Tuesday, 21 May 2013
Justice Ifeoma: Remove State Of Origin Now! By Folarin Samson
The recent refusal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Muktar to administer judicial oath of office on Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo as Justice of the Court of Appeal is a draw back on the much-touted campaign for gender equality and women empowerment in Nigeria. And to think that Justice Aloma, who made history as the first female Chief Justice of the country could superintend this show because of some primordial considerations leaves so much to be desired in women who are at the top already and exposes a fundamental matter Nigeria has not been paying attention to and which is seriously affecting our nationhood. Justice Ifeoma and 11 others were supposed to be confirmed as justices of the Court of Appeal. But as others were being sworn into office, petitions were reportedly filed against the candidature of Justice Ifeoma for the position because she was not an indigene of Abia state and hence unfit to fill Abia slot as a judicial policy demanded. Findings show that Justice Ifeoma although born in Anambra State, was married to an indigene of Abia State and had since her marriage transferred her service and allegiance to Abia. That was some 14 years ago.
This writer is shocked that Justice Aloma could not make a case for her counterpart on the matter knowing the sensitive nature of gender-connected controversies. But supposing she was avoiding the sludge of gender bias, what stopped her Lordship from previously conferring with the relevant recommending authorities so the matters could be sorted out to avert the embarrassment that now trails the event? The Abia State Government and the Abia Judiciary decide who represents them and they never objected to her appointment.
The Presidency and the National Judicial Council also reportedly approved of her appointment and established the worth of her qualifications and credentials for the office. So, why would the CJN allow some raucous dissenters put the judiciary in a situation that could lead to insinuation of another bout of subliminal interference in judicial processes? And if indeed there is a subsisting judicial policy that forbids women from ascending to the height of their career in their husband’s state as we are being told, what is the position of the constitution, which is the basis of all other rules and policies?
Section 1(3) of the 1999 Constitution had established the pre-eminence of the constitution thus: “If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this constitution, this constitution shall prevail, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void”.
In addressing the matter of Justice Ifeoma, Section 42 (1) under the heading ‘Right to freedom from Discrimination’ states, “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person
(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restriction to which citizens of Nigeria or other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject”
Justice Muktar Aloma is the Chief Justice of Nigeria and certainly knows better. Aside from constitutional protection for the rights of women, is it not culturally, socially, religiously and even legally true that when a woman is married to a man, she becomes an entity with him? What is then the basis for discrepancy? If Aloma could endorse this shame and even dared the joint resolution of all the 108 Senators who ratified Ifeoma’s appointment, other Nigerian women may have to swallow their pride when some overbearing men repeat such humiliating action in the future.
Conversely, those who have expressed sadness over Justice Aloma’s decision have been men, men who have risen beyond parochial sentiments. Senator David Mark in particular felt the first female justice by her decision was weeping more than the bereaved. It will therefore be the path of honour for Justice Aloma to recall Justice Ifeoma for her rites of office as this is becoming disgraceful for the nation merit system and whatever may be the reason being currently evinced by Her Lordship for the delay cannot be sufficient at such a moment when all matters ought to have been concluded. It could only mean two things. One, the judiciary is not organized. Two, the NJC and all the public officers, including Mr. President and the Senate President who approve of Justice Ifeoma’s investiture, lack credibility and integrity. These are too weighty implications and they have damnable consequences on us as a people if valid.
But beneath this socio-judicial altercation is another issue, which stocks the blinding smoke. Senator Mark himself spotted it when he presented a strong case for replacement of state of origin with state of residence. It is high time we adopted this suggestion so that embarrassing confrontations like this will stop. I believe with this in place, the limitation of our ethnic differences will be reduced and Nigerians can live and work in any state of their choosing without the fear of any repugnant judicial policy or executive fiat.
Those who followed events in Abia state in the wake of the minimum wage benchmark will understand executive fiat better. Thousands of non-indigenes of Abia state were summarily dismissed from the state civil service and sent packing because the state government could not afford to pay all the workers minimum wage. So, those who had filled other states of origin in their application forms had to be fired, their tenement rate expired with executive fiat.
That is how state of origin is tearing us apart. Public and private establishments require you to fill ‘state of origin’ in their forms so they will know how to deal with you just in case you don’t belong. Tertiary institutions still talk of catchment areas while offering admissions, so they can absorb students who are not too good but are sons and daughters of the soil. Even the nation, in every sector, still stresses the decimal of federal character at the expense of merit. We have this mental consciousness of our ethnic bearing and this is affecting the unity and progress of the country. We may never be one until we start removing all the clauses and conditions that widen our differences and accentuate our weaknesses.
Folarin Samson is a graduate of University of Lagos and resides in Lagos