The Judiciary is an Appendage of Government-Justice Longji
Justice Daniel Longji recently bowed out from the Plateau State Judiciary after a period of meritorious service which saw him rise from the Area Court to the Upper Area Court, then the Magistrate Court and up to the State High Court. Married to Mrs. Vivian Longji, their union is blessed with four biological children and 36 dependents. In this exclusive interview with Ralph Madugu, Justice Longji speaks about his long years in public service, the physical and spiritual challenges he battled with as well as how God lifted him from a poor background to the pinnacle of his career as a High Court judge, among others.
Tell us a bit about your Christian background
Thank you, it’s my pleasure. I am Daniel Danjuma Longji. I was born some sixty-five years ago. Each time I am talking about my background, I am quick to mention that my parents were not literate and so they did not write down the exact date, month and year I was born. But we just calculated using some past events and I came up with something for official purposes. That is, I was born on January 2, 1955. And by January 2, 2019, I was sixty-five years old. As I was growing up, I found my mother holding my hands to Church. So I can confidently say that I was born into a Christian family, even though my father was not that too religious, but my mother was.
So she carried me to church. I remember vividly that sometimes she would put corn as offering and sometimes is would be a penny. In those days, the penny had a hole. So I grew up to become a religious man, actually very religious. I found myself in love with the things of God. In the course of my growing up I heard that there are some people who are called atheists; that they don’t believe in God. As tender as I was, I would look up into the sky and say, “how could someone say that there is no God, who made these?” I was fascinated by the sky, particularly in the night. And so, right at that tender age, I believed that there was God. But, unfortunately, the way to reach that God was something else.
Because I would go to church and they would preach about not stealing, not telling lies, morality and all that. Unfortunately, those things I heard in the church were the things I come out to do. And it was so unfortunate that I didn’t really have a guardian that could lead me. So it was just religious practice. I was going to church, receiving Holy Communion but the life was not there. You would not believe it. It went on like that until I reached adulthood. But I just thank God for His mercy. Because…one scripture passage that hit me is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that says: “You do not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God.” Yet, I was going to church and that was what I was. A pretender, a liar.
So at a point, I said, “for how long will this continue?” Because inside of me I knew that it was not right. I would tell my wife that I was going for work somewhere only for me to be at a corner with another lady. Oh my God! But that was the lifestyle. Two faces: one face in the church and then you know…. But to cut the long story short, I want to tell you that God is merciful indeed. I went to my spiritual leader and asked…. You know, the system was that you would go for confession and your sins are washed on Saturday and on Sunday you would be holy to receive the Holy Communion. And then I asked, “is there no power?” Because these things I am doing, I don’t like doing them. Unfortunately, the answer was not…. So, it is like a matter of washing. But one day in my bedroom, I just knelt down and I said, “God help me” and that was my turning point. Two or three days after, I received an invitation from the Full Gospel Businessmen Fellowship International (FGBMFI) inviting me…It said: Full Gospel Businessmen Fellowship International (emphasis) ah, ah….
Actually, in 1987 I had gone there but I ran away because the background I had was such that, I mean praying aloud, shouting, falling, speaking in tongues. I said no, no that was strange. So I ran away. But in 1990, as I was asking God to help me, the invitation came that that is where you will be saved. So I went for that meeting. I was with somebody I always like to call ‘Exhibit A’. He is a friend, he is an in-law and we schooled together at ABU Zaria. All that I have just told you was my life then. His own was that he was not drinking but I drank and womanized. He would say, “look, out of the 10 commandments my own is just women.” So, it is 9/10 which is excellent. Making a joke of it, yet we were serious in ignorance. But, Lo and behold, as we accepted the invitation, brother, we had testimonies of people who were delivered from immorality, from all kinds of wickedness and all that. And quickly, I said that if God could do this then…that was how with all those testimonies and then the preacher now capped it up. And when an altar call was made, that was on December 1, 1990, and as we answered the altar call…, bless God that was how my burden was lifted. I became born again and as I went home, I felt light as if wind would just blow me away. The kind of bitterness that we used to have and aggressiveness and what have, you were lifted up. Hallelujah! My wife said, “did you win lottery?” I said, “okay, come and see.” So, the next meeting I dragged her to the meeting and she too became born again.
What motivated you into choosing the legal profession as a career?
