Alhaji Aliyu Salman, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), celebrated his 75th birthday on November 9, 2017. He attended the popular Barewa College and the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. He was called to the Nigerian Bar in Lagos in 1968. He was the first northerner to head the African Petroleum (AP). In 1976, he was appointed the attorney-general and commissioner of justice in Kwara State, where he worked till 1978 and resigned to establish his own law firm known as SARRA Chambers. He works in his chambers till date.
You are a senior advocate of Nigeria; how did the journey begin?
I was born on November 9, 1942. I hail from Ilorin West Local Government Area of Kwara State, precisely from the Baba Kinise house in Omoda area. My father was the imam of Baakini’s mosque but he based at Ake, Abeokuta in Ogun State. That’s why they called him Salman Ake. My mother came from Mosigba, and she is the eldest daughter of Alkali Nasiru.
I attended the Aladabiyyah Muslim School, which is now known as the Ansar l-Islam Primary School, up to Standard Two and later went to Baptist Day Primary School, Minna. I completed my elementary education at the Bababoko Primary School in Ilorin. I attended the prestigious Barewa College, Zaria and got the school certificate in 1959, after which I went to the Ahmadu Bello University. I was one of the few students who did preliminary education in one year instead of two years.
I graduated from the ABU in 1967 and proceeded to the Nigerian Law School in Lagos, where I qualified as a lawyer in 1968.
My contemporaries in the Bar are Justice Issa Ayo Salami and Justice Adegbite, who was also a judge in Kwara State. We were called to the Bar in 1968 with the present Emir of Ilorin.
I started work in the Ministry of Justice in Sokoto. In fact, I was a deputy solicitor- general. In 1976, I was appointed the attorney-general and commissioner for justice in Kwara State. I worked in that capacity till 1978 when I resigned because I had disagreement with the then governor of the state, George Ini, who was a military man. After my resignation, I started my chambers, which I named SARAA Chambers. SARAA represents first letters of names of my five children – Salman, Aisha, Rahmat, Amina and Alli.
I became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria on February 27, 1987 during the military regime of Muhammadu Buhari. I was the first person to become a SAN in Kwara State. That’s why they call me the doyen of SAN.
Luckily, two of my children, Salman Salman and Aminat Lukman Lawal are also lawyers.
I am the third child of my father’s 10 children. I have two elder brothers who attended universities in Cairo and are married to Arab women.
I have only one wife and I am not interested in partisan politics. I am also a member of the Body of Benchers; they are the people who confer people to become lawyers. When Olanipekun, who was the chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Kwara State recommended me, I was happy. And I was given a life membership from day one. In fact, Justice Kawu, who was a chief judge in Kwara State but retired as a judge in Supreme Court, said my father’s prayers were answered through me. That’s why they gave me life membership of the Body of Benchers. This is because after sometime, even Supreme Court judges seize to be members of the body.
How easy was it to start a law chamber?
There is nothing difficult in starting a chamber if you are a good lawyer. For example, you can never become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria except your cases are registered at the Supreme Court. And there are number of cases you must have before you are a SAN. I was able to resign and stand on my own because I am a good lawyer. In fact, when I opened my office, the present chief registrar of Kwara State worked in my chambers. One of the retired judges of High Court in the state, who was my classmate at ABU and a lawyer in Gusau when I was in Sokoto, also worked here. If you are good at what you are doing, you will enjoy working alone as a lawyer. One thing Buhari did for me before I started my own chamber is that after my resignation, he appointed me the chairman of African Petroleum (AP). They said that before my appointment, the chairmen of African Petroleum were usually people from the eastern part of the country. I I was the first man from the North to head the place.
I handled cases for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as well as some banks in the country.
As I said, I face my profession with all my passion because I am not interested in politics. Up till now, the only thing I do in politics is to go and vote; I am not a card-carrying member of any political party. As old as I am, I still go to court and handle cases for my clients.
How would you compare the kind of court processes you experienced as a young lawyer with what obtains now that you are 75 years old?
I enjoyed both experiences. In fact, at the last election tribunal case involving the INEC in Ilorin and Senate President Bukola Saraki, the judges said, “Salman you are a wonderful man; you are addressing us and reading the book. You are older than us and you are not even using glasses to read.” Yusuf Ali was defending Saraki. I told them that God had been kind to me. My father was 85 years before he died and was still strong and agile, so I told them that I resemble my father in that aspect.
