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Muntaka Coomassie

Muntaka Coomassie Muntaka Coomassie: Well rounded Jurist retires By Adelanwa Bamgboye Justice Muhammed Saifullahi Muntaka-Coomassie retired from the Supreme Court Bench February 10, having attained…

Muntaka Coomassie

Muntaka Coomassie: Well rounded Jurist retires

By Adelanwa Bamgboye

Justice Muhammed Saifullahi Muntaka-Coomassie retired from the Supreme Court Bench February 10, having attained the mandatory retirement age of 70 for Justices of the appellate courts.

Born on February 10, 1946 in Zaria, Kaduna State, Justice Muntaka Coomassie initially trained to be a teacher and taught Arabic and English language in Kaduna and Zaria before voluntarily bowing out of the teaching profession as the Principal of Provincial Arabi School in Fada, Zaria, Kaduna State, after a decade spent in the profession.

He went to obtain his Law degree (LL.B) in 1976 from the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, and he was called to the Nigerian Bar, after attending the Nigerian Law School, Lagos in 1977.

As a State Counsel, he served at the Ministry of Justice Kwara State and Kaduna Statein various capacities.

Initially he was a Magistrate in the Saminaka Magisterial District in August 1978 and a Chief Magistrate in 1981, Deputy Chief Registrar (CR) of the High Court of Kaduna State in 1986 and finally the CR in 1987. He was appointed a Judge of the Kaduna High Court in November 1988.

Prior to his elevation to the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2008, he was at the court of Appeal, serving in Port Harcourt, Jos, Abuja, Ilorin and Benin Divisions.

He is a foremost expert and specialist in Islamic Law. He has a compelling knowledge of Islamic Law and he is a determined practitioner of his religion. Though not so many Islamic law matters got to the Supreme court for determination, his Lordship contributed immensely to the propagation and development of Islamic law and case law in Nigeria. He approached each case with much enthusiasm and dealt with the issues involved to the admiration of his brother Justices.

In the area of criminal law, he has used his insightful judgments to save accused persons who had been wrongfully condemned to death by the lower court but who have appealed to the apex court.

His firm belief in the dispensation of justice in accordance with law can be easily discerned from several of his Judgments; In M.W.T (Nig.) Ltd vs. P.T.F. (2007) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1058) 451 at 482, he commented on the duty imposed by law on a party claiming the award of special damages.

He opined thus: “The law, I think it goes without saying, is whoever wants special damages must endeavour to prove it strictly and specifically. There must be evidence in Court to establish clearly that he suffered such damages as he claimed. In other words, the person claiming such special damages must establish his entitlements to that type of damages by credible evidence otherwise the general acceptable law of evidence as to proof by preponderance of weight usual in civil cases operate. I am fortified by the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Oshinjinrin v. Elias (1970) 1 All NLR 153 at 156 per Coker JSC.

In fact, what is required is qualitative and credible evidence in order to establish entitlements to special damages. Proof however of general damages does not require the strictness in proof of special damages. The only requirement in the award of general damages is that such award shall not be manifestly too high or manifestly too little or not erroneously assessed.”

Furthermore in Onafowokan vs. WEMA BANK PLC (2011) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1260) 24 at 53, while considering the attitude of the Court on a finding or Order of Court not appealed against, he stated : “It is trite that the finding and Order of a lower Court not appealed against remain valid and subsisting, and without a ground of appeal challenging the finding and order of the lower court this Court would lack the jurisdiction to interfere with the said findings or Order. It is significant to state here that none of the grounds of appeal contained in the Notice of Appeal challenged the above stated findings and Order of the lower Court. It is trite that a finding not challenged by an appellant in any grounds of appeal remains, rightly or wrongly, the settlement of that issue as between the parties to the appeal. It follows that in the absence of any appeal against the finding and Order of the lower Court this Court would have declined jurisdiction to consider and determine such an issue. Though the appellants raised the issue of sufficiency of the pleadings in Ground 1 of the Notice of Appeal, the proper thing for the Appellants to do is to first appeal or file a ground of appeal challenging the findings as to the competency of that issue. The lower court had found the issue to be incompetent, this Court could not hold otherwise unless and until there is a ground of appeal challenging the lower Court’s finding.” Similarly in Institute of Health, A.B.U University Teaching Hospital vs. Anyip (2011) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1260) 1 at 17, the opportunity presented itself for him to comment on the power of the Supreme Court to correct error in judgment of the Court of Appeal. In a most illuminating manner, he posited as follows: “I must say, with tremendous respect, that the judgment of the lower Court is a little bit confusing, and as it is, it may be very difficult for the Respondent to execute the judgment and Orders of the Court of Appeal. That being the case and this Court being the final court of the land, something must be done to correct the situation. I invoke my powers under Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act to correct the judgment of the lower court thus….”

Justice Muntaka-Coomassie has always maintained a pleasant and cordial relationship with the Bar. He was, on 31st January, 2009, presented with an Award of Excellence by the Nigerian Bar Association, Kaduna Branch in recognition of his immense contributions to the development of the legal system.

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