Now, let me say this: As I was growing up, as I have already told you, I was religious. There was this late Archbishop G. G. Ganaka in the 60s who was ordained when we were still in primary school. He came to offer his first mass and I looked at the man. He was tall and handsome. By the way, I like the things that were being done, the ceremonial mass and all. I was in love with all those things and when I saw him, I now said that I would become a Reverend Father. So my desire was to become a Reverend Father. Lawyer? No, lawyers are liars how could I (laughs)…that was the concept. Fortunately, or unfortunately, what happened was that I did not gain admission into the seminary. So I went to St. Murumba College here in Jos. It is a missionary school but I even failed my WASC.
So God in His infinite mercy ordered my steps to join the judiciary as a Clerical Assistant on January 8, 1975. So I took up that appointment and served as a Court Clerk, rising from Court Clerk to Registrar and then to the Registrar of the High Court. In fact, I have worked in several courts. The only court that I have not worked in in Plateau State is the Sharia Court. But all of the other courts, Magistracy, Area, Upper Area and what have you, I’ve worked there. So, with that background, I have seen lawyers, I was into the system. They say practice makes perfect. I now fell in love with law. I studied at home to make my papers then went to ABU for a diploma in law. Thank God I got a very good grade and as I came back to work, because I went on in-service and came back to work for one year, gained admission and then studied the law itself. So the system built in me the motivation.
You rose from a poor background to the position of a High Court Judge. How were you able to defy all the odds?
Frankly speaking, without any fear of contradiction or fear of reprisal I can say that the truth is that because of the uncircumcised heart, I got to know that the heart of man is desperately wicked. James 17:9 says that the heart of man is desperately wicked. It is the wickedness of the heart that controls man. There are people who are moralists but I can assure you that without that heart being circumcised, when Satan comes he can twist it. So, as I was working, I saw corruption. I saw area court judges collecting bribes. So I also collected bribes. One instance that really shocked me was when the police arrested people for gambling, which is punishable. So they collected the money and brought it to court, convicted them and asked them to pay fine but those monies collected were shared among judges. The truth of the matter is that, when you see people doing things and you have a heart that is not circumcised, you will also be forced to do it. So, as a clerk I will also do my own. I will tell litigants, “if you want your case to be called first, you will give me something.” And the first to give I will arrange for their case to come first because that was within my jurisdiction. The Bible says it is no longer I that liveth but Christ that lives in me. So it is Christ living in me by His spirit of God. He has given us His spirit as a down payment, as a guarantee. So as a child of God I am led by the spirit of God. The Bible says, “Those who are led by the spirit of God are the children of God….” So when I started bringing the issue of God and spirit of God in the court, it was a strange thing.
Why was it strange?
It was strange in the sense that we were not taught about the Holy Ghost or about religion in the university and the Law School. For a lawyer and a judge who studied law, you cannot be talking about the spirit, or that I am led by the spirit. To do that was strange. But because God was in it, He backed it even though some people complained, while others liked it because the truth was coming out. My court now became known as one in which you can’t bribe me. So people who are not truthful fear to bring their cases before me. I give you one example: There was this case I called the hen’s case. A woman and a man were having friction over the ownership of a hen. So this man went and brought somebody from Kafanchan to come and give evidence that he was the one who sold the hen to him. And, of course, I thought that somebody was just wasting money because of a hen. So on the day I was to take that decision, I went into the court. Normally, if you enter the court they will hit bang, bang, bang and then the door will open. As I entered I don’t know what happened. My eyes went straight to somebody at the back and I thought I saw a man shivering. You know a hen that when rain has beaten and it looks so (laughter).
I saw the man ran out. He ran out but I didn’t know the implication until I sat down and incidentally I said, “call this case.” That is the hen’s case number one. I said okay…have you brought your witness? He said yes. Where is the witness? They looked for the witness and he was not there. So the Holy Spirit told me that he was the one that ran away. It was like a drama. I asked my police orderly the man wearing so, so and so. He was at the motor park trying to board a vehicle. “Quickly go and bring him,” I ordered. Ah ah! And truly speaking they went and got him, arrested and brought him back to the court. So I asked him, “you are a witness and why are you running away?” The man answered, “this man wanted to put me into trouble. He brought me to tell a lie.” That was the beginning of the Holy Ghost guiding my proceedings. Yes, there were some lawyers that, in fact, opposed it but subsequently they agreed with me.
And even during this my valedictory session, somebody commented that he was one of those that challenged me on this Holy Ghost but I discovered that I was right. There was another case. But this one I called it the wrappers’ case. Two lady friends were contesting about a wrapper, a sheet of wrapper for that matter. They fought. So the matter was brought to court. I will call one Miss ‘A’ and the other one Miss ‘B’. Miss ‘A’ went and hired a lawyer and Miss ‘B’ had no lawyer. So, after they gave their evidence, I was not able to rule. I wondered if I should believe the one that has a lawyer or the one that has no lawyer.
