When it comes to inspirational Idoma women, one name towers above all: Hon. Justice Patricia Ajuma Mahmoud. She is a pioneer and a high achiever, who has become known all over Nigeria for breaking down the glass ceiling.
There was no way that Pa Abu Ameh, popularly known as Abu Bukuru, from Ilaba-Ugboju in Otukpo Local Government Area, was to know that the daughter born to him in Otukpo on 23rd February 1958 and who he named Ene Ajuma Abu would grow up to become the pride of Idoma land and a beacon of light to women nationally.
Justice Mahmoud attended 3 different primary schools (St Mary’s Primary School, Otukpo, St Charles’ Primary School Adoka and St Mary’s Primary School Ogobia); due to the fact that she was brought up by her maternal aunt, at the time a primary school teacher who had to move around Idoma land due to the nature of her work. For secondary education, she was at Government Girls’ Secondary School, Shendam, in present day Plateau State from 1970 to 1974, graduating with West African School Certificate (WASC) Ordinary Level (O-Level).
Back in early to mid-1970s, Idoma ladies usually became teachers, midwives or full-time housewives after their WASC O-Level, but Justice Mahmoud was having none of that. She was determined to go to University and therefore went to Federal School of Arts & Science, Sokoto, (now Federal Science College, Sokoto) in September 1974, for her Advanced Level (A-Level) and graduated in June 1976 with a Higher School Certificate (HSC), the prerequisite for University admission in the 70s.
As a member of the debating society at Shendam, Justice Mahmoud had displayed great skills at putting forward convincing arguments and following advice from the guidance counsellors, decided to study law at University and in September 1976 began her undergraduate study at the University of Lagos. Justice Mahmoud,who was awarded the Teslim Elias Prize in Land Law in 1978, graduated in June 1979 with Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree and then proceeded to Nigerian Law School, Lagos. She was called to the Nigerian Bar in July 1980 and became a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, in the process setting a record as the first female lawyer from Idoma Land.
For her national service under the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme, Justice Mahmoud served as Pupil State Counsel with the Rivers State Ministry of Justice Rivers from 1980 to 1981 and cut her teeth as a lawyer assisting the Senior State Counsel. After completing national service in 1981, she joined the Benue State Ministry of Justice as a State Counsel, giving legal advice to various government departments and prosecuting criminal and civil cases.
Following her marriage in January 1983, to Mr. Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, SAN, OON, whom she met in Law School, Justice Mahmoud relocated to Kano and joined the Kano State Ministry of Justice as State Counsel in the same year. She served the Kano State Ministry of Justice in many capacities spanning the departments of public prosecution, civil litigation, research & documentation and later moved to the Legal Drafting Department where she rose to become the Acting Director and Head of Department before her appointment as a High Court Judge in December 1991.
By rising to the Bench, Justice Mahmoud became the first female High Court Judge from Idoma Land. As a High Court Judge, Justice Mahmoud was known for her integrity and commitment to the administration of justice according to the laws of Nigeria. She also built a reputation for being fair and firm, patient with young lawyers and for providing detailed reasons for judgements made in her court.
During her time as a High Court Judge, she was a Visiting Lecturer and Moot Trial Judge at the Nigerian Law School, Bagauda Campus, Kano from 2001 to 2007 and Chairperson, Review of High Court of Kano State Civil Procedure Rules Committee in 2008. In January 2015, she made national headlines following her appointment as Acting Chief Judge of Kano State, for being the first woman and first Christian to hold the position in Kano State. Handing over to her, the immediate past Chief Judge of the state, Justice Shehu Atiku, described her as incorruptible and hardworking, a testament to the high esteem Justice Mahmoud was held by her peers. Though she only held the acting position until July 2015, she brought her usual poise to bear on her role.
The reluctance of the Kano State Government to make Justice Mahmoud the substantial Chief Judge of Kano State despite being the most Senior Judge due to her religion and “state of origin”, attracted national outcry and highlighted the discrimination and difficulties married women from other states faced in rising in their career when working in service of their husband’s state government.
Poignantly, this was not the first time the “state of origin” discrimination card was thrown at Justice Mahmoud’s face. She had twice been nominated for elevation to the Court of Appeal but was overlooked because she was not from Kano State and therefore could not take up Kano’s quota. Not one to complain and a firm believer in the will of God, Justice Mahmoud took all these setbacks with equanimity, but in 2014 many Nigerians including the respected Sahara Reporters news website as well as her daughter, Zubaida, condemned the discrimination suffered by Justice Mahmoud.
Justice Mahmoud remained a High Court Judge until June 2018 when she became a Justice of the Court of Appeal, the first female from Benue State to be elevated to the Court of Appeal. Her appointment to the Court of Appeal after her third nomination was widely celebrated as long overdue and thoroughly deserved. At the Court of Appeal, Justice Mahmoud has brought her long years of experience to bear and along with her colleagues; she continues to interpret the laws of the country when dealing with appeals against judgements of the High Courts.
Justice Mahmoud is an active member of many professional bodies including International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) and International Bar Association (Judges' Forum). She served on the Executive Council of the National Association of Women Judges of Nigeria (NAWJN) from 2002 to 2005 and again from 2013 to 2016. She was also a member of the Board of the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) between 2002 and 2006.
Justice Mahmoud (a Christian) and her husband, Mr. A.B. Mahmoud, SAN, OON (a Muslim) are parents to five lovely children and through their more than 37 years of marriage, have become the poster couple for religious tolerance and inter-tribal marriage; with their long lasting marriage seen as proof that Nigerians of different religions and tribes can live together in peace.
Often praised for successfully raising a family and having a professional career, Justice Mahmoud has authored and presented many papers at national and international forums.
- Hon. Justice Patricia Ajuma MAHMOUD (Mrs),Curriculum Vitae. [email] (Personal communication, 9 August 2020).
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