A JURIST ON EAGLE’S WINGS

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Simon Bako Lalong

Justice Dongban-Mensem is cut out for her job, writes Mike Adekwagh

The Governor of Plateau State and Chairman, Northern Governor’s Forum, Simon Bako Lalong captured the core essence of the jurist when he stated recently: “Over the years , Justice Dongban-Mensem has left a legacy of excellence and humility in all the places she has worked as well as a positive impression on the people she has had dealings with”. Earlier, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Dr. Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad while swearing her in as Acting President, Court of Appeal, described her as ” a seasoned judicial officer who has been doing her job satisfactorily….”

But who is this jurist the Senate of the Federal Republic confirmed as President, Court of Appeal on June 11, 2020? What are her antecedents? Justice Monica Bolna’an Dongban-Mensem was born on 13th June, 1957 to the family of Pa William Mensem in the Dorok Chiefdom of Shendam Local Government Area, Plateau State.

After acquiring her LL.B and LL.M degrees from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, she studied for a postgraduate diploma at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in London. The jurist is an authority in Criminal and Civil Procedure Law, Taxation and International Public Finance, Public International Law, Legislative Drafting, Constitutional and Administrative Law and International Commercial Transactions. She was a Visiting Lecturer on Press Law at the Catholic Media Centre, Kaduna from 1988-1992 and part-time Lecturer at the University of Jos between 1989 and 1997.

The top-notch jurist who is married to the District Head of the Dorok Chiefdom, His Royal Highness, Miskoom David Isa Dongban can be rightly described as a judicial officer that holds both the gavel and the scepter.

Fondly called Bolna’an by her late father, a name she cherishes, Boina’an, is a Goemai lexicon meaning, “I yield unto the Lord.” Monica, her first name, is of Latin origin, meaning “advisor” or “counsellor”. Justice Dongban-Mensem is known generally as a lover of humanity. She counsels, she guides, she directs, and she helps.

Truly, the past three months have been very eventful in the Court of Appeal as she held court as Acting President. She was always at her duty post. The court, both the headquarters and the Abuja division, was given a facelift. She toured the entire court complex five times, giving instructions on what needed to be put right. Old and abandoned files, broken chairs and tables that littered the place have now been evacuated.

She has equally been sitting on appeals in order to keep the wheel of justice turning. This she did as a way of encouraging her fellow Justices who were afraid of returning to their duty post for fear of contracting the dreaded coronavirus. In Abuja division alone, six panels were set up in early April and over 200 cases were taken in the first week alone, thereby clearing a substantial number of the backlog of cases. Counsel whose cases were taken are quite happy with this. The courts in the Abuja division are now with a Dressing Room for lawyers.

On the coronavirus pandemic, a health talk was held in Court two of the Abuja division on Friday April 17, 2020 where renowned public health professionals were invited to enlighten the staff of the court on causes and prevention of the virus. This was replicated in all the 20 divisions of the Appellate Court.

Of utmost interest to Justice Dongban-Mensem is the automation of the court’s processes and systems. She is the first president of the court to hold webinars. So far, she has convened five virtual meetings with Presiding Justices, IT staff of the court and Deputy Court Registrars (DCRs) in the various divisions of the court.

Her leisure is writing, reading, golfing working with children, women and the elderly. Even with the huge task of constantly doing research and writing judgments, she has published a much sought after book, “The Defendant.” The judge is a mother of three children and four grandchildren.

Coincidently, her confirmation by the Senate on Thursday June 11, 2020 coincided with the birthday of her first son, the late Prince Samson Kwapda’as Dongban, a humble, compassionate and amiable young man whose death eight years ago in Jos, Plateau State capital, has remained a painful loss the jurist is fighting hard to deal with. It is in his honour that she founded the Kwapda’as Road Safety Demand (KRSD) Trust Fund on September 23, 2011, a road safety advocacy that has become one of the most popular road safety NGOs in Nigeria. KRSD Trust Fund is now a member of the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety.

Similarly, troubled by the deplorable condition of the public schools in her immediate community, Ngootugu’ut, the Justice built the Pa William Mensem Memorial School, managed by a charity called Pa William Mensem Educational and Scholarship Foundation (PAWMESFO). Though in a remote village, the school provides nearly all the facilities and services found mainly in highly rated schools in the big cities of Nigeria. She believes this is a way of widening educational opportunities for children of underserved communities. And now, children in Ngotugu’ut and surrounding villages are beneficiaries.

Justice Dongban-Mensem is a woman of many firsts – first to succeed a fellow woman as President of the Court of Appeal; first woman from the North-central region to head the Appellate Court and, first indigene of Plateau State to get to the Court of Appeal.

She is a quintessential intellectual, a versatile and incorruptible jurist, a leading star on the bench. Once she appears in her sartorial splendour, she personifies equity and justice. A friend to many, Justice Dongban-Mensem radiates love, compassion, and generosity.

Her good work has earned her a steady progression on the bench, rising from a magistrate, to a High Court judge, to a Justice of the Court of Appeal and now the President of the Court of Appeal. Her vision is to enhance staff welfare and training and entrench professionalism; thus enabling speedy dispensation of justice.

Now fully empowered as President, she is now on eagle’s wings to chart a new course for the Court of Appeal.

Adekwagh wrote from Abuja