Alhaji A.G.F Abdulrazak became a lawyer before me, but he based in Lagos. I am the 56th lawyer who became a SAN in the entire country but number one in Kwara. A former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ojibara, once worked with me here.
You repeatedly said you were not interested in partisan politics, why?
I never had any bad experience; it’s because I have a job as a qualified and good lawyer. I want to work for everybody irrespective of their religion, tribe or political ideology or association. You cannot be a politician and do that. As a politician you must be loyal to your party and its members and not to the opponent. I want to be free and neutral to everybody; that is why I don’t have interest in partisan politics. Once you are a card-carrying member you have to belong to the party wholeheartedly.
You were the first SAN in Kwara State; what does that mean to you?
I was very happy to become a SAN and the lawyers who were working with me had to take instructions from me. One thing SANs enjoy is that when they get to any court, they treat them first. But we are not allowed to go to magistrate or area courts. It is a sort of respect for us because they believe that we are more learned in law than the magistrates and area court judges. I love the respect accorded SANs.
Can you share your experience in Barewa College?
My two sons attended the same school and I have not seen any difference in what was obtainable during our time. As you rightly know, majority of educated people in the North attended the school. The whole houses I left in 1959 are still there; I have not seen much difference in the school. In fact, I met somebody in a bank recently, and when my son told me that he was in Dan Hausa House I was elated because that was my house when I was in the school.
Considering the issue of religion and tribalism, what was your experience as a student and civil servant in the North?
It was great, and it can still be great. I enjoyed my stay in the far North, both during my school days and when I started working. What is happening there now is a result of politics. Politicians have turned everything around to satisfy their interests. Nigerians should see that and make sure they don’t allow them to divide us because of their personal interests.
Do you support the argument that the contributions of lawyers to the academia should be considered as part of the criteria for becoming a SAN, as compared to the number of cases at the Supreme Court?
Regardless of the education you might have gathered, or your contributions to the academia as a lawyer, I want to believe that it is better they consider the number of cases one has at the Supreme Court.
What is your reaction to the allegation of corruption against some judges in Nigeria?
I don’t believe that judges are corrupt; at least none of them has been convicted. I am not aware that any of the allegations has been proved to be true. The Nigerian government should not also do something that will make judges to be corrupt. I retired in 1978, maybe if I had not retired I would have gone back to the Ministry of Justice and probably be a judge. Let me also add here that they asked if I wanted to be a judge, but I preferred to practise. I declined to be a judge even though one of my brothers was an area court judge when I was the attorney- general of Kwara State.
Before anybody becomes a High Court judge, a number of years are required at the Bar. One must have a 10-year post Bar experience to become a High Court judge. I believe that any judge who has reached the age of retirement should be given all his or her entitlements. Judges should not be treated in such a way that they will be afraid of retirement.
At 75, would you say that life has been fair to you?
My experiences have been great; and as a Muslim I give glory to the Almighty Allah for what he has done for me so far. My belief in him has kept me moving. Notably, those of us who are into private practice are not getting anything on retirement. No matter one’s position, one should always work harder to attain a higher position.
What is your position on the calls for restructuring and the agitation for secession?
I don’t want Nigeria to break up because we are better off as one country. There will always be agitations when people are not feeling the impact of the government. Local government councils should be given attention and priority to tackle all the challenges causing the agitations.
Would you say your dream for Kwara State has been fulfilled?
My dream for Kwara has not been fulfilled. Local governments all over the country, not only in Kwara State, should be strengthened to move the country higher.
Having served as the chairman of African Petroleum and a member of the constitution amendment committee, would you accept any appointment now should the government require your services, especially considering your wealth of experience?
Yes, provided it is not based on political affiliation, I will gladly do that to make my country great again since it is a question of satisfying Nigerians. Remember that when I served the country, the head of state was not a politician but a military man.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered as somebody who feared God. I am happy that a lot of my friends said I had two qualities. One is that I do not tell lies and the second is that I am tolerant. Even if somebody does things that are against my interest, I will still maintain my person. It’s the fear of God that made those things possible and it’s worth being remembered for.