And because of the background of my training, the one that has a lawyer has a guided testimony. So I tended to believe her but my spirit was not in consonance. Before the following day that I was to make a pronouncement, Lady ‘A’ just bumped into the chambers, and, as a matter of rule and ethics, litigants don’t have to see the judge. If they have to, then the two parties have to be present or with their counsels. But this lady just burst in and said, “look I couldn’t sleep yesterday. This case, let me tell you the truth. This lady is my friend but she snatched my boyfriend so I wanted to teach her a lesson.” I said, “Oh God! See how you answer prayers…I say you are a sinner…kneel down.” I led her to Christ and then asked her to bring the other lady. And that settled the case.
When were you Called to the Bar?
I was called in October 1986. From what I have stated earlier you will find out that I had a delayed education. Because when I finished my secondary school here in St. Murumba in June 1974, I didn’t pass. I was a failure. If you ask me whether there is any regret the truth of the matter is that there is no regret at all. Because those who went to school before me today they call me “My Lord.” Yes, because the Lord has chosen a path for me. In 1986, I came back and served as Senior Registrar before I was appointed as a magistrate in 1988. In the magistracy, I rose up to Chief Magistrate in 1999. Then I was picked to become the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General.
Sir, what was or were the most difficult cases you handled while serving as a Judge of the High Court?
As a magistrate, there was this case of theft and receiving stolen property. The case was complicated. Actually, an evangelist was involved. He was the one that received a stolen property. My mind was gearing towards convicting him. In fact, I called the press. I called The Nigeria Standard newspaper to cover the case in which a so-called man of God was involved in stealing and receiving stolen property. It was in the course of this that I got born again. And when I got born again, honestly speaking, God opened my eyes to see the intrigue that was involved in the case. The man who stole was quietly kept somewhere while this man of God was being persecuted. In fact, it was the mai gadi who actually stole the property and gave a contract to this man to carry. He didn’t know it was stolen.
But my unconverted heart was ready to punish him until God, as soon as I got born again, removed scales from my eyes and I saw the truthfulness of the man’s case. And so I was able to convict the mai gadi who clearly could not resist the truth. So I discharged the evangelist. That was one in the magistracy. As Attorney General, there was this matter in which an elder statesman approached me and said I should help him get a contract. As Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, I was a member of the Tenders Board. So, all contract documents had to be vetted by me. So, I was by that position very influential. So, I could influence the award to him. And Lo and behold there was this big money. But with the Christ in me I rejected it. That surprised him. He said that everybody was doing it. I later found out that he was not alone because it involved some other ministries. He said that others collected it, only me rejected it. Satan was telling me that, even if it I was born again, I could resist N50,000 but not millions. But I resisted it because the word of God says in Titus 2:11, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation has appeared to all men.” It teaches us to say No! So I said No! Whatsoever the millions, I said No! That was a difficult situation.
As a Judge of the High Court, there are so many, many serious temptations. There was this one that involved a District Head. The district head was very influential and wanted to influence me. But at the end of the day I gave judgement against him. It was a land matter. Then there was this chieftaincy matter that was so difficult that even involved my being attacked spiritually. I could have died. It is a testimony that many people have come to hear about. I almost died because the other side thought that I was not going to give judgment in their favour. But I survived it and still did my work. The last one that was also very tough was that of the former governor that was before me. As far as I am concerned, I have done my best and left the rest for the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. But I think that I will be vindicated.
Who is your mentor in the legal profession?
Actually, I have many. Many in the sense that, in the legal profession, we respect seniority so much. After all, it is the judges that will recommend you. So I look up to the senior judges. But I particularly look up to the late Hon. Justice Oloko, of blessed memory. When I was Senior Registrar, God just granted favour for me unto him. He just had a liking for me and wanted me to become a judge in 2001. But unfortunately, in 2001, I was made the Attorney General and the 1999 Constitution had just come into operation. Before then, attorneys general were given first position in the appointment. That was the Supreme Court Rules. But the 1999 Constitution says that if you have been a member of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), then you cannot become a judge, you will have to step down. So that disqualified me for three years. That was what happened. But there is a particular lawyer, Barrister Pius Akubo. As a Magistrate I found myself being sued because of a case I handled. So he took up the case for me. Since then, he has become my mentor. Honestly, Barrister Pius Akubo is one of those that have challenged me in the legal profession. He is very versatile.
Sir, which is your favourite hymn/gospel song?
