• ‘He is not a Nigerian!’ • ‘Yes, I am’

Thursday, January 24, 1980. It promised to be a sunny day, as at 6 a.m. The sun had formed a full circle. The hour hand of the clock was standing near seven when a Land Rover with plate number FGN 889A parked beside a house in Maiduguri. Its passengers, uniformed officers of the Immigration Department, stepped into the house. They were led by Muhammed Mofio, an Assistant Superintendent of Immigration.

No one knew what they were looking for, but when they came out, they were not alone because their number shot up by one. They took a man with them, shuffled him into their waiting van, removed the man from Nigeria’s land-space and dropped him in a boat on the bank of Lake Chad in the neighbouring Republic of Chad. He was Alhaji Shugaba Abdulrahman Darman.

Shugaba was born in Maiduguri in 1931. He was a former youth activist in the defunct Northern Peoples’ Congress, erstwhile councillor in Maiduguri Local Government and until the afore-named Thursday, Majority Leader in the Borno State House of Assembly. Now he was in a boat, going away from Nigeria. He was not being taken on a guided tour of scenic Lake Chad. He was being declared a deportee: a non-Nigerian.

This man had spent all his 49 years on earth in Nigeria and in normal circumstance, eyebrows would remain low when a person who had been acceptable to the Federal Government somehow became unacceptable. But the circumstances were not normal.

Shugaba was a chieftain of the ruling party in Borno State, the Great Nigerian People’s Party (GNPP), while the Federal Government was being controlled by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). The man who contested the governorship election under NPN was the all-powerful Alhaji Kam Salem, the former Inspector General of Police. He was so stunned that a “nobody” like Muhammed Goni of GNPP could beat him that he had decided to give the government a run for its money, using the NPN mighty power. So, with this background, reactions were spontaneous.

Almost all the country’s newspapers carried banner headlines on Shugaba’s deportation. The GNPP leader, Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim and Governor Goni met President Shagari over the matter. Also, all leaders of political parties in the country then rushed to Lagos to see and talk with the President.

Shagari initially promised to look into the matter because he had not been fully briefed. But a day later, he turned round to tell the nation that he approved the deportation. For the first time, President Shagari told the nation that Shugaba was a non-Nigerian and was a security risk.

What shocked many later was that President Shagari, who had earlier said he was satisfied that Shugaba’s deportation was in order, appointed a one-man Tribunal of Inquiry in the person of Justice Tunji Adeyemi of the Oyo State High Court to look into the matter. About the same time, the Minister of Internal Affairs was boasting that the deportation was irrevocable.

Governor Bola Ige of Oyo State seized the opportunity of a judicial ceremony on 31 January, to condemn the action of the Federal Government and warned that no judicial officer in his state would be used for clandestine inquiries. Meanwhile, Adeyemi, the man chosen by Shagari, was in the gathering.

No one knew what happened or how it did, but Shagari changed his mind. Nothing was noticed until a few days after the governor’s speech, when on February 8, Shagari was to swear-in Adeyemi, but replaced him with Justice Patrick Chukwuma Akpamgbo of the Federal High Court, Ibadan. Newsmen were barred from the ceremony.

Mr. Justice Adeyemi was no more for the tribunal, but the choice still came from Ibadan, though from a Federal Government-controlled court.

By this time, almost all newspapers, including those that blindly support any action taken by the NPN-controlled Federal Government had written front page comments denouncing Shugaba’s deportation.

Others who registered their displeasure included all party leaders (except leaders of the NPN), student organisations, the Nigerian Bar Association, governors, market women, workers’ unions, academicians and religious leaders.

Chief Awolowo said he was angered by the deportation. Governor Goni had to make a radio and television broadcast appealing for calm. Shugaba’s mother, Hajia Balu Kolo, went on hunger strike; Governor Rimi of Kano said the action was irresponsible, while Governor Alli of Bendel described the deportation as inhuman.

As the House majority leader of the ruling party in Borno State, Alhaji Shugaba was by every yardstick, not a person of little consequence. The first question mark that was put over his deportation was, as many observers thought, that of style. The manner by which Alhaji Shugaba was made a non-Nigerian looked, to the ordinary Nigerian, unorthodox and not exactly according to the customary procedure by which people are deprived of the nation’s citizenship.

Alhaji Shugaba did not go through any legal preliminaries. He was not arrested nor detained before he was whisked out of the country. In the absence of a trial to tell the nation that the blood flowing inside Alhaji Shugaba’s veins was not of the Nigerian stuff, his deportation raised doubts.

