8 November 2012

Nigeria: Senate Asks CJN to Swear in Justice Jumbo-Ofo

The Senate yesterday asked the chief justice of Nigeria Aloma Mukhtar to reverse the decision to swear in Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo on the grounds that the action was contrary to the sanctity of marriage.

Strong indications also emerged that the National Judicial Council (NJC) is to hold an emergency meeting to review the matter.

The upper chamber of the National Assembly further urged the CJN to take judicial notice of the fact that she could not cry more than the bereaved (Abia State) which did not complain about the appointment.

The Senate's resolution was sequel to a motion raised by the deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, and co-sponsored by all the senators.

Senate President David Mark, while describing the refusal to swear in Jumbo-Ofo as a mistake, asked the CJN not to threaten the sanctity of marriage

Mark said, "If there is anything good in the husband's place and the wife can't take it, then, I think it is unfortunate. But more importantly, the sanctity of marriage would be destroyed by this act if we allow it to go.

"I believe we want to encourage professional women to maintain their professions and keep their marriage. Because this will provide for them to choose between their professions and their marriages and I think that will not encourage family life in this country.

"I think the whole thing is a fait accompli because they have gone through the entire process; there is nothing left again.

Swearing in is just ceremonial and if these issues were not raised before and only at the point of swearing in and to appease those who have petitioned or whether it is done because she is not from the husband's state of origin is immaterial, I think she ought to have been sworn in.

"More importantly, I think the judiciary would be crying louder than the bereaved because Abia State is not complaining. The governor was there, so why should anybody come and say she is taking Abia slot because that is what it means in effect if she was not sworn in. We should do whatever we can to ensure that she is sworn in.

This will make us think twice about the over-emphasis on indegeneship and place of origin. This brings that to the fore. If you are resident in a place, why can't you take appointment there? But particularly on this issue, I think it is just a mistake and that the mistake will be corrected."

Responding to questions over what options would be adopted if the CJN refused to swear in Jumbo-Ofo, the spokesman of the Senate, Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe, said, "We don't have to draw the lines. We don't feel that the cooperation that we have enjoyed with the judiciary will be tested by this. The CJN, being reasonable and part of our leadership, will take due cognisance of our views."

Leading the motion, Ekweremadu observed that "there is no record of any objection to her appointment by her husband, Abia State government or Abia State judiciary".

He added that "the practical implication of the decision of the CJN is that Nigerian women have lost all they struggled for over the years and Nigeria will be taken back 100 years. And that once a woman is married outside her community, local government area or state, she cannot aspire to any position (appointive or elective) in her husband's community, local government area or state, while it is very unlikely that she will secure such position in her place of origin since she has been married out."

He added that "this scenario puts Nigerian women in very hopeless situation and most importantly contravenes S.42 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended);

"Takes special notice that there are abundant instances of women who have taken judicial appointments, also executive and legislative positions from the states of origin of their husbands".

Contributing, the Senate leader, Victor Ndoma Egba (SAN), described the scenario as retrogressive, adding that it was unfortunate especially at a time a woman is the CJN. He stressed that the refusal was not just discriminatory but unconstitutional towards women.

He highlighted that as far as the president had appointed Jumbo-Ofo, the CJN's role of swearing her in is ceremonial, adding that "as far as I am concerned she is judge of the Appeal Court".

He said the implication of the action of the CJN on the judiciary is that it limits the judiciary to mediocrity and threatens the sanctity of marriage as it puts career-minded women in a position where they have to choose between their career and marriage.

Senator Zainab Kure, who noted that the female senators had agreed not to comment on the matter, however, congratulated her male colleagues for their solidarity on the matter. She therefore called on the CJN to swear in Jumbo-Ofo accordingly.

Senator Uche Chukwumerije said it was "ironic that under the captainship of a female CJN, a woman would suffer the severest and most crude rebuke".

NJC to hold emergency meeting

Following the public outcry that greeted the refusal CJN Mukhtar to swear in a justice of the Court of Appeal (JCA), Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo, LEADERSHIP can now exclusively reveal that the National Judicial Council (NJC) will soon hold an emergency meeting to address the matter.

A member of the NJC who craved anonymity because of the conservative nature of the judiciary confided this in LEADERSHIP last night. He added that though the NJC is supposed to meet in December, the issue of the emergency meeting was sequel to the controversy trailing the Jombo-Ofo saga, which he claimed was an embarrassment to the entire judiciary.

According to the source, the CJN is now under intense pressure to swear in Jombo-Ofo as the extant rules which she cited for her justification is unconstitutional, saying that past CJNs had breached the policy in certain judicial appointments.

The CJN had declined to swear in Jombo-Ofo on Monday alongside other 11 JCAs on the grounds that there was a petition which alleged that her state of origin is Anambra and not Abia State. This development was contrary to the fact that she had spent 14 years in Abia judiciary and married an indigene of the state.

Speaking on the imperative of the Council's emergency meeting over the controversial issue, the NJC member said: "The unfortunate incident has now turned a formidable list of the new JCAs into an avoidable controversy. This is because this is the first time in recent years that we will have new JCAs that are chosen on merit. Legally speaking, Jumbo-Ofo is a JCA. The swearing-in is a mere formality.

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