By Abubakar Imam
In recent times, I had had causes to relate with many officials of the temple of justice who are indigenes of Ilorin Emirate. Each of those I related with left me with lasting impressions of his penetrating humility and humanity. The conduct of these jurists, despite their endowment with the power of life and death, convinced me beyond reasonable doubt that the more one knows and is privileged, the more one should become humble, sublime and exceptional in character as no condition in life is permanent.
My interaction with Honourable Justice Mudashiru Nasiru Oniyangi, who is retiring from the bench as a Justice of the Court of Appeal upon the attainment of the age of 70 this Tuesday (March 29, 2022), first took place in the year 2020. I had wanted to meet his late dad, Alhaji Nasiru Oniyangi, to drink from his ocean of wisdom and wealth of experience but was not sure how to go about it until I got in touch with Justice Saliu Saidu, who was then retiring from the bench of the Federal High Court. Justice Saidu assured me that “Boda Muda”, as he called him, is a simple man who I could relate with easily. He then gave me his number after he had spoken to him about my mission. Justice Oniyangi welcomed me warmly when I eventually introduced myself to him on phone and subsequently supported me throughout the task in an exceptional way.
Towards the end of last year, I got wind of his impending retirement and I felt the need to sit down with him to let yours truly into his worldview and experience in life “for the love of our people”. It was his “brother”, Justice Saidu, who again facilitated the meeting. I eventually met him “face-to-face” on Thursday, December 29, 2021 at his Ilorin residence. When I met him, he not only fed me generously with information but also nurtured me with an uncommon humility, which I never expected from a high ranking jurist.
Justice Oniyangi comes to me as a down to earth personality. His dispositions recommended him as a very contented professional. He equally appeared to me as a God-fearing man and a man with impeccable candour. He was so friendly with me that he did not parry any of my questions as he also extended to me his spirit of generosity.
Even though he was all alone, he was patient with me throughout our period of interaction. It was even after the session that I knew that he was fasting as he “ruled” that an “Ajosan” that I was must break the fast with him as he personally served me the sumptuous meal, which was made of assorted fruits.
Honourable Justice Mudashiru Nasiru Oniyangi, a seasoned jurist and outstanding administrator, was born in Ilorin on March 29,1952. He is a Member of the famous Oniyangi family whose ancestral home is situated on No. 105, Emir’s Road, Ilorin. His father, a distinguished administrator and remarkable community leader, Alhaji Nasiru Oniyangi, was prior to his death in 2020, the surviving most senior western educated indigene of Ilorin Emirate. Hon. Justice Oniyangi’s mother was Alhaja Ajarat Baker (d. 1970), a niece to the pioneer National President of Ilorin Descendants Progressive Union (now Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union) , Alhaji Mahmud Bayo Baker, both of whom hailed from Baker Compound, Gegele Quarters, Ilorin. Justice Oniyangi was the only product of the marriage.
This jurist is blessed with a fantastic pedigree which anyone could be proud of. His family is one of the most popular ones in Ilorin. Its fame is rooted in the production of prominent members who contributed greatly to the deepening of the greatness of Ilorin Emirate in different spheres of life. The name, according to a source, was generated from the nature of the business through which the patriarch of the family, Alhaji Memudu, embraced wealth, fame and immortality. Alhaji Memudu was said to be a supplier of sedimentary rocks, which was an invaluable building material in those days, particularly among the rich.
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To advertise his business, Alhaji Oniyangi constructed his building with the rock, which is called ” Yangi” in Yoruba language. And so, he was addressed as Memudu Oniyangi by his compatriots, which became popular and stuck till date.
The patriarch of the Oniyangis, who was regarded as the King of Ilorin Merchants during the reign of Emir Abdulkadir Shuaib Bawa (1877-1959), was also a notable transporter with fleet of vehicles plying various routes across and beyond the defunct Ilorin Province. He was as well a pioneer and successful building contractor and a philanthropist par excellence who often made his home available for high class visitors to Ilorin and for temporary accommodation of prominent indigenes in those days. His house was said to be among the exceptionally beautiful apartments of the era where eminent personalities were given an accommodation befitting of their status.