The doubts were not solely concerned with the short-circuited execution of the deportation order. There were suspicions which arose from the hazy political weather in Borno State. Not that there was rapport between the political power blocs there; in fact, the power play between the NPN and GNPP was heading towards confrontation.

A few days before the Shugaba saga came into the open, the Borno State Governor, Alhaji Mohammed Goni, had gone on television to alert the nation about what he considered as threats to good governance in his domain. Besides, Governor Goni alleged that his NPN rival in the gubernatorial election, former Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Kam Salem, promised him a rough time at the Maiduguri Government House.

So the men of the GNPP and the opposition parties generally knew from where the fire was coming. After futile visits to Shagari and his equivocations on the matter, Shugaba went to court.

On 12 February, 1980, Mr. G.O.K. Ajayi (SAN), Shugaba’s leading counsel, quickly put finishing touches to an ex parte motion in which he prayed the court not to allow the Akpamgbo Tribunal investigate Shugaba’s nationality. By this time, February 18 had been fixed as the date Akpamgbo would commence business in Maiduguri. Ajayi wanted the case heard before Akpamgbo could sit.

Ajayi had initial problems. The judge who was supposed to hear the motion later said he could not take it up because of other commitments. A conference of all the judges in Borno State was then held where it was decided that the case be given to Justice Oye Adefila.

On February 15, Mr. G.O.K. Ajayi argued the motion for 95 minutes and Justice Adefila ordered his brother, Judge Patrick Akpamgbo, not to commence business. He also ruled that his court was competent to conduct investigations into the nationality of Shugaba.

The expectation of people was that the Akpamgbo tribunal would start sitting in Maiduguri on February 18. The motion filed on February 12 and argued three days later looked like a master stroke.

Of course, the court’s ruling did not prevent the arrival of members of the Akpamgbo tribunal in Maiduguri. They left Lagos in the morning of February 16 and were in Borno State capital before noon that day. It was like some ceremony at the airport that morning – the team of lawyers for Alhaji Shugaba led by Ajayi, was leaving Maiduguri to return to Lagos on the same aircraft that brought Akpamgbo and his team.

Justice Akpamgbo arrived in Maiduguri and was served with the court’s order.

On February 18, Justice Akpamgbo sat for a few minutes but adjourned because of the order of the court. He said he was not in a position to disobey a court order being a judge himself.

Meanwhile, G.O.K Ajayi had filed a N500,000 civil suit against the Federal Government on behalf of the deported Shugaba as damages for illegal deportation. And it was a clash of legal giants when the court reconvened on February 28.

Also, Ajayi had filed another motion requesting that the Shugaba Deportation Order 1980 be suspended pending the determination of the substantive suit before the court. This, he said, would enable the applicant (Shugaba) to prepare his case. He also prayed the court to allow Shugaba re-enter Nigeria.

To prepare for a decisive legal battle, Ajayi had appeared with Chiefs D.A. Oguntoye, J.M. Akinola, Debo Akande, Bassey Anekan, Buba Ramat and Baba Kura Ba’aba.

To defend the Federal Government was the Minister of Justice and Attoney-General of the Federation, Chief Richard Osuolale Akinjide SAN, who appeared with the Solicitor-General of the Federation, Mr. O.A. Soetan and the Legal Adviser in the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. A.I. Obiese.

The presence of Chief Akinjide and other Federal Government lawyers attracted an unprecedented security at the court premises. The Borno State Police Command marshalled all their resources to provide a detachment of the mobile police force, mounted troops, police dogs, policemen armed with automatic weapons, tear gas and batons, to guard Federal Government lawyers both at their residences and the court.

In fact, the residence of Federal Government lawyers was kept secret.

All those going into the court were vigorously searched and this persisted throughout the proceeding which lasted five months in spite of the complaints of Mr. Ajayi and Justice Adefila himself, who insisted that his court was an open court and asked police not to scare people away.

On March 11, the application for an order suspending the Shugaba deportation order of 1980 was argued by Mr. Ajayi and Chief Akinjide. It was a day of fireworks, a day that could not be forgotten in a hurry by learned and “unlearned” friends.

There was a time when Akinjide, after citing an English law, stated: “The executive is the sole judge on national security. This is a matter in which the court has no role to play in spite of the provisions of the constitution!” Ajayi was angry. He sprang up and countered: “In England where he is referring to, the Parliament is supreme and can turn a woman to a man. But that cannot happen here!”

It came to a time when there was confrontation between the Judge and Akinjide. The Attorney General had faced the Judge and said: “You have no right whatsoever to suspend the deportation order on Alhaji Shugaba Abdulrahman Darman.” Adefila turned to Akinjide and asked: “Do you mean the court or me?”