Wow! (Starts singing ‘Blessed Assurance’). This is the hymn I love. Then when it comes to praise (sings: praise the Lord, oh, sing…oh sing oh).
Was there a point you were attacked either physically or spiritually during your service as High Court Judge?
In Langtang, I was attacked spiritually and it was a well-known case. Rumours had it that they had hanged me. But, truly speaking, I didn’t exactly know where was paining me until it reached my lungs and I couldn’t breath freely again. For five days I was in bed. If I coughed, clotted blood would come out. My wife said we should go to the hospital but I refused. That was a spiritual attack. I believed God to heal and then brethren came and they were doing night vigil and true to it I got well without taking a tablet. But after that, God graciously shielded me. In fact, even on the last day of my sitting, there were charms all over. For what purpose, for what case I do not know.
But there was a particular case that my name was taken to a shrine. But in all, God protected me. Some people said it is fiction, some said it was superstition and all that. But what we could see, we saw. The sacrifices done on my door were there. It is no exaggeration. The charms and the sprinklings were there. So what were they? They were spiritual. The truth of the matter is that as a child of God, I know what the Bible says. Ephesians 6:12 says: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” So anybody who says that those things don’t exist is wrong. There are demonic manipulations, I can assure you. But greater is He who is in me than he who is outside.
What is your take on the high prevalence of bribery and corruption in this country?
Truly speaking, it is only when the heart of man is circumcised that he can withstand corruption. Yes, there are moralists; there are people who can say no to corruption. But the truth of the matter is that if such a heart is not circumcised, it is very difficult to resist it. So my take is that people should know God, fear God and when we talk about God, we are talking about salvation. The Bible says that even demons know God and they tremble. But the difference here is that you know God and you receive Him in your heart. So if truly you are born again, there is a grace in you that will make you resist corruption. And even if they write petitions against you and all that, you will come clean. I remember when a petition was written against me that I compromised. But it was false. God protected me and the matter went to the Court of Appeal and the Court of Appeal vindicated me. Some of those decisions are there. Those who fear God can withstand evil. But it is not easy because the world system is against Christ. If you want to ask me about politics, I will agree that I went into politics by my appointment as a commissioner. But I ran out.
Why did you run out?
I ran out because God asked me to leave. God told me that my appointment as commissioner was divine.
Why do you say it was divine?
Divine in the sense that I never looked for it. I was walking, trekking on the road when somebody said “your CV is needed in Government House.” Of course somebody would have made a recommendation. I later found out who did it. But I didn’t know it and so I was made Commissioner. For two and a half years, I saw the way politics was being played. I came in as a child of God. So, when they were discussing and I want to chip in, they will say that I should put the Bible aside. On one or two occasions, that was said. So for you to succeed in worldly politics, the tenets of the Bible are watered down. I can confidently say that.
Who encouraged you to continue serving God and practicing the legal profession?
When I got born again, it was like fire in my bones. So I was not satisfied with the church I was attending and so I ran out. That became a problem for me. As I ran out they called me a prostitute because I was looking for satisfaction. So one of the churches that encouraged me was Rev. Thompsons’ The Redeemed People’s Mission. So I made him my mentor. Rev. Dr. Pofi is one person that I like listening to. There is also one Rev. David Adeboye, he is also of The Redeemed Christian Church. And then in the Full Gospel Business Mens Fellowship there is Pat Odiyi. I think he has now relocated. He is no longer in Jos. I will not forget the Christian Lawyers Fellowship of Nigeria (CLASFON). It is one of the instrument that God used to shape me. I came in contact with CLASFON in 1992 and I became the Chairman in 1993 until 1999 when I became the Attorney General. CLASFON really helped me. When I finally settled down as a COCIN member, I found that Rev. Dr. Soja Bewarang and Rev. Prof. Pandang Yamsat were people that could preach. But, definitely, I came close to other men of God. Then there is this man that was my father in the Lord in the sense that he had a ministry. His name is Emmanuel Usman. He was a Muslim studying Medicine in Maiduguri when Jesus arrested him. And so he did away with the studies and came to Jos to open a ministry. The ministry started in 1990 and I joined him in 1993. The ministry grew into a very big ministry. And for twenty-five years we have been together and I am one of the elders. Even though a COCIN member, I am committed to that ministry because it is an interdenominational ministry. When people abuse ministries and pastors, they don’t know that there are many ministries that are genuinely supporting the Church. But most of them think that they are draining members, they say that they are stealing their sheep and all that.
