Dankofa: political activism and the burden of character

Sometimes in early 2016, Yusuf Abbas Dankofa, a professor of law at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, became an online celebrity on account of his rejection of a merit award said to have been offered to him by a yet to be identified organisation. Nobody knew when the award was offered nor even the name of the organisation but that wasn’t important at that point anymore.

Whatever question that needed to be asked was overwhelmed by the very caustic reprimand the professor offered as reply to one Mr Shakabula who he said was the arrowhead of the award hawking group. He thoroughly rebuked Shakabula for singling him (Dankofa) out for honour for no apparent cogent or spectacular reasons.

The don accused the said Shakabula and people of his ilk of hypocrisy and sycophancy in showering the indolent elite with meaningless unmerited honor thereby encouraging corruption in the country while ignoring the Nigerians at the lower rungs of the ladder of survival who slave day and night without commensurate remuneration or appreciation.

“I have perused the said letter and without any equivocation reject your organization’s offer to award or if I may use your exact words ‘confer on me a distinguished merit award for being meritorious’. I do not understand what you meant by saying that I am meritorious, and I also question why being meritorious should attract garlands for me.

“If indeed I am meritorious, am I not being paid for that? Didn’t my employers in my schedule of duty anticipate that I would fulfil my duties diligently under the oath of my office?

“Why is that in Nigeria we like to over rate the elites and undervalue the downtrodden. If you are to give an award, why not Mal. Usman, our departmental messenger who is constantly overworked and underpaid by the system, yet end up with poor work evaluation?” Excerpts from the rejection letter reads.

This letter dripping in absurdity and paradox of a Nigerian rejecting an award when many others would have gladly paid, instantly became a hit and went viral on the social media-shared by several thousands of people, accumulating thousands more in likes and comments that instantly gave the lecturer the name recognition and popularity he could not attain in almost three decades as a little-known Zaria based teacher famous locally for his fascination with the Marxist(socialist) ideology rhetoric.

But with the celebrity status that came with the ‘Shakabula letter” Prof Dankofa has since improved on his act. He now enjoys name recognition in the media and leveraging on this new status, he is fast emerging as one of the most vitriolic northern critics of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) government at the centre and particularly in his Kaduna state base.

But before his social media fame, Dankofa as a lecturer was openly a member of the APC and was known to have participated in his own way in the mass effort leading to the enthronement of the party to power. He was even appointed into the Transition Committee of Governor Nasir el-Rufai in 2015 during which he was believed to have expected to be appointed the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of the state.

However, when the appointments were announced, nine out of the 12-member Transition Committee succeeded in becoming commissioners. Dankofa was among the three persons left out.

Ever since he has been unsparing of the government of Kaduna state under el-Rufai and the federal government of Buhari he had hitherto eulogised.

Believed to still be a member or sympathiser of the APC he has continued to pitch tent with the internal opposition to the leadership of el-Rufai and he’s known to be very vociferous in articulating protests agenda against the leadership of the Kaduna government each time the opportunity presents itself.

In the course of this political activism and the perception that he is a non conformist, his fame has continued to soar, attracting him a growing tribe of admirers who see him as a “radical academic”. However, being a radical within the intellectually engaging environment of the Ivory Towers appears to contrast sharply with partisan activism. While an activist in an academic environment may only have to contend with challenges to the empiricism of his work or the logic espoused in his arguments, it’s a different ball game in the jungle that is Nigerian politics – where the scrutiny of the minutest details of a politician’s background up to the present, fair of foul, is considered just within the rules of engagement.

Thus, Prof Dankofa’s reign of fame may be galloping to a collision with his past as a deliberate effort to unravel the celebrity crusader and radical appears to have been ignited.

As a matter of fact, not so pristine issues arising from the recent past record of the professor has been simmering for sometimes and was believed to be why he was denied elevation to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) when he applied in 2020. His name was No4 on the shortlisted candidates published to be conferred with the prestigious rank.

It was however gathered that immediately after the name became public a flurry of petitions greeted his nomination. Most of the petitions, it was gathered, dwelt on a 2019 Supreme Court judgement during which the apex court took an adverse view of the professor’s personal conduct and professional integrity.

Already, a petitioner, one Ayuba Ashafa of No 10 Majelisa Street, Ungwa Yelwa, Kaduna has served the Nigeria Bar Association notice to commence a disciplinary proceeding aimed at punishing the professor for professional misconduct within reasonable time or be ready for a litigation that will compel it to do so.

The petition is anchored on a Supreme Court judgement over the trial

of the professor for the offences of Advance Fee Fraud notoriously referred to as 419 contrary to Section1(1) (a) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act, 2006 and punishable under Section1(3) of the Act. And Forgery under Section 364 of the Penal Code.