Alhaji Memudu, who died in 1950, was one of the founding fathers of the United Primary School, Ilorin. The school has the record of being the first community owned primary educational institution in Northern Nigeria. He was blessed with many children who promoted the image of the family and Ilorin Emirate. They included Alhaji Salman Oniyangi (d. 1970), whom I learnt was the founding Manager of the Ansarul Islam Primary School, Okekere, Ilorin, the first Muslim school in Northern Nigeria; Alhaji Nasiru Oniyangi, a notable public administrator and father of the subject of this piece; and Alhaji Akanbi Mahmud Oniyangi, a second republic Minister who headed the Ministries of Communication, Defence and Industries at various times between 1979 and 1983 ; the late Iya Adinni of Ilorin and spouse of the first Madawaki of Ilorin, Alhaji Yahaya Madawaki, MBE,MFR (1907-1998), Alhaja Salimata Madawaki, who was also the maternal grandmother of Hajiya Saadatu Modibbo Kawu, the Honourable Commissioner for Education and Human Capital Development, Kwara State; as well as a wife of the first Turaki of Ilorin, Alhaji Sanni Olarewaju Buraimo Okin,MFR, OFR (1910-1972), Alhaja Nana Aishatu Okin (d. 2020).Others are Alhaji Hashir Oniyangi and Alhaja Habeebat Mustapha Oro, both of whom are still alive, while Dr. Abdulkadir Salman Oniyangi, 0OFR,(1935-2020), a member of the pioneer set of medical doctors produced by Ilorin Emirate who served as the Secretary to the Military Government of Kwara State between 1984 and 1985 ,and a National Commissioner in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from 2010-2015; the Chairman of Nimatoni Rental Services, Alhaji Nuraini Tunji Oniyangi; Alhaji Kabir Oniyangi, a Non-Executive at the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority and former President, Third Estate, IIorin; and Alhaji AbdulRazaq A. Oniyangi,the Managing Director, Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company, Limited, are among other prominent members of the foremost family.
Young Mudashiru was, right from about the age of three, a pupil of a traditional Quranic school where he was educated on the skills of reading the Holy Quran. He was also granted exposure into the elementary knowledge of Islam as well as taken through the enormous essence of the peculiar cultural characteristics of Ilorin, which accounted for his sublime nature, exemplary industry and impeccable reputation.
As he was pursuing Qur’anic training, Justice Oniyangi was enrolled into the famous Ilorin United School, Ilorin. He was trained at the school his illustrious grandfather, Alhaji Memudu Oniyangi, had helped to establish, between 1961 and 1964. He, however, completed his primary education studies at the Demonstration School, Igbaja in the present-day Ifelodun Local Government Area of Kwara State where he was educated from 1965 to 1966.
Similarly, this exceptionally brilliant jurist received his post-primary education from two schools. He was initially admitted into the Ilorin Grammar School, Ilorin, where he studied between 1967 and 1968 as one of the pioneer set of students of the school his own father played an enormous role in its establishment.
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His mates at the School included a retired Permanent Secretary and former Commissioner in Kwara State, Dr Aishat Ayinke Saka; a former National Treasurer of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union, late Alhaji AbdulGafar Olowookere; and a former Chief of Staff, Government House during the administration of Governor Muhammed Lawal, Alhaji Garuba Olowojare. He subsequently left for the famous Oro Grammar School, Oro in the present-day Irepodun Local Government Area of Kwara State, where he was a classmate to Alhaji Tunde Saka, Alhaji Obalowu Jimoh and late Alhaji Oba Alabi Akodudu. He successfully accomplished his West African School Certificate with flying colours at the School.
As someone who was determined to pursue a professional career, Justice Oniyangi proceeded to the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he earned his Diploma in Common Law between 1976 and 1978 along with Alhaji Gani Lawal and Alhaji Oba Kutu, who retired as a top federal civil servant. He eventually obtained his LL.B degree from the same institution following his satisfactory performance in the degree programme, which he enrolled in from 1981 to 1984. This illustrious son of Ilorin Emirate was thereafter trained at the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos, between 1984 and 1985 as required of graduates of Law wishing to practice in Nigeria.
A distinguished specialist in criminal law, constitutional law and law of evidence, Justice Oniyangi commenced his brilliant career as an Account Clerk in 1973 at the High Court of Justice, Kwara State. He also served as a Clerk of Court at the High Court of Justice, Ilorin, which was presided over by the then Chief Judge of Kwara State, Honourable Justice Saidu Kawu, CON (1928-2013). He held the position from 1975 to 1976. He was a Probate Registrar at the same High Court in 1978.
