When in 1986, Mallam Bala Ibn Na’Allah, the Nigerian Senate Leader was called to the bar, after his graduation in law at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, his major aspiration was to pursue his career to the pinnacle of the profession. But he needed to start somewhere. So, he took appointment as legal adviser to the 32 field Artillery Brigade, reporting to the Artillery Commander. He later joined the Sokoto State Ministry of Justice as a state counsel. In 1988 he joined the Judicial Service Commission of the state and rose to become Senior Magistrate grade two before proceeding to join the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency.
At the agency he held several positions such as acting Deputy Director (administration, assets, and general investigations), Deputy Commandant NDLEA academy, Jos, and head, undercover operations at the headquarters. It was while on this position that he threw in the towel because of his thirst for private practice. He joined the firm of Ogugua, Chiuoke and co in 1994 and worked there till 1996 when he formed Bala, Sani, Aminu and co.
Having traversed various legal departments at state and federal level, his practice has begun to thrive in Lagos when history beckoned on him. His community wanted him in politics to enhance good representation at the federal level. But as a man of sober sensitivity and finely tune moral antennae, he hesitated. The way politics is played in Nigeria is not encouraging. He didn’t want to yield to the pressure for fear of public ridicule. But at last, he had to consider his stand when Governor Adamu Aliero lent his voice to the people’s wish.
“It is not that I am happy being in politics; in fact, I never wanted to go into politics. But I was forced into it by an overriding pressure from Governor Aliero. We met at Jedda when I traveled for Umrah (lesser pilgrimage). There and then, he appealed to me to bow to the pressure been mounted on me to go into politics to improve the quality of representation in the House of Representatives. Before then, I had a flourishing chamber in Lagos. But with the intervention of eminent indigenes of the state, including my uncle, it became practically impossible for me to say no under the circumstance. After serving four years in the House, I told him (Governor Aliero) that I wanted someone else to take over from me so that I can go back to my law practice. But again, pressure was put on me to continue”, he said.
The pressure on him by his people yielded good gain for the country as he was not only elected as a member of the House of Representatives, he also became the chairman of the committee on judiciary and legal matters, where he has been able to make a mark on the reforms in the judiciary. Until the advent of the democratic rule in 1999, justice delivery in Nigeria was nothing to write home about. Not only that judges were few in number, they also worked under a very terrible harsh condition. As such, judicial service delivery was one of the lowest that anyone can ever think of.
Thus, in the quest to turn around the fortune of this important arm of government, Na’Allha was part of history making. As the chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary and legal matters, he led his other colleagues to carry out transformation of the system through enactment of various legislations. Recalling the situation at the inception of office, he had this to say, “When we came into office in 2003, we met a number of problems relating to funding and performance. So, we sat down, brainstormed and discovered that the court structure itself needed to be reformed and the number of judges of the federal courts too needed to be increased. But we needed a new legislation to do all this because the former legislation had limited the number to 30. Consequently, we enacted a new Federal High court bill and increased the number of judges they can employ to 60.That gave them the opportunity to appoint more judges to the justices of the court of Appeal to man various divisions for quick dispensation of justice.
We also looked at the funding issue and fine – tuned the statutory provision so that the Federal Government would no longer hide under any cover not to provide the needed funding. And we advised that permanent physical structure should be provided to support quick dispensation of justice. This led to the construction of the new Federal High Court, Abuja. It was also along that line that the National judicial council (NJC) introduced performances assessment for judges of the Federal High Court. This has helped greatly in bringing into limelight those judges who are ready to work and fit into the system. Whether there is improvement in judiciary or not, I will leave that to Nigeria to decide. But I think the flora of judgments we have had since 2003 is a radical departure from the negative nature of judiciary in Nigeria.”
Upon all this, he believes much still needs to be done to enhance smooth administration of justice in Nigeria. He added, “Administration of justice should be done in such a way that everyone can get remedy whenever he or she is unduly wronged and whoever does the wrong too can be restrained from doing further wrong. Nigeria is the only country where you see the people driving against the traffic and go scot – free. Yet, we say we have police who are being paid from the public treasury. They will say they protect the life of the people. How do you protect life and property under this circumstance”, he wondered.
Ordinarily, in the normal sense of it, politics is supposed to be a tool for redemptive social re-engineering. But unfortunately, there is a big disconnect and disarticulation between the state and political society; between the rulers and the ruled. However, while some people subscribe to the axiom-a people deserve the kind of government they get, Na’Allah holds a contrary opinion. In his own view, the character of a society is a reflection of the character of its elite. Therefore, he blamed the dismal system in the country on poor leadership.