In the apex court unanimous judgment, Hon Justice Sidi Dauda Bage deprecated what he declared was an attempt to “hurl obstacles on the highway of justice” by Prof Dankofa and described him as “a lawyer lacking in the level of probity expected of a Gentleman of the Bar”. In the judgement he directed the Nigerian Bar to commence disciplinary proceedings against the professor of law for his “unprofessional, retrogressive and highly reprehensible” attempt to truncate justice.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had on July 11, 2008, arraigned the then Dr Yusuf Dankofa before the Kaduna High Court presided over by Justice James Abriye for allegedly attempting to defraud the former Governor of Kebbi state, Adamu Aliero, of the sum of N1 mllion in a suit known as Federal Government of Nigeria versus Barrister Yusuf Dankofa. According to the charge, Dankofa had in 2006 written a petition to the EFCC against the said Adamu Aliero alleging corruption, but allegedly later met the governor twice, first in October and later in November of that year to negotiate a one million Naira settlement as a condition to withdraw the petition.

Working with the EFCC, Aliero allegedly agreed to the obvious fraud and extortion and advanced the Professor the sum of N250,000 then fixed a new date to pay the balance of N750,000. But when he came for the balance the EFCC already lying-in wait arrested and handcuffed him.

Eight witnesses testified before the High Court in Kaduna after which Justice Abriye asked Dankofa to enter his defense. But rather than enter a defense, Dankofa made a “No Case Submission” maintaining that the prosecution had failed to establish the elements of the offences he was accused of and therefore he was not obliged to enter any defense.

But Justice Abriye dismissed the No Case Submission and ruled that a prima facie case of fraud and forgery had been established and again asked Dankofa to defend himself. Rather than open his defense before the High Court, he headed for the Court of Appeal sitting in Kaduna on the grounds that the lower court erred in law by not dismissing the charges. But the appellate court dismissed the appeal based on a preliminary objection by the federal government that the appeal was incompetent as the appellant had failed to seek leave of court before embarking on the action.

In the unanimous judgement of the court delivered by Hon Justice Abdu Aboki the appeal was denied, and the professor was again asked to return to the High Court and open his defense to the charges against him. But rather than heed the appellate court judgement the professor of law led by his counsels C A Ekhasemonhe and S A Akanni headed for the Supreme Court which not only upheld the judgement of the Court of Appeal but took time to decry the conduct of Dankofa in attempting to stall the pace of justice.

Hon Justice Bage said: “I must not fail to express our displeasure at the needless dilatory tactics of the appellant in this appeal. As a legal practitioner, the appellant knows or ought to know that justice should never be allowed to be sacrificed on the altar of infamy of a lawyer lacking in the level of probity expected of a Gentleman of the Bar.

“The deliberate act of hurling obstacles on the highway of justice by crucial stakeholders like legal practitioners is, to say the least, unprofessional, retrogressive, and highly reprehensible.

“I dare say it should also form the basis of further recourse at the level of disciplinary organs of the Nigerian Bar- subject to the outcome of the retrial of the subject matter of this appeal which the four-count is pending against the appellant.”

Ayuba who is anchoring the crusade against the now politically exposed professor and public critic maintains that the view expressed by the justices of the Supreme Court was an indelible judgment on the character of the professor and therefore robs him of any moral high ground to call any public officer to order.

Now Ayuba and several other persons are again accusing Professor Dankofa of fraud in the famous Shakabula rejection letter which elevated him to an instant online celebrity.

”When next you see, him ask him what is the name of the organisation that wrote him a letter wishing to confer an award of excellence on him. Ask him to give you the phone number of Mr Shakabula or any means with which he can be contacted. In fact, ask him to give you Mr Shakabula full names.

“We are in the age of biometrics, if Mr Shakabula exists we would have found him by now, but every search we have undertaken to find him has returned empty so far.

“Google Shakabula and the only result you will get is the mention in Dankofa’s rejection letter.

“It is our considered view that this so called rejected award never existed in the first place.

You can’t put the invention of a fake award for the purpose of playing to the mass gallery beyond a man a judged to be “a lawyer lacking in the level of probity expected of a Gentleman of the Bar” said Dr Saidu Bukar Bala a staff of the same university.

So far the die is cast as the petitioners await the response of the NBA on their ultimatum to the association to commence disciplinary proceedings against the controversial activist teacher and lawyer. Will the NBA harken to the ultimatum or will another round of fireworks commence?
Time will tell.

Sule writes from Zaria, Kaduna state.