prestigious Majiyagbe Law Chamber, founded by Jonathan Babatunde Majiyagbe, the first practising lawyer in northern Nigeria to be elevated to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 1980 and former President of Rotary International.

Belgore and others used to attend a forum in Kano called “The Markazi,” which my father, Imam Abdulhameed Shuaib Agaka, hosted. There, they chatted and debated topical issues in Arabic.

Some notable members of the advocacy forum included the present Imam Imale, Sheikh Abdullahi Abdulhameed; Imam Murtala Alaya; Dr. AbdulSalam Alabidun of Bayero University Kano (BUK); and Prof Abdulbaqi Shuaib of the University of Sokoto, among others.

Later, young scholars like Sheikh Habibullahi Adam Alilory of Markaz Agege, Professor Abubakar Aliagan of the University of Ilorin, Sheikh Adam Yahaya of Darul Hikma and Dr Aminullahi Gambari of BUK joined a similar interactive advocacy forum.

Resolutions from those interactions influenced Lawyer Belgore, Professor Oba Abdulraheem, Alhaji S. O. Aliyu and other influential figures in Kano in providing educational guidance and facilitating scholarships and job placements for people from the Ilorin Emirate.

Beyond being a modest, humble, and eloquent legal practitioner. Belgore motivated some of us to become lawyers due to his compassionate approach to the legal practice and his reluctance to pursue cases that could lead to hatred and enmity among litigants.

We were told he didn’t like to take briefs about divorce and issues that could cause him to worry or entertain concerns about fairness and equity. Justice Belgore once told us about a bitter experience when two lawyers representing a husband and a wife in a divorce case fought profusely in court. After the judge granted the dissolution of the marriage, with one of the couples not satisfied with the judgment and crying profusely, the two lawyers merely drove away in the same car, beaming with smiles, as if it was just another case to them, even though life had been fundamentally impacted negatively.

In June 1987, he set up his own chambers known as Messrs Ahmad O. Belgore & Co in Kano, where he provided free legal services to those with genuine cases but no finances to prosecute them. He was a compassionate lawyer who genuinely cared about his clients and ordinary people who came for his advice. He sensitively approached legal matters by empathising with his clients on their challenges. He adhered to high ethical standards by prioritising honesty, integrity, and transparency in his interactions.

Beyond that, as our role model, he advised us on career choices and provided for our emotional, mental, and financial needs. Many students benefited from his support, more than scholarships offered in some official quarters.

It was in August 1990 that he became a judge of the Kwara State High Court of Justice. Coming from the Belgore family, most of whose members are either lawyers or jurists, his appointment to the bench was not a surprise to us. Other Belgores in the profession included a former Chief Justice of the Federation, a former Chief Justice of the Federal High Court, and Justices of the High Court at the state level.

As a justice of the Appeal Court, Belgore treated everyone with respect, remained unbiased, and was free from external influences. In cases in which negative insinuations were made through social media posts or where litigants attempted to question the integrity of his court or the panel of judges, he presided over, Justice Ahmed Belgore often recused himself and members of panels he led from such cases and advised the litigant to petition the Nigerian Judicial Council (NJC). In one such instance, Belgore and his panel were vindicated in the end, as the NJC dismissed the allegations for lack of merit or evidence of misconduct.

As a judge, he embodied qualities that went beyond legal expertise. Overall, he maintained patience, open-mindedness, and courtesy. Unsurprisingly, he often allowed a member of the usually three-member panel of the Court of Appeal to read the judgments of cases on his behalf.

Born on 18 April 1953, the late Justice Ahmad Belgore studied Law at Ahmadu Bello University and became a solicitor and advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 1979. Throughout his career, he held various roles, including Judge of the High Court of Kwara State, as mentioned, Justice of Appeal in the Republic of the Gambia, and Justice of the Court of Appeal of Nigeria.

Belgore served as Presiding Justice in different divisions of the Court of Appeal. He was a member of the Body of Benchers of Nigeria and later a Life Bencher. As mentioned, he retired on 18 April 2023 at 70 and died on 9 April 2024 at 71.

May Almighty Allah grant him Aljannatul Firdaus.

Yushau A. Shuaib is the Publisher of PRNigeria and Economic Confidential yashuaib@yahoo.com

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