Brimming with emotions, he lamented, “Based on my observation, Nigeria offers the most lucrative comfort to those in governance. But again, this is the only country where leadership is not taken seriously by anybody because of bad governance. Therefore, anybody can tell you anything. Besides, we live in a country where people, practically has no regard for the law. So, anybody can open his mouth anyhow and even threaten you. If you want to react, how many people are you going to join issues with? There is wisdom in living in a society where there is orderliness; where there is respect for the rule of law; where there is transparency and accountability. But there is always a name given to you when you are trying to preach that things should be done in a proper way,
Unfortunately, we have a huge reservoir of shameless people in this country. And through their shamelessness, they have secured for themselves sensitive public office. It is the desire of the leaders to do their best for a country that moves a nation forward.”
“So, the way forward is for all those who call themselves elites to have a rethink and know that the country they are leaving behind will not forgive them and their children. The incompetence they have promoted in our governance system is so pervasive that we are only parading the worst set of leaders. And it has become so bad that even the media are involved in the rot. Today, virtually all the 36 state governors have been given award of excellence by one media house or the other. If everybody is performing so excellently well, why do we have the problems we are having? Something fundamental is missing in the way we conduct the affairs of this country.” He said.
Like other public-spirited individuals, the lawyer-turned politician is also worried about the consequences of lawlessness which has permeated the entire social life of the citizenry. “If there are standard operation procedures, you can challenge a leader. For instance, there was a case in Ghana where an ordinary Ghanaian arrested a foreigner for disobeying the law and insisted that the man must be tried. What you find here in Nigeria is a situation where one big man will encourage a foreigner to break the law of the land for his own personal interest. I was in Brazil at one time and I wanted to change just $300.you wouldn’t believe it; it took me more than two and half hours to change it. Why? I had to show the money when I entered the country. I had to show the passport number of whom I am, I had to show where I was staying. In Nigeria today, if I have 100 million dollars, I can go to the open market and change it. All of us will go to other countries, queue up at the immigration point, answer all their questions and respect their law. But when we come back home, we violate our own laws. Worse of all, the Nigerian immigration officer will be the ones who will collect your passport and get it stamped for you because you are a big man;
“In Ethiopia, for whatever reason, the security agencies discovered that people were moving around with big sum of money. And they made a law that whoever came into Ethiopia should declare his money; otherwise, on his way out, he or she would only be given $3,000.00. Within one week of the passage of the law, they realized over $26million. By my personal investigation, more than 85 percent of that money was stolen from Nigeria.
Hillary Clinton served in the Senate of US for years. But for her to become Secretary of State, she is was drilled for days by her colleagues just to be sure that she is competent to do the job to be assigned to her by the President. But here, the norm is take your bow and leave. And the next day, you become the campaign manager of the President who put you there. Unfortunately, all those who are going about with the posters of Jonathan for presidency would have done the same thing for Yar’Adua if he were still alive,” he posited.
Although the recent agitation for power rotation between the North and South has reopened the old ethnic fault lines, nevertheless, Na’Allah is of the optimistic opinion that Nigeria would remain a united indivisible entity. His words, “Federal Republic of Nigeria will remain one. Don’t be deceived by anyone who is disgruntled for not getting what he wants from the government. Those who are calling for the breakup of the country are not in the position to divide the country. The only disturbing thing is that we, as a country, desire to be united, but we have a huge deficiency in leadership. Education is the most dependable weapon to unite the country and put it on the part of growth. But unfortunately, our leadership only prefers to exploit the level of illiteracy for their selfish political ambitions. I sympathize with leaders who do not believe that there is tomorrow. It is difficult to reverse the situation because the leadership does not see anything wrong with the system. There is no standard operating procedure. What this means is that there is no structure for the coming generation to build upon.”
Asked to comment on the knotty issue of state police, he said: “The issue of state police has been politicized. Rather than people looking at the utility of the state police in the realization of responsible society where everybody is held, they have politicized it with the argument that the police would be used against the opposition.”
Despite the fact that he belongs to the ruling family, Na’Allah is looking forward to going back to legal practice after his tenure. He is from the Wasagu and Sakaba royal families in Kebbi state. “My mother happens to come from the ruling family. I am an heir to the throne of Sakaba. Now, I keep praying and hoping that this time around, I will be allowed to quit quietly so that I can go back to what I love to do: law practice. It is a very frustrating situation to remain in politics in this country because what basically should have formed the basis of politics in Nigeria has been jettisoned completely”. Na Allah was wrong. His people allowed him only a one term respite. He is back to the eighth senate as leader of the senate.
Culled from the book “For the love of their Nation-Lawyers as agents of change in Nigeria”, by Mustapha ‘Kunle Ogunsakin.