From Olanrewaju Lawal, Birnin Kebbi
He might not have known that his sacrifices and investments in defending the less privileged, both in the court and outside, would pay off. While spending time, energy and resources to offer free services to hundreds of suspects remanded in various Kebbi State Correctional Centres, pay up fines and set them up in small business, Rilwanu Umar, a Kano-based activist lawyer, probably never expected any reward from any quarters.
Umar, who holds a PhD from the Commonwealth University (UK), believed that the common man should not suffer unjustly. Well, his efforts are being rewarded, as the Emir of Gwandu recently honoured the lawyer with a traditional title.
In 2017, Umar stormed Kebbi State with his team to offer free legal services to inmates in the various correctional centres. Some of them were given options of fines while many of them lacked money to hire lawyers to defend their cases in the courts. As a result, many languished in prison while awaiting trial.
At the Court of Appeal, Usman Musa Dakingari, who had been handed a death sentence, had it reduced to ten years imprisonment. Hamidu Alhaji Idris, who also had a death sentence hanging on him, got his case appealed and is now at the Supreme Court for final verdict. Both Manu Alhaji Dan-Ige and Ada’u Dakingari had their death sentences reduced to 14 years.
He also stood for Musa Abubakar and five others that had languished in prisons for months without a lawyer. He got them released.
On December 15, at the Federal High Court, Birnin Kebbi, he secured the release of Habibu Musa,10, Atiku Ahmadu, Sani Aliyu, Tsalhatur Maniru and Aliyu Boyi who were arrested by the Nigeria Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) at different towns within the state and remanded in prison as they could not meet up with their bail conditions. They had been in prison for six months.
Outside the court rooms, Umar’s Barrister Rilwanu Umar Foundation donated solar-powered boreholes to communities, schools and mosques, and renovated many schools in communities within the Gwandu Emirate.
He told reporters that his NGO had also procured JAMB, WAEC and NECO forms, secured admission into tertiary institutions for youths in the emirate and sponsored enlightenment programmes in the media to sensitise the general public on laws and the people’s rights.
“It is not everything that government would do. Government would play its part, and we also should play our part. Number one, we must ensure that our prisons are decongested of awaiting trial inmates. The number of prisoners awaiting trials is greater than those prisoners convicted,” he noted.
“The funny thing is that most of these offences are bailable offences. But they don’t have lawyers that would represent them in court, and the court is not Father Christmas. Somebody has to come to court to write and represent them for them to go home. We are not saying the offenders should not be punished. What we are saying is that the defendants should be accorded all the rights, privileges, rights that citizens of Nigeria enjoy. The constitution of Nigeria is very clear on this.”
Pleased with all he has been doing, Emir of Gwandu Emirate, Alhaji Muhammad Illiyasu Bashar conferred on him the traditional title of ‘Kachalla Gwandu.’ This traditional title literally means, “the last standing warrior to defend the Emir.” The Emir explained that the title was given to him due to his sacrifices, respect to the people and his community.
Said the Emir: “I want to urge you to continue to do more of what you are doing because, that is what fetched you this title. Especially, I want you to continue what you are doing in the areas of sacrifices you are making through your profession by standing firmly for the less privileged to ensure that they are free and their rights are not denied.”
In his reaction, Umar said the conferment would motivate him to redouble his efforts on humanitarian services, health, environmental and career counselling for youths. He said: “From now on, we shall continue to be discharging our services to the Emirate and Emir of Gwandu. All the support services we are rendering, given through my profession, chambers and NGO, we are going to redouble them,” he stated.
Earlier, Alhaji Shehu Gwandu, who spoke on behalf of Umar’s father, thanked the Emir and the Gwandu Emirate Council for conferring the title on their son. He pledged their continuous loyalty and support to the Emir.
One of the high chiefs at the Gwandu Emirate Council, Magajin-Rafi, Sambo Aliyu who had served with Umar at the Turaki’s Chamber, testified that Umar’s track records earned him the title. He attested to the lawyer’s humanity, respect and sacrifices to rescue the less privilege in the society.