By Uthman Yawa-Siraja

 

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Hon. Justice Maria Sanda Zukogi

Hon. Justice Maria Sanda Zukogi is the fifth and second female indigenous chief judge of Niger State, since its creation over 42 years ago. She succeeded the first female chief judge of the state, Hon. Justice Fati Lami Abubakar. She assumed office in acting capacity on April 11, 2013, and later confirmed to the exalted position as the number one judicial officer in the state.

Zukogi’s years in service as a judicial officer, first in the magisterial position, was one of an incorruptible judge. As a magistrate in the Minna Magisterial division, Maria Zukogi would be fondly remembered as a dogged and fearless dispenser of justie. It was this doggedness and sincerity in the lower bench that saw her elevation to the exalted position of high court judge in the early 90s. She continued her work without reproach, rising to the office of the chief judge of Niger State. Her elevation to the number one seat of the state judiciary, no doubt, witnessed an aggressive transformation in the judiciary in all ramifications. Among the transformation included infrastructural and human development, in terms of capacity building for staff, both at the senior and lower cadres, in the service.

Under the leadership of Justice Maria Sanda Zukogi, the entire staff of the state judiciary underwent series of capacity building training to enhance their productivity in the discharge of their judicial responsibilities. She believes that for any organisation to live up to its mandates and responsibilities, the training and retraining of its workers will in no small way add value to their productivities. So far, in the last two years, no fewer than 100 of staff, both high and low cadres of the judiciary, have undergone one training or the other, within the state or outside. These categories of personnel included magistrates, registrars, court clerks, bailiffs, and their administrative counterparts.

As part of her determination to enhance the qualityof work in that state judicial system, Justice Maria Zukogi, within the short period she served as the state chief judge, ensured the establishment of internet facilities in the whole courts within the state, and also trained personnel to man the facilities. Such modern electronic technologies, as IPads,  were purchased and distributed among relevant staff to operate the activities of the E-court system she instituted.

Equally, under her leadership, she established four directorates within the judiciary headquarters. The establishment of these directorates was the first in the history of the state judiciary. Not only did she establish these, but she went the extra mile to assign some chief magistrates to man the directorates. The directorates included special duty, headed by Chief Magistrate Hajiya Kulu Ladidi Gimba; Probate, headed by Chief Magistrate Hajiya Maryam Jibo; ICT, headed by Chief Magistrate Ibrahim Alawa; and Works and Estate, headed by Chief Magistrate Hajiya Binta Moh’d Bawa Rijau.

Justice Maria Sanda Zukogi’s transformation strides in the judiciary equally witnessed the establishment of multi-door court, small clan courts as well as the review of Niger State High Court Procedure law, which had become obsolete, being in operational since the creation of the state over four decades ago. The establishment of these courts, already gazetted, will go a long way in bringing justice to the door step of the people thereby enhancing the speedy administration of criminal justice system in the state. The multi-door court was established to engage in alternative dispute resolution (ADR), enabling litigants to look into ways of resolving their differences among themselves in a manner that will cut-off the usual foot drags, such as court processes and technicalities, in the dispensation of justice.

Justice Maria Zukogi’s leadershipcreated additional office of the Deputy Chief Registrar (DCR) to enhance productivity in the state judiciary. The creation of the office of DCR (Litigation) added to the previous ones, making the total number of deputy chief registrar to six, which included Deputy Chief Registrar, Magistrate, Hajiya Aishat Wodu Bawa; Deputy Chief Registrar, Adminstration, Alh. Jibrin Ibrahim Zabbo, Deputy Chief Registrar, Statistics, Mal. Ibrahim Sumassu Shabafu and Deputy Chief Registrar, Litigation, Mal. Abdulrahaman Garafini, while the two other Deputy chief Registrars are in-charge of  Probate and Special Duty respectively. All these achievements in the state judiciary, under the stewardship of Justice Maria Sanda Zukogi, were recorded within the short period of her leadership.

