Thursday, 23 May 2013
Obama And Justice Jombo-Ofo: A Tale Of Two Nations By Uche Anichukwu
The widening gap between America’s astonishing progress in managing her diversities and Nigeria’s rather embarrassing retrogression at integrating her diverse populations has come to the fore, once again. While an Anambra born woman, Justice (Mrs.) Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo, could not be sworn in as Justice of the Court of Appeal because she hails from Abia, a different State as her husband’s, an Africa-American, Barack Obama, was re-elected by a predominantly white population as the President of the most powerful nation in the world. What a shame!
This brings to the fore a recent lecture entitled “The Political Ideology of the Great Zik of Africa and the Leadership Challenges in Nigeria” delivered by the Deputy President of Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu in Awka. Ekweremadu had noted that apart from the fact that Zik won election in the South West, with his NCNC also showing great strength in the 1951 Western Region House of Assembly election, NCNC installed Altine Umoru and Bashorun Balogun as the Mayors of Enugu and Port Harcourt, respectively. According to him, therefore, the question our generation would have to answer is: “Why is it that decades after the great Zik and his generation had shone the light of this level of brotherhood, we are still unable to profitably manage our diversities and gel into a true nation state?”
Also, wondering if we are actually making progress or retrogressing, the Senate Leader explained during a debate on the matter by the Senate in plenary that some 30 years ago, an Igbo man, Honourable Justice Kalu Anya was the Chief Justice of Borno State, while a Yoruba man was the Attorney-General of the Borno Judiciary.
Let us look at the contrasts to find answers to Ndoma-Egba’s questions. Sometime in the United States history, blacks were just some pieces of property, with the first set of black slaves arriving in State of Virginia. It was a long and tortuous history of misuse, dehumanisation, and derogation. In 1800, a black slave and blacksmith, Gabriel Prosser planned a slave revolt which was to march on Richmond, Virginia. His plan was uncovered and he and many fellow black “conspirators” were hanged. The same faith befell Nat Turner, an African American preacher in Virginia in 1831 as well as Denmark Vessey in Chesterfied, South Carolina in 1821. Ironically, as if to atone for its notoriety for slavery and highhandedness against black slaves, Virginia, known to have consecutively delivered to the Republican Party from 1968 to 2004 presidential elections, made a “U” turn to elect Obama, a black, in 2008 and re-elected him few days ago.
Now, though the US Congress banned slave importation in 1808, the US Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott’s case that slaves were not citizens. Yet, from Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that freed black slaves in the Confederate States in 1863 to the Fifth Amendment that gave the blacks voting rights; from the election of Hiram Revels as the first African-American Senator (Mississippi) in 1870 in the period of Reconstruction (1865-1877) to election of 16 black Congressmen and 600 black state legislators in the same period; from the founding of the first college for black women (Spelman College) in 1881 to the breaking of Major League Baseball’s colour segregation when Jackie Robinson signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947; from the integration of African-Americans into the US military by President Truman in 1948 to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans case in which the Supreme Court declared (on May 17, 1954) that all forms of racial discrimination in schools was unconstitutional; from the popular Rosa Parks refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger at the “coloured section” of a bus in Montgomery on December 1, 1955 to the successful one-year bus boycott by blacks that led to the desegregation of buses in Montgomery in December 1956; and from the sweeping Civil Rights Act under President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 that prohibits discrimination of any kind- race, colour, religion, national origin, etc, plus the Voting Rights Act (1965) and another Civil Rights Act (1968) to the election of President Obama in 2008, the US has made tremendous progress in transforming into a country that truly lives out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold this truth to be self evident, that all men are born equal”. US is now a country of Martin Luther King’s dream where “men are judged by the content of their character, not by the colour of their skin”. This invariably accounts monumentally to America’s tremendous transformation into an economic and political super power because men and women find their dreams, becoming the best they are capable of, irrespective of their religion, race, colour, etc.
Conversely, Nigeria has moved from a nation where an Altine Umoru and Bashorun Balogun became Mayors of two biggest cities in the then Eastern Region, namely Enugu and Port Harcourt, to one where no man/woman amounts to anything outside his/her State of Origin. We have retrogressed from a nation where an Honourable Justice Kalu Anya became Chief Justice of Borno to one where an Anambra born Justice Jombo-Ofo, was refused ascension to the Court of Appeal unable to access her full rights and privileges as a Nigerian from her State of Marriage, Abia. Ironically, she remains an Abian, her children remains Abians, and will no doubt be her final resting place when she is called. We have also retrogressed to a country where a Governor of a State in a 21st century Nigeria has, on purely sectional and ethno-religious grounds, consistently upbraided and discredited the ongoing efforts to address dire contradictions in Nigeria’s constitution. Even though we spend billions of naira funding the NYSC, we are steadily transforming into a country where funny and incompetent characters could occupy the best of available positions and opportunities or break the law and get away with it, so long as they are “sons and daughters of the soil”. Again, what a big shame!!!
However, given the national applause that has greeted the patriotic motion moved by Senator Ekweremadu and the entire Senate calling the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Honourable Justice to order, it is comforting that Nigerians understand that this Jombo-Ofo matter, if allowed to stay, would sound a requiem for Nigerian women and big obstacle for inter-state marriage and national integration. It is like digging a grave for our future.
Kowtowing to an unreasonable Rule of the Federal Character Commission (FCC) is not a complementary commentary on the nation’s judiciary. Unless we are saying that the FCC Rule overrides Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution which provides that no Nigerian should be discriminated against on the ground of religion, state of origin, sex, language, etc.
This national embarrassment should further mobilize Nigerians to support the National Assembly to replace the State of Origin with State of Residence in the ongoing constitution review. Indeed, what God has joined together, let no judiciary put asunder. Besides, the hunger, insecurity and poverty challenges we face, know no state, religion, tribe or tongue.
Uche Anichukwu is Special Adviser (Media) to Deputy President of Senate and Chairman, Senate Committee on Constitution Review