By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
A retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Amiru Sanusi, has narrated how he was nearly imprisoned in 1963 over a false allegation that he stole about three pounds (£3).
Justice Sanusi who bowed out of active judicial service on February 2 upon clocking the 70 years mandatory retirement age, revealed that he escaped from being wrongfully sent to prison by a Native Court Judge, few days after he was conscripted to serve as a Census enumerator.
The retired apex court jurist thanked God for using a four-year -old girl and a deaf man, otherwise known as “kurma” in Hausa language, to save him from being incarcerated for an allegation of an offence he knew nothing about.
He said it was the incident that activated his interest to become a lawyer and a judge, so as to correct the “injustice and misapplication of law that is being perpetrated” by Judges.
Justice Sanusi narrated his story at a valedictory court session the Supreme Court held in his honour.
Hear him: “Just ten days after the death of my father, I was conscripted to serve as Census enumerator at the tender age of 13 years in the 1963 Census exercise.
“I was posted to Dutsi District in the northern part of the defunct Katsina province. We were about 20 but myself and one other person were the youngest, while others were adults.
“When leaving Funtua for Dutsi, the father of the other young boy enjoined me to look after his son and instructed us to always be together.
“On reaching Dutsi town which was the headquarters of Dutsi District, we were crash-accommodated in a classroom of the only elementary school in the town and were to be sleeping on bare floor. Each of us was paid three (3) pounds as allowance as enumerators.
“Late in the evening of our arrival day, myself and the young chap decided to stroll around so as to familiarise ourselves with the town.
“While trekking to the town centre, I noticed one small room labelled, Dutsi Native Authority Prison/Lock Up. We went to the town square where we saw a big Well, from which all the villagers were fetching water for domestic use.
“We sat on the pavement of the Well and when it was about sun-set, we left for the town square and intended to branch to where we would eat our supper before going to our “lodge” to sleep.
“On reaching where we were to buy food, my partner, the young chap, dipped his hand into his pocket but he discovered that all his money Which he put in a match-box was not there.
“He started to cry and both of us ran to the Well to look for the money but it was nowhere to be found. At that juncture, he told me that his father had earlier told him to go to the Native Court Alkali (Judge) and introduce himself as the son of his (Alkali’s) friend in Funtua.
“I told him that he should not mind as we could be feeding from my stipend until the time the Census officials assist him financially.
“After we ate, I proceeded to our lodge to sleep.
“Later in the night, a native authority policeman was sent to our accommodation and he started calling my name. I woke up and identified myself, he then instructed me to follow him along with my bag to the Alkali’s house.
“On reaching the house, the Judge ordered the policeman to search me and my bag and insisted that I should bring out my colleague’s money.
“I told him that l did not take his money and what I had with me was only my own stipend which I was paid that afternoon.
“They counted it but the Alkali (Native Court Judge) insisted that I was the one who stole the money. He sent the policeman to go and call the Prison Warder.
“He ordered that I should be taken to prison, because according to him, I would confess to have stolen the money.
“Having observed earlier the nature of the prison lockup in the evening when going to the town square, I broke down in tears.
“As God would have it, just when I was about to be taken to the lockup, a small girl of about four years old ran out from the Alkali’s house and said in Hausa language: “Baba an gane kudin kurma ne, ya tsinta a bakin rijiya ka gansu nan a fankun ashana.” Meaning: “Daddy, the money has been recovered, look at it here in the match box.”
“It was the deaf who picked this money at the well. The native Court Judge and everybody around were perturbed to hear that.
“The said kurma or deaf was the houseboy of the judge who used to fetch water for the family and he was the one who told the wife that he picked the money at the Well.
“That was how God used a small girl of four years old to save me from being incarcerated for an allegation of an offence that I knew nothing about. That was the first trepidation I faced at the early age of 13 years.
“From that time, I developed interest in reading law and possibly to become a lawyer or judge so as to correct the injustice and misapplication of law that is being perpetrated by our native court judges.
“What kind of jungle justice would that have been, to send a 13-year old boy to prison without any proof of his guilt and even when the truth came out, he was arrogantly unapologetic”, Justice Sanusi said.
He was subsequently admitted into Government Secondary School, Funtua (now Government College Funtua), in January 1964.
He revealed that among his classmates were the present Governor of Katsina State and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alh. Aminu Bello Masari.
There is no doubt that many Nigerians are at present languishing in various prisons (now referred to as Correctional Centers), based on unsubstantiated allegations they know nothing about.
Only recently, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, raised the alarm over the mounting number of Awaiting Trial Inmates in various prisons in the country.
Unbridled misfeasance of law enforcement agents, vis-a-vis the pervasive nonfeasance of colluding judges that wield the scale of justice, in no small measure, contributed to the swelling number of the prison population in Nigeria despite the introduction of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) since 2015.
That the nation’s administration of criminal justice system craves for serious reform, is commonplace.
How many of the inmates currently languishing in prison today will be as lucky as Justice Sanusi?