 

The tenure of Justice Maria Sanda Zukogi as the chief judge also witnessed unprecedented physical transformation of court structures in the four judicial divisions in the state. For example, a total of 20 magistrate courts all over the state were given aggressive and befitting renovation or reconstruction. Some of these magistrate courts wer in a state of comatose, begging for justice as some of the courts were not even habitable for court proceedings. These courts before her appointment were in a state of disrepair as most of the structures were in sordid state, forcing staff to abandon offices during down pours. Worried at the deplorable state of the courts, particularly the magistrate courts, the retiring chief judge embarked on a state-wide visit to assess the level of decay of these courts, with the sole aim of giving them a befitting look. After the inspection visit, she swiftly swung into action.

 

The CJ equally furnished both the court rooms and offices with modern furniture and equipment. Among the courts that received the blessings of the chief judg are the famous Bosso Chief Magistrate Court, Chief Magistrate Court 1 to 4 in Suleja, Chief Magistrate Court 1 and 2 Kontogora, Chief Magistrate Court, New Bussa, Chief Magistrate Court, Sarkin Pawa, Chief Magistrate Court, Mokwa, Chief Magistrate Court, Kafin Koro, Magistrate Court, Gwada, and Magistrate Court, Gawu Babangida, as well as that of Zungeru. Similarly, construction work on Pandogari, Mariga, and Tegina magistrate courts is currently at completion stage, after which it will fully be furnished with modern office equipment.

A visit to the office of the Chief Registrar of the state judiciary, Alh Hamza Muhammad Mu’azu, will give any visitor the idea of the transformation strides under the retiring chief judge; virtually, the whole offices under the chief registrar and the deputy chief registrar are all wearing new looks, with modern office state-of-the-art equipment and great furniture. Indeed, Justice Maria Sanda Zokogi has carved a niche for herself as an Amazon in the legal community within the state and beyond.

The Chief Registrar of the state judiciary, Alh Hamza Muhammad Mu’azu, extolled the virtues of Justice Maria Sanda Zukogi, stating that her tenure as the chief judge of Niger State will remain indeliable in the annals of judiciary of our generation. He said the chief judge’s passion to transform the judiciary could best be described as exceptional. He disclosed that so far within the last one year, the chief Judge has renovated over 20 court buildings all over the state, while the construction of about five new ones were ongoing.

 

In an exclusive interview with Newsline on Sunday in his new office at the judiciary complex, in Minna, Barr Hamza Mu’azu stated that the CJ’s desire to give the court a befitting look informed her commitment to embark on the aggressive structural changes in the judicial divisions in the state. “Not only the renovation of courts that the chief judge did, she also reviewed the Niger State High court procedure by creating small claim courts and the multi-door courts; not only did she do that, my lord, the chief Judge went further to establish four directorates within the judiciary, which is the first in the history of the judiciary in Niger State.

“It may equally interest you to know that Niger State judiciary under her lordship, Justice Maria Zukogi, is currently ICT-compliant and from top to bottom of the judiciary attends series of courses and training within the judiciary institutes in the country. Again, all the magistrates and high court Judges are always attending seminars and workshops aimed at enhancing capacity building for efficient productivity in the discharge of their judiciary functions.”  

Apart from impacting on the Judiciary, Justice Zukogi’s passion for administration of criminal justice system could best be described as second to none. Her visit to prison formations across the state to decongest them as part of her responsibility will ever remain indelible in the hearts of some inmates. During her annual prison visits, within her three years sojourn as the chief judge, a total of 1,022 inmates were granted pardon. The annual visit gave her the opportunity to listen to some inmates with minor offences and gave such inmates accelerated trial within the prison.

Justice Zukogi is an epitome of Justice; she detests corruption in all its facets, this she displayed during the inauguration of 18 newly appointed magistrates and 38 Shari’a court judges late last year. While speaking at the swearing in of the new judicial officers, she admonished them to shun corruption in all its ramifications and abide by the oath they took in the discharge of their duty as magistrates and shari’a court judges. She reminded them to uphold the oath of office as new ministers in the temple of justice, stressing that with their appointment as members of the lower bench, they were to be seen, not to be heard with their new position in the society. “I urge you to guard against any corrupt practice in all its facets and uphold the oath you just took. Do your job without any fear or favour; with your new position, avoid all social lives that will bring you closer to the people, you are to be seen not to be heard because people will be monitoring your movement. It is my prayer to God to guide you all in your new appointment,” she told the new judiciary officers.

As she exits the service, after attaining the mandatory age of 65, the retiring chief judge had seen and conquered it all, as an exceptional legal icon of our time.

TAURARUWA