Justice Oniyangi served as the Registrar-General Duties (Protocol) in the Kwara State Judiciary between 1979 and 1980. He also served as the Registrar of the Price Control Tribunal from 1980 to 1981. However, following his successful call to the Nigerian Bar, he served the nation as a Member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) between 1985 and 1986 at Port-Harcourt, Rivers State.
Following his completion of the compulsory youth service and his return to the services of the Kwara State Judiciary, this distinguished jurist was appointed as a Magistrate Grade II in 1987. He was promoted to the rank of Magistrate I and served as such between 1989 and 1991. He was thereafter appointed as an Acting Chief Magistrate, a position he held from 1991 to 1992.
He had earlier humbly declined his consideration for appointment as an Area Court Judge, which was offered to him by the then Chief Judge of Kwara State, Justice Saidu Kawu. His refusal was hinged on the need for him to be opportune to go for further studies, which such an appointment could encumber.
In December 1992, Justice Oniyangi transferred his services to the federal judiciary when he was appointed as the Deputy Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal. Between May and December 1995, he served as the Deputy Chief Registrar, Kaduna Division of the Court of Appeal in the course of which he helped in setting up the Abuja Division of the appellate court. He subsequently served as the first Deputy Chief Registrar of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal between January, 30 and December 30, 1996.
The efforts of this outstanding son of Ilorin always attract career progression. And so, he was in good stead to be promoted to the status of the Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal. He, however, played himself out of consideration for the position as he wanted to be a Judge as soon as possible.
Upon his repeatedly satisfactory demonstration of consistent competence of knowledge of the law and impeccable integrity expected of judicial officers, Honourable Justice Oniyangi was appointed as a Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in 1997.
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He was on the bench of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, dispensing justice to all manners of litigants without fear or favour but in accordance with the laws of the land from 1997 to 2014. As the only reward for hard work is more work, this distinguished jurist was elevated to the Court of Appeal of Nigeria eight years ago. He served as a Justice across the various Divisions of the court.
Honourable Justice Oniyangi has also offered critical but ad hoc assignments as a distinguished member of the bench in various positions all of which contributed to the greatness of his fatherland. Most probably on the account of his no-nonsense posture and exemplary service delivery in the temple of justice, Justice Oniyangi served as the first Designated Judge who handled Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences cases. He served as such between 2001 and 2014 while still on the bench of the FCT High Court. He also served either as the Chairman or a Member of no fewer than sixteen (16) different Election Petition Tribunals across several States of the federation from 1998 to 2019. He was also the Chairman of, the Disciplinary Committee, Federal Capital Territory High Court in 2003, among several others.
This great son of Ilorin was also a consistent presenter of the median lecture series at the Nigerian Law School, Bwari, Abuja. Justice Oniyangi was also the jurist who was shouldered with the responsibility of conducting moot court sessions at the same institution between 1999 and 2014. Those two contributions, among others, went a long way in moulding and sharpening the professional competence of hundreds of Lawyers who undertook their mandatory law school programmes at Abuja.
This hardworking jurist has attended several conferences, seminars and workshops on legal matters within the shores of Nigeria at various times. He was also a participant in about 10 international conferences, which enhanced his knowledge and applications of the law. These repeated exposures broadened his worldview and assisted him in no small measure in the discharge of his sensitive responsibilities to the nation.
Justice Oniyangi has been a leader right from his days in school. He graduated as the Head Boy from the Demonstration School, Igbaja, in 1967. He also completed his secondary school education as the President of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, Oro Grammar School, Oro, in 1972. He was also the Games and Athletics Prefect at the school. Despite his commitment to his studies, he also created time out of his tight schedule to serve as a member of the Student Representatives Assembly (SRA) at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, between 1976 and 1978.
Prior to his appointment as a Justice, this great son of Ilorin Emirate found time to offer services to the various professionally relevant Associations, to which he belonged to. He was the first Secretary of, the Court Registrars Association of Nigeria between 1987 and 1992. During the same period, he was also the Secretary, of the Magistrates Association of Nigeria. In 1989, he was the National Publicity Secretary of the Magistrates Association of Nigeria. He also served as the Vice-President of the same body in 1991 and eventually got elected and served as the National President of the same Association in 1992. Upon completion of his tenure, this illustrious son of Ilorin was conferred with the life membership of the Magistrate Association of Nigeria in appreciation of his enormous contributions to the growth and development of the professional body.
