The first time I saw Alhaji Aliyu Umar SAN was on a Friday, sometime in 2006, at a mosque, within the premises of the Nigerian Law School, Abuja Campus, where he came to offer one of the obligatory prayers. He was then the Attorney General of Kano State, a position that conferred on him a statutory membership of the Council of Legal Education. I think he was at the Law School for one of the Council’s meetings. I can still visualise his attire that day. A white brocade without the cap and the babbar riga which he had left in his car. He was a jovial and down to earth personality.
Later that same year, fate took me to his law firm -A. A. Umar & Co- for my 6-weeks’ mandatory chamber attachment which was part of my one-year vocational training at the Nigerian Law School. That was the beginning of my legal career with A. A. Umar & Co. It was during those 6 weeks under the supervision of then Mallam (now Dr.) Nasiru Adamu Aliyu that I learnt the necessity of punctuality to work. One day, Dr. Aliyu came to the office at 8:00am with the intention of going to court with us. None of us showed up until after he had left for the court. On his return, he reprimanded us and lectured us on the importance of punctuality in the legal profession. He also mandated us to always be at the office before 8:30am. The attachment was indeed a memorable one because of the generosity of Dr. Aliyu as we were among the few students on attachment who were paid by our law firm. That was the reason why immediately I got called to the Bar, I employed myself at A. A Umar & Co. Yes, A. A. Umar & Co did not employ me. I simply resumed in the office and I was assigned a desk to begin work. No interview was conducted; it was just the usual reception of A.A. Umar & Co.
I first experienced the generosity of late Alhaji Aliyu Umar SAN during my brief stay at his office before I left to join the banking sector. About a month or so before the end of Governor Shekarau’s first term in Office, the governor dissolved his Executive Council and the late SAN resumed work at his private law office the next day. I was one of the young lawyers co-opted into the election litigation team of Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau. In one of our meetings at Prince Hotel in Kano, Oga, as we fondly call him, on noticing I was having a problem with my phone, generously gave me N20,000 to purchase a new one.
Working under Oga Aliyu gave me the privilege of being part of several legal teams of some high profile cases, which greatly shaped my legal career and laid a mark in the legal Jurisprudence in Nigeria. He also taught me that, in practice, the higher calling of a lawyer is upholding justice and not necessarily wining his client’s case.
He was a compassionate man, a lawyer’s lawyer and a true bar man. On one occasion, we were conducting a case which involved the wrongful confiscation of our client’s asset by the Economic and Financial Crimes commission (EFCC). The lawyer to EFCC had not filed his brief and the appeal was billed for hearing at the Court of Appeal. The Respondents’ counsel approached him and informed him that he was not able to file his brief owing to certain personal challenges. When the case was called, and true to the characteristics of Oga, he conceded to an adjournment and the Justices of the Court of Appeal, clearly told the opposing counsel that, but for Oga’s magnanimity the case could have been heard on the Appellant’s brief alone.
He never took away a brief from a counsel. It was not in his character. One time, a young counsel was initially briefed to do a case. After the young man had filed the case, the client decided to approach Oga and informed him that he would prefer if he took over the case from the young lawyer. Oga took the processes, read them and told the client that the young lawyer has covered the field and that unless the young lawyer is retained, he would not take the brief.
Another instance happened recently, when a certain gubernatorial candidate wanted to debrief the counsel that conducted the case at the tribunal for Oga to take over. Oga told the client that he did not work that way. The other lawyer was full of praises to Oga. He gathered the junior lawyers and admonished them to emulate Oga’s noble conduct.
Oga was also a very courageous lawyer. He believed in the cab rank Rule, even if it puts him right in the eye of the storm. He did not mind whose ox was gored. He displayed that courage when he was briefed to prosecute the former Chief Justice of Nigeria on the allegation of breach of Code of Conduct. He took up the matter and prosecuted it, diligently. He never cared about the side talks that he was prosecuting the highest judicial officer who was also his classmate at the Nigerian Law School. In fact, when the case went to Appeal, the Justices of the court commended him for the professional manner with which he handled the case.
He was also very frank to his clients. He was briefed to prosecute the then President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, on the allegation of forgery of the Senate Standing Committee Rules. After reviewing the case file and proof of evidence, he came to the conclusion that the case as it was, without further investigation, was dead on arrival and he did not mince words in advising the government to withdraw the case in the absence of any other evidence. The government accepted his advice and proceeded to withdraw the case.
Oga Aliyu was generous to a fault. He literally lived his life and earned his living for others. Out of every N100 Oga made, N70 went to his relatives, friends and associates. Oga was one person that could have N5,000,000 today and end up not have N10,000 five days later. Indeed, oga was a true depiction of the dictum “givers never lack”. Oga was the only senior lawyer I knew every junior, was eager to work with on account of his generosity.
He cared less about accumulation of wealth. He was spartan even in his dressing. I once complained to our immediate boss -Dr. Nasiru Aliyu- about oga’s simplistic way of dressing which I thought was not commensurate to his status. His answer was; “kai ka isa ka canza Oga? Ka rabu da Oga shifa daban ne”. and true to his words, I tried hard, but only succeeded in a very little way. Whenever I objected his dressing to a particular meeting, he will just laugh and say, “kai Sunusi baka da dama”.
On two occasions, it was at my instance that Oga agreed to buy a relatively good vehicle for himself. He rather spent the money on others. It was only Oga that gave me money and also gave my wife. He will say “wannan ka kaiwa diyata”.
My association with Oga Aliyu provided me with many things I will cherish till the end of my life. His leadership style, boosted my confidence to believe in my ability to handle cases as a lawyer. Some of the invaluable people I have in my life are from his office. Dr. Nasiru Adamu Aliyu, -is a big brother one can always turn to. Dr. Musa Adamu Aliyu (the present Attorney General of Jigawa State) with whom I struck a great friendship that has metamorphosed to brotherhood.
He was humble to a fault. I learnt how to respect senior colleagues in practice from Oga. I recall a day I drove him to see Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu in his office. After their meeting, they came out together and I was surprised to notice Oga personally carrying his host’s bag.
Oga Aliyu’s 42 years of legal practice was very eventful and full of indelible marks. He rose through the ranks in the Civil service to the enviable position of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) within a period of ten years. He voluntarily retired from the public Bar and began his private practice with B M Dalhatu and Co. He later formed his law firm -A. A. Umar & Co- where he was entrusted with the prosecution of many high profile cases starting from the failed Bank tribunal cases. He became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2012. As Attorney General of Kano State, he made his mark as the people’s lawyer. One of his high points, was getting justice for the victims of Pfizer trovan drug trial test. It was his stand for the right of masses that made Pfizer settle the case out of court by compensating the victims and building a fully equipped standard hospital for Kano State at Kwanar Dawakin Kudu, presently serving as a COVID-19 isolation centre.
When Oga’s illness started manifesting with the loss of his voice, I became utterly worried. Here was an energetic man with no sign of illness who lost his voice. My worries increased when after several diagnosis at one of the best Hospitals in Abuja, nothing tangible was found to be the cause of the loss of his voice. Eventually, Oga went to Beirut where he was diagnosed with cancer.
Oga was a dedicated family man and maintained close contacts with all his relatives. It is unfortunate that we lost him at a time when he is needed the most by us all. It is indeed a huge loss.
May Allah (SWT) have mercy on his soul and grant him Jannatul firdaus.
Sunusi Musa Esq., a protégé of late Aliyu Umar SAN