Tuesday, 21 May 2013
Lawyers Decry Chief Justice’s Decision to Exclude Court Of Appeal Nominee
Several Nigerian lawyers have criticized the decision by Chief Justice of Nigeria, Maryam Alooma-Muktar, to exclude Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo from the list of newly appointed justices of the Court of Appeal sworn in this week.
The five lawyers who spoke to us said they were dismayed by Justice Alooma-Muktar’s failure to swear in Justice Jombo-Ofo as a member of Nigeria’s Court of Appeal. A source close to Ms. Jombo-Ofo, a serving judge of the Abia State High Court, disclosed that she was summoned by the CJN and told that her nomination and appointment had been withdrawn because Anambra, her state of birth, has no vacant spot to fill in the Court of Appeal. Mrs. Jombo-Ofo’s husband hails from Abia State, a state where she has put in many years of service.
The critics of the Chief Justice’s action said they were disturbed that the nation’s Chief Justice failed to recognize that a married woman is recognized culturally and under the law as fully belonging to her husband’s state of origin.
“Chief Justice Alooma-Muktar’s attitude betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the way that citizens derive their identities in a multi-ethnic society like ours,” said one lawyer, who is mostly based in Abuja.
In the words of another lawyer, the CJN’s position “effectively seeks to erect a permanent demarcation between spouses on account of their originally belonging to different states.” The lawyer accused the CJN of espousing a position that is at odds with Nigerian culture. “In all Nigerian cultures, a wife is regarded as part and parcel of her husband’s family.”
Another critic, a Lagos-based female lawyer, took a slightly different direction. According to her, “If Nigeria is to exist as a viable entity, then citizens should have the freedom to select their states based on their domicility.” She said, “Even if Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo was not married to an Abia man but had lived and worked in that state for a very long time, she should be free to claim Abia as her state.”
Ms. Jombo-Ofo has served as a judge of the Abia State High Court for the past 14 years. Besides, she has been married for more than thirty years to Nkemka Jombo-Ofo whose hometown is Arochukwu in Abia State. A source close to her said the judge “has lived most of her adult life and identified herself as an Arochukwu woman.” Governor Theodore Orji of Abia had written a letter to the CJN authorizing her to give the state’s slot on the Court of Appeal to Mss. Jombo-Ofo. SaharaReporters learnt that Ms. Alooma-Muktar claimed that she had received at least one “strong petition” that asserted that Ms. Jombo-Ofo should be treated as “a non-indigene of the state.”
But our respondents said the CJN’s action amounted to “taking the laws into her hands,” in the words of one of them. He added: “The justice’s appointment was first recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC), ratified by the National Assembly and assented to by the President. It remains to be seen if the Chief Justice will be blind to these processes and unilaterally remove a duly appointed judge without due process.”
One of our respondents accused the CJN of using a hypocritical yardstick to exclude Ms. Jombo-Ofo. He told Saharareporters that many people within the judiciary believe that President Goodluck Jonathan was determined to pack the high court with his kinsmen. He said it was an open secret that Mr. Jonathan had meddled with judicial nomination procedures to ensure that judges from certain states did not claim the slots of those states. He cited the case of a Lagos judge, Olubunmi Oyewole, who was reportedly rejected because he was nominated by Osun State governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. “Justice Oyewole was dropped because the NJC claimed he was a Lagos-based judge who needed to be nominated by the Lagos state government.”
A judicial source also cited the case of Justice Mary Odili, the wife of former Governor Peter Odili of Rivers State. “Justice Mary Odili was elevated to the Court of Appeal on the basis of a slot that belonged to the ‘South-South’. But when it was time to elevate her to the Supreme Court, President Jonathan arranged for her to take the slot from the South East.” The source alleged that the maneuver was part of President Jonathan’s desire to “create a spot for a judge from Bayelsa, his state of origin.”
Ms. Jombo-Ofo’s marital situation resembles that of Justice Amina Augie, who was nominated to the Court of Appeal from the Northwest region. Like Ms. Jombo-Ofo, Ms. Amina Augie was married to an indigene of Kebbi State and worked for several years as a judge in Sokoto State. “With such striking resemblance between the situations of these two justices, what is the justification for discriminating against Justice Jombo-Ofo?” asked one respondent.
Various groups and individuals have been condemning Justice Alooma-Muktar’s action. In a move two days ago, the Nigerian Senate asked the CJN to immediately swear in the Abia-married justice.