Justice Oniyangi is a valued member of the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM). He is equally a fellow of the Institute of Corporate Management and the Chartered Institute of Conciliation, among others.
Although Ilorin Emirate has produced several outstanding jurists, only very few of them served on the bench of the FCT High Court. He was definitely the first to do so.
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His compatriots who are currently on the bench of the FCT High Court are Justice Sulaiman Bolaji Belgore and Justice Tanwa Yusuf, a daughter to the celebrated first Wakili of Ilorin, late Justice Muhammad Mustapha Adebayo Akanbi. Justice Oniyangi is also among the five outstanding indigenes of the Ilorin Emirate who have been privileged to serve on the bench of the Court of Appeal of Nigeria since its establishment in 1977. His predecessors were Justice Muhammad Mustapha Adebayo Akanbi, CFR (1932-2008), who was elevated to the Court in 1977 and subsequently served as its President between 1992 and 1999; Justice Saliu Modibbo Alfa Belgore, GCON, (b.1937) who served at the Court between 1979 and 1986, and eventually retired as the Chief Justice of Nigeria in 2017; and the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, CFR; who was at the Court from 1983 to 1995 when he mounted the stool of his forebears; as well as Justice Ahmad Olanrewaju Belgore(b. 1953), who was elevated to the Court in 2006.
Justice Oniyangi entered the institution of marriage in 1980. His wife, who died on January 5, 2021, was Hajiya Azeezat Olasumbo Oniyangi. She was a native of Ikirun. The marriage produced four boys. They are Mallam Sulaiman Abiodun Oniyangi, who is an Abuja-based Economist; Mallam AbdulAzeez Kehinde Oniyangi, a Senior Registrar at the Supreme Court of Nigeria; and Mallam AbdulHafeez Taiye Oniyangi, a Computer Scientist in the services of National Insurance Deposit Corporation as well as a Magistrate at the FCT Judiciary, Mallam Abdulmajeed Oniyangi.
This outstanding jurist has many friends among his contemporaries across Ilorin such as His Excellency Ambassador Sheikh Usman AbdulAzeez, fwc, a former National President of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union; Alhaji Abdulmumini Abdulmalik, a retired Assistant Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service; and Alhaji Baba Sanusi of Gegele. Others were Alhaji Lanre Sulyman and Alhaji Toyin Ahmed both of whom are late. His friends also include General I. B. M.HARUNA, a civil war hero and former Minister of Information during the military administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo between 1976 and 1979; and former Chairman of the influential Arewa Consultative Forum(ACF).
This jurist has in the last 70 years of his life enjoying both the positive and other sides of life. His happiest day was the day his late wife, whom he married as a Christian, voluntarily embraced Islam. That was five years after their marriage. Justice Oniyangi, however, always felt sad but not without expressing gratitude to Allah whenever he recalled two incidents each of which almost claimed his life. The first time was in Lagos in 1989 during the course of duty while the second time took place on his way to Benin-City on an official assignment as a Justice of the Court of Appeal in 2017. The two incidents were courtesy of dare-devil armed robbers.
As an elder statesman, Justice Oniyangi advises members of the younger generations to always attach importance to dedication to whatever they do. He also implores youths to be industrious and prayerful as he says that honesty is the key to unlocking greatness.
While he insisted that there is no Judge that would not face one temptation or the other in the course of his career, this outstanding Jurist advises that once a Judge remembers that the position he holds is not a birthright and that it can make or mar such a judicial official, one should always be mindful of his actions and inactions at all times.
Justice Oniyangi deserves to be celebrated. It is not easy to serve for so long and retire with unsoiled integrity. I enjoin other compatriots to emulate him by ensuring that the good names of their families and the Ilorin Emirate are not spoiled.
I felicitate with this upright Jurist for retiring gloriously. He is certainly retiring into blessings as his retirement is taking effect on the eve of the blessed month of Ramadan.
I sincerely congratulate the family, friends and colleagues of Justice Oniyangi on his gracious unhorsing from the bench. I wish him a very long, peaceful, pleasant and prosperous life in retirement.
Imam is National Secretary, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union.