This article is intended to underscore the significance of the emergence of the first female President of the largest Court of Appeal in Nigeria, nay Africa. The court now consists of about 87 justices sitting in 16 divisions across the country. The responsibility for administering this huge appellate court system rests on the shoulders of a woman who emerged from humble beginnings and defied the odds that were stacked against her by reason of historical and cultural circumstances.
An indigene of Nafada Local Government, Gombe State; born 6th of March, 1950 in Bauchi, Bauchi State, Justice Bulkachuwa is the daughter of Alhaji Abubakar Gidado El-Nafaty and Hajiya Aishatu Dudu El-Nafaty. A contemporary of the Late Sir Tafawa Balewa, her late father was an astute educationist and broadcaster. Fluent in Arabic, English, Fulfude and Hausa, he served as a controller of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and was a co-founder along with the Late Sheikh Gumi and others of Jama’atu Nasril Islam.
She had her early education at Tudun Wada Primary School, Kaduna between 1957 and 1960 before proceeding to Senior Primary School, Maiduguri Road, Kaduna where she obtained her School Leaving Certificate in 1963.
In 1996, when Gombe State was created, she had the unique honour of being appointed as Chief Judge of Gombe State Judiciary from January 1997 to December 1998. In 1998, she was elevated to the Federal Judiciary as a Justice of the Court of Appeal. Between 2005 and 2012, she was the Presiding Justice over the Court of Appeal until she became Acting President of the same court in November 2012. She was eventually confirmed as the President of the Court of Appeal in April, 2014. By that appointment, she became the first woman in the legal history of Nigeria to serve as the President of the Court of Appeal.
His Lordship’s contribution to the Nigerian Judiciary is unquantifiable.
Over the years, His Lordship has not only actively worked in the Nigerian Judiciary, she has played several oversight and participatory roles on several other national platforms including: Legal Adviser, Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria from 1988 to 1990; President OSOQUES, Bauchi State from 1992 to 1996; President OSOQUES, Gombe State from 1996 to 1999; Member, Board of Governors of the National Judicial Council from 1997 to 1998; Member, Body of Benchers from 1997 to 1998; Member, Advisory Judicial Commission from 1997 to 1998; Member, National Executive Committee, OSOQUES from 1999 to 2006; President of the National Association of Women Judges from 2000 to 2003; Initiator of the Jurisprudence of Equality Project which lasted from 2001 to 2008; Member of the Nigerian Rule of Law Assistant Project between 2003 and 2005; Acting Chairman of the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee.
She is also a member of the following bodies: National Association of Women Judges; Body of Benchers; Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee; Board of Governors of the National Judicial Institute; National Judicial Council; Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee and Federal Judicial Service Commission.
His Lordship enjoys reading, travelling and cooking.
Having regards to the generally unfavourable attitude towards educating the female child at the time of her birth, it is no mean achievement that she has risen to the pinnacle of the Court of Appeal. The emergence of great female jurists like Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa and others has refuted the myth of the superiority of one gender over the other.
His Lordship’s story is highly inspiring. After completing her secondary education, she was given out in marriage at a relatively young age. For several young women, marriage would normally bring about the termination or at least the suspension of their educational career. This was not so for the young Zainab. Determined to continue her education, she combined being a student with motherhood and child-bearing. She had three of her six children while she was a student and during her National Youth Service. Yet she performed brilliantly in both spheres of life. However, she prefers to give the credit to her late father who agreed to give her out in marriage only on the condition that her husband would allow her to continue her education despite being married. She also gives credit to her late uncle who ensured that her late father’s wish was carried out.
With sound education and proper upbringing, there is no telling how far a female child, just like her male counterpart can go in life. While a woman may marry early, marriage must not be a reason to terminate her educational career. As the society comes to terms with the importance of educating the girl child, the potentials of women and their capabilities will be unleashed for the greater good of the country and of humanity at large.
On 25th May, 2015, this woman of substance will again be honoured as a book of Judgments on Election Cases and Appeals will be presented in her honour at the Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Abuja.
Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George, SAN, FCIArb (Nig.) legal practitioner and consultant, President, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies writes from Abuja