Akinjide retorted: “I mean you have no power to make the order being sought before you to this effect. If you order the suspension of the order deporting Shugaba, you will have made an order against national security and public interest. Don’t make an order that will be in vain!”

All the same, on the following day, Wednesday, 12 March, 1980, Justice Oye Adefila granted the application. He gave these three orders: (1) The deportation order 1980 deporting the applicant, Shugaba Abdulrahman be suspended forthwith. (2) I hereby order that the applicant, Alhaji Shugaba Abdulrahman Darman, be at liberty to re-enter Nigeria and remain until the determination of this suit, for the purpose of preparing for and giving evidence in these proceedings. (3) I hereby grant an interlocutory injunction restraining the respondents, their servants and/or agents to enforce the Shugaba Abdulrahman Darman deportation order 1980 until the determination of these proceedings.

And with this, Shugaba was free to return to Nigeria.

There was pandemonium immediately the judge ruled that Shugaba could re-enter Nigeria as his admirers went wild with joy, police dogs or not. Why? Since the deportation of Alhaji Shugaba, there have been many speculations about his fate, his whereabouts and future. Many thought he would not survive it.

Besides, his adversaries did not take matters low. There was a report that the NPN chieftains got a Nigerian who went to Njemena on February 12 to procure a Chadian passport in the name of Alhaji Shugaba. The passport would have been used very much in evidence against Alhaji Shugaba at the trial of his case. If the Nigerian had succeeded, the ‘passport’ could have indicated that Alhaji Shugaba was a Chadian. But he was refused by the authorities, because Chadian officials were too pre-occupied with solving their internal feuds that there was no time for that kind of trifle manipulation.

Shugaba returned to Maiduguri the following day into the warm embrace of his family, friends and political associates, who had missed him for 49 days.

On his return, apart from the coincidence with the meeting of the nine progressive governors who paid him a visit at his 71, Kyari Masu Street residence, Shugaba received more than 1,000 congratulatory messages.

The message included the ones from Chief Awolowo, Dr. Azikiwe and Waziri Ibrahim, the GNPP leader.

Chief Akinjide quickly filed an appeal against the court’s ruling and pleaded with the court to stay the execution of its own ruling.

This was rejected by the court

On March 20, the Federal Government seeing the futility in its appeal against the return of Shugaba, issued a lengthy statement in which it attacked the way Shugaba returned to the country, called the nine governors names and dropped its appeal.

This was the last we saw of Akinjide in the case.

When the substantive suit came up for hearing on May 5, principal state counsel from the chambers of the Federal Attorney-General, Mr. M.I.N. Duru, announced his appearance for the Federal Government.

He informed the court that the Federal Government had briefed two private legal practitioners, Dr. Mudiaga Odje (SAN) and Chief Toye Coker, to argue their case.

None of the two lawyers was in court.

Dr. Odje merely wrote the court to give him a new date.

Following the protest of Mr. Ajayi, a N1,000 cost was awarded against the Federal Government for asking for too many adjournments on flimsy excuses.

Hearing finally commenced on May 12 and Shugaba was the first to give evidence. He was in the witness box for three days.

One aspect of the hearing was the perpetual complaints of Dr. Odje and the frequent clashes he had with the judge but it was remarkable that each time his faults were pointed to him, he apologised to the court.

Clashes between him and counsel for Shugaba were also frequent.

Immediately Dr. Odje entered the case, a new dimension was introduced into the security provided Federal Government lawyers by the police.

Each time Dr. Odje and Chief Coker were coming to or leaving the court, siren-blowing police vans would sweep the roads clean for them. A jeep-load of armed policemen was always on guard too.

Chief Toye Coker complained several times about the harsh weather in Maiduguri.

In all, 28 witnesses gave evidence during the hearing and Justice Adefila wrote 200 pages.

During their final submissions, Dr. Odje addressed the court for two days while it took Mr. Ajayi three days to conclude his own address.

At the address stage, the two leading lawyers turned out coffin-like boxes filled with law books.

As Mr. Ajayi pointed out in his address, it was significant that neither the minister, who said he deported Shugaba for security reasons nor the three Chadians who claimed they attended a meeting presided over by Shugaba in Maiduguri where it was decided on January 3 that top NPN leaders should be assassinated, were called to give evidence.

Moyi Durumbu, the Immigration officer on duty at the Gamboru Border on the day Shugaba was deported who claimed Shugaba told him he was a Chadian, was not also called to defend his affidavit which was controverted by Shugaba.

