By Lillian Okenwa
Any Nigerian that was politically aware in the 1990s would be familiar with the name Gashua. For these crops of Nigerians, the images that readily come to mind are – Gani Fawehinmi, and a terrible prison.
During one of his many arrests in the early 1990s, by the military junta, he was sent off to a prison in Gashua; described as one of the most horrific. And so Gashua, aside from being the capital of Bade Local Government Area in Yobe State and administrative seat of the famous Bade Emirate, also hosted celebrity prisoners.
But who would have believed that beyond the dark images that Gashua conjures in many minds, this famous town has birthed and quietly nurtured one who would rise to become a symbol of justice in defiance to all that military juntas represent.
Born November 1956 in Gashua, Hon. Justice Uwani Musa Abba Aji broke the glass ceiling and became the seventh woman to sit at Nigeria’s Supreme Court and second from the North East after Hon. Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi who is from Borno State.
After her swearing-in, then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen made some remarks. “Today is a very great day in the history of the Nigerian judiciary as you have not only witnessed the swearing-in of yet another gentleman in skirt to the bench of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, but it is a victory for the judiciary in particular and the legal profession in general, and for all right-thinking members of the community known as Nigeria because it offers hope for the hopeless. It offers hope for continued investment in the project known as Nigeria. I must personally thank the Federal Republic of Nigeria for this opportunity.”
Now, the unwary might suppose that the CJN said those, because of the special number (seven) which she occupies among the ladies that have graced the apex court bench. Nonetheless, His Lordship meant other things. Hers was a journey fraught with thorns and thistles…
A gentle smile lit her face but her soft voice sounded croaked as she weaved in and out of the crowd; saying thank you, shaking hands and hugging a number of the many guests that packed the Supreme Court’s ceremonial court hall to witness her swearing-in.
It was finally a dream come true. The CJN further captured her odyssey with these words. “You have journeyed through thick and thin to get here…You have worked very hard to earn elevation to the Supreme Court… Your work ethic and integrity are what got you here…”
Called to the Bar in 1981, Justice Uwani Musa Abba Aji started from Central Primary School, Gashua and later Government Girls Secondary School, Maiduguri now Government Girls College. She then proceeded to the Institute of Administration, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria between 1974 and 1976 where she obtained a diploma in law. She later acquired an LLB (1980) from the same institution.
After serving at various cadres, from Clerical Assistant, Area Courts Division in 1973 to Acting Chief Registrar, High Court of Yobe State, November to December 1991, Abba Aji was appointed as a High Court Judge on the 18th of December 1991. Her Lordship was there until 22nd September 2004 when she was called up to serve at the Court of Appeal.
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She joined other justices of the Appeal Court same day with Justices Mary Peter Odili and Kudirat Keke –Ekun. Although women have not yet reached parity with men in terms of their numbers within the federal judiciary, significant progress has been made and the list keeps growing.
Justice Uwani Musa Abba Aji’s confirmation came after the senate considered the report of the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters on her nomination. Chairman of the committee, David Umaru, said the nominee has been screened and satisfied all requirements.
Lillian Okenwa, a lawyer, is Editor-in-Chief/publisher – Law & Society Magazine. Credit: dnllegalandstyle.com