But I am one person that support interdenominationalism. Some of them are fake. Of course, in every society there are things that are fake. I tell people that because there could be a fake Naira you cannot refuse to take naira notes. By the way, I rose to become an acting General Overseer of that ministry, Gospel of Christ Ministry. Until recently, I was praying and I said, “God, I am not called as a Church planter or a General Overseer” because Emmanuel Usman relocated to Benue. He relocated to serve under Gbile Akanni.
God just told him to surrender, leave the ministry and go and submit to him. Usman handed over to me and some few elders. We were managing it for about two, three years and later came up with the idea that, if the man submits himself to Peace House, then let us surrender the ministry to the Peace House. I have the picture of the handing over. That is the position of things.
As a former Attorney General of Plateau State, what is your take on the issue of prison congestion in the state and the country in general?
The issue of prison congestion is a national dilemma because, first of all, the prisons were built many years ago but crime is on the increase and many criminals are being sent there. And then the court system itself is very slow. The government should take the bull by the horn and build more prisons. The truth of the matter is that crime is on the increase and the investigation and trial of cases is very slow.
What is the way out?
If you are talking about the way out, they have proposed several reforms. For instance, instead of sending people to prison, you can give them options of fine or sometimes what we call corporal punishment labour. It is being slowly introduced but it is not popular yet. Not every offence should attract prison term. I just hope that the reformers will be serious about it and the National Assembly and maybe Houses of Assembly make necessary laws to back it up.
The legal profession is too demanding. How were you able to strike a balance between the office and the family front?
That must be God. I told you how I would always sit in court throughout the day and then come home fatigued, wake up to eat then rest again to write my judgements. But all along, God still gave me the opportunity to attend fellowships. Like the Gospel of Christ Ministries that I headed. It holds every Tuesday at about 4:30 to 7pm. So I had time for that and for some few other fellowships. And on the home front, I thank God for my wife. She is not a lawyer. But as I sat down in the study room, sometimes she would come to the study and say “may God give you the grace.” So I still had time for the family and the things of God.
What do you do during your leisure moments?
I just retired. My official retirement began January 2. Today is just January 8. I delivered my last judgments on 30th and 31st December. In that quarter, I delivered about twenty-five judgements. So the fatigue is still in me. So, I wake up in the morning, I just sleep. In fact, I pray lying down, just blessing God. Sometimes I just say, “hey! is this me?” Today, I just went out to do some things. Meanwhile, I don’t know exactly what God wants me to do. Business? I cannot do business. Politics? I cannot do politics. So what next? Even when it comes to preaching the gospel, you have to have a base. So what is it? I am waiting for God.
Are there regrets having served as a High Court Judge?
Honestly, as a child of God, I have no regrets whatsoever. I know that I would have loved that certain things should have happened in my time. For instance, the issue of the independence of the judiciary. I can confidently say that the judiciary is just an appendage. People want the judiciary to be impartial but it cannot be impartial because it is an appendage of the government. I say this very openly and I have no regret saying it. When you want to do something, you have to run to the governor. Governor may approve but the releases may not be there. And if you dare give judgement against the government…. I said I have no regrets, but if wishes were horses…. They said that the throne of God is built on righteousness and justice, it is not the issue of favouring whoever. If government has gone wrong, it has gone wrong, if this man has gone wrong, he has gone wrong. That is righteousness. But we are being stifled and muzzled.
What is your advice for those you left behind in the system?
First of all, I have a word of encouragement for them. Regardless of whatever it is, the work of a judge is the work of God. In fact, do you know that in the Bible we are called gods? We sit under God. We do the work of God because the work of God is judgment. So, I remind myself every day or frequently, that because I am judging people and even sending people to prison, the Heavenly Judge will also be judging me. Jehoshaphat said to his judges: “You are not doing it for a man but you are doing it for God.” So, know this from the beginning that you are judging for God. You are standing in the place of God. So, don’t make a mistake. Because, if you collect bribe to set people free or give what does not belong to them, on that day you cannot bribe God. Regardless of whatever it is, just believe God, do your own part and God will vindicate you. But I continue to pray that the judiciary should be independent one day. When it is financially autonomous, that may not solve all the problems but it will give more latitude to judges to act without fear or favour.
Where do you go from here?
I don’t know. Somebody would say “You should have planned.” But, you see, two years ago when it dawned on me that I was going to retire, I started praying and asking God, “what next?” I want to let you know that God has not answered me yet. But I know for sure that God has something for me. He says, “Seek me, when you seek me diligently you will find me.” So, it is now my time to seek God for the next phase. I leave that to God but I must seek Him in prayers. It is said that when one door closes, another one opens.