Those were past events. When the counsels concluded their addresses on June 25, 1980, Mr. Justice Adefila indicated that he would be ready with his judgment on July 25, a month after then. It was a seemingly impossible task in the eyes of laymen. The judge was due to sift through pages of handwritten records of proceedings for deposition of witnesses and some scores of pages of addresses of lawyers and wade through pages of many books for legal references and authorities cited by the lawyers.

The period between the end of the address and judgment day put many people on the alert, expecting a momentous day. It was momentous in the sense that it was the first test of a matter of great constitutional significance since the return to civil rule. The country was waiting patiently for the outcome of the case.

July 25, 1980 was during the Muslim month of Ramadan. Whatever excitement people may have could not be visibly expressed on their faces as at other times of the year. In a deeply traditional religious community, things are accepted as they come as God’s will. Maiduguri is a typically religious community but one could read some anxiety on the faces of the people.

As expected, the authorities did not leave anything to chances; arrangements were made for effective and tight security. By 8.30 a.m. that day, policemen, some of them mounted, had taken up position around the court premises. Everybody entering the court chambers was thoroughly searched at three spots before he took his seat. By 8.45 a.m., every seat to make about 70 people sit conveniently in the public gallery of the court had been occupied. In less than five minutes thereafter, almost double that number had squeezed themselves into the gallery. At 9 a.m. there were over 200 people in the court room, with many of them standing. Anxiety was visibly impressed on the faces of most of the people in the crowd. When the judge entered the chambers at a little after 9 a.m., there was a sigh of relief from many of the people. The long awaited moment had arrived.

It took Mr. Justice Adefila almost five hours to deliver his judgment he read from his handwritten scripts, when typewritten of foolscap papers, the text of the judgment went to 112 pages. But the Judge read it and declared afterwards that: “Shugaba is a Nigerian”. He went ahead to grant most of the prayers of the deported politician.

Justice Oye Adefila ruled as follows:

(1)     The court, having found by the evidence before it that the applicant, Alhaji Shugaba Abdulrahman Darman, has been proved to be a citizen of Nigeria, this court hereby makes a declaration that the applicant is a citizen of Nigeria and as such, has fundamental right of immunity from expulsion from Nigeria.

(2)     I hereby make a declaration that the Shugaba Abdulrahman Darman Deportation Order 1980 is ultra vires and void that the same constitutes a violation of his fundamental rights, personal liberty, privacy and freedom to move freely throughout Nigeria.

(3)     The court hereby restrains 1st, 2nd and 3rd respondents and their servants from enforcing or continuing to enforce the said order against the applicant.

(4)     The court hereby grants an injunction, a permanent injunction restraining the respondents from interfering with the aforesaid rights of the applicant.

(5)     I hereby order the return to the applicant with immediate effect his Nigerian Passport unlawfully impounded by the 1st and 2nd respondents.

(6)     I hereby award damages of N350,000 being (i.e. general/aggravated compensatory and exemplary) damages against the 1st, 2nd and 3rd respondents jointly and severally for the assault and unlawful deportation from Nigeria and unlawful interference into the applicant’s rights of freedom and to move freely throughout Nigeria.

(7)     I hereby make a declaration that the purported appointment and constitution by the 3rd respondent of the 4th respondent as a tribunal to determine the nationality of the applicant is ultra vires and contrary to the sections 32, 42 of the Constitution.

(8)     I hereby declare that the Tribunals of Inquiry Decree 1966 is invalid, null and void and contrary to the provisions of Section 4 of Schedule II Sections 34(8) of the Constitution, 33 and 42 on the ground that (i) The National Assembly has no power to enact a law providing generally for Tribunals of Inquiry. (ii) In so far as it provides that the findings of the tribunals are not subject to appeal or review the same is invalid.

(9)     I hereby make an ORDER prohibiting the 4th respondent, Hon. Justice Akpamgbo, from proceeding with the business of the tribunal constituted under by the Instrument constituting the Tribunal of Inquiry into the nationality of Alhaji Shugaba Abdulrahman Darman S.I. No. 3 of 1980 and from determining the nationality of the applicant.

Then the judge raised his gavel. Gbam! It came down. And Shugaba won!

For five months, Maiduguri turned a theatre hall and Oye Adefila’s court was the stage. Young lawyers, law professors and Law students of the University of Maiduguri seized the opportunity of older lawyers to add to their knowledge.

Who would blame them?

After all, it was not often that a citizen got expelled or deported from his country of origin.

As Justice Adefila remarked several times during the trial, never had so many old wigs appeared before any court in Borno State. And the record is yet to be beaten.

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