History was made yesterday as President Goodluck Jonathan formally nominated the most senior justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Alooma Mariam Mukhtar, as first female chief justice of Nigeria (CJN) and presented her name to the Senate for confirmation.
LEADERSHIP had exclusively reported that Jonathan would forward Mukhtar's name to the Senate after his return from Brazil where he attended a summit on environment.
If confirmed by the Senate, Justice Mukhtar would have the enviable record of being the first female in Nigeria to occupy the highest judicial position since independence in 1960.
Mukhtar is expected to replace the outgoing CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, who retires on July 15.
In a letter to that effect addressed to the Senate president, David Mark, and read at the plenary, yesterday, Jonathan said "her nomination is in conformity with Section 231 Sub-section (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria".
The letter read part: "In conformity with Section 231, Sub-section (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended which gives the president powers to appoint a Chief Justice of Nigeria, acting on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council and subject to confirmation of the appointment by the Senate, I have the honour to forward the nomination of Honourable Justice Alooma Mariam Mukhtar, CON, CFR, for confirmation as Chief Justice of Nigeria.
"It is my hope that this request will receive the usual expeditious attention of the Distinguished Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria."
In the same vein, Jonathan, also forwarded to the Senate the nominations of justices Kumai Bayang Akaahs (north-west zone) and Stanley Shenko Alagoa (south-south zone) as justices of the Supreme Court.
In a letter also read by Mark, Jonathan said both "appointments have been necessitated by the impending retirement from service of Justice Dahiru Musdapher, Chief Justice of Nigeria, and Justice Francis Tabai".
Eso, Sagay, others react
Meanwhile, prominent lawyers and retired judges have lauded the nomination of Mukhtar. They include former justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Kayode Eso, chairman of the Census Tribunal, Justice Ifeyinwa Obegolu, former attorney-general of the federation (AGF) Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN), Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), Dr. Alex Izinyon (SAN) and Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN).
Eso, Obegolu and other lawyers spoke in separate interviews with LEADERSHIP.
Eso said: "Alooma Mukhtar is easily the best for the job. She is absolutely incorruptible. Alooma would surely make the best CJN Nigeria ever had. I whole-heartedly welcome this development. I congratulate the judiciary and all Nigerians on having Aloma as the CJN."
Obegolu said: "It is a sign of excellent things to come in the way of the judiciary and Nigeria. It would take the Nigerian women to another level in the collective drive to bring women out of the woods. I am proud of Justice Muktar for being able to wangle her way through the men's world by dint of hard work and discipline in character. I congratulate her very warmly."
Akinjide: "I wish her a big success. I have no doubt of her quality and ability to man the seat. She is an excellent judge. I congratulate her and the entire judiciary on her achievement."
Sagay: "My mood or inclination has been that the CJN should start coming from outside. But the nomination of Alooma Mukhtar as CJN is unique, since she will be the first female CJN. Besides, she is a progressive judge, and it is a good step towards gender equality. For Nigeria to have a female CJN is worthy of celebration."
Izinyon: "Mukhtar is eminently qualified for the CJN seat. She is a fearless judge and unique. The public would expect her to turn things around in the judiciary for good."
Malami: "Alooma's appointment as the CJN is timely. Though she is inheriting a tattered judiciary, but the no-nonsense iron lady of the Supreme Court is much likely to do Nigerians proud. I bet you, it would no longer be business as usual in the judiciary."
Lawyers set agenda for first female CJN
Just as many lawyers have welcomed the nomination of Mukhtar, they have also recommended to the first female CJN steps to move the nation's judiciary forward.
The chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja branch, Lagos, Monday Ubani said that Mukhtar has succeeded in scoring another first. He believed that the authorities must have seen good qualities in her before elevating her to the position of the CJN.
Another lawyer, Mr. Wale Ogunade, said the new CJN should be looking at "the promotion of the rule of law".
He said there should be a situation where sheriffs of the court are empowered to implement court judgments and not the police.
For Kayode Dada, Justice Aloma's appointment is a reflection of the principle of gender equality.
In his own comment, Lateef Abdulsalam, said the new CJN should have zero tolerance for corruption in the judiciary and encourage a state-to state increment in the remuneration of judges. He also wanted her to focus on the further training of judges and magistrates.