12 November 2012

Nigeria: Odinkalu - Refusal to Swear-in Justice Jombo-Ofo Wrong in Law

The Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Dr Chidi Odinkalu, Sunday said the decision of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar, not to swear-in Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo as a justice of the Court of Appeal was wrong both in law and in process.

Odinkalu in a statement noted that "the decision of the CJN in this matter pertaining to Justice Jombo-Ofo's swearing in is flawed in process, wrong in law and subversive of our constitutional values of equality among citizens."

He recalled the events leading to the refusal to swear-in the Appeal Court justice thus: "On Monday, November 5, 2012, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Aloma Mukhtar, was scheduled to administer oaths of office to 12 newly appointed Justices of Nigeria's Court of Appeal at the premises of the Supreme Court in Abuja.

"All 12 had scaled through the rigorous processes preceding appointment and had received their letters of appointment.

To enable them fulfill the administrative processes preceding swearing in, the newly appointed justices were required to arrive in Abuja the previous week. On the afternoon of Friday, November 2, the CJN's Secretary telephoned one of the newly appointed justices, Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo, to request her to see the Chief Justice urgently.

"At the Supreme Court, Justice Jombo-Ofo proceeded to the CJN's Chambers. Sources at the Supreme Court authoritatively reported that at the meeting, CJN Mukhtar briefly interrogated Justice Jombo-Ofo as to her state of origin and accused her of not being an indigene of the state she claimed before abruptly ending the meeting.

"Following her brief encounter with the CJN, Justice Jombo-Ofo was seen leaving the premises of the Supreme Court in severe distress. On Saturday, November 5, the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court instructed her through a telephone call not to attend or present herself for the swearing in on November 5. All these developments took place orally.

The rights activist pointed out that "On Monday, November 5, the CJN administered the oath on 11 Justices instead of 12. Chief

Justice Mukhtar had administratively stepped down Justice Jombo-Ofo from among the justices to be sworn in. It emerged that Justice Jombo-Ofo was not sworn in because, in the opinion of the CJN, she was not an "indigene" of the state whose origin she claimed, Abia State.

Odinkalu said: "In one sentence, the decision of CJN Mukhtar in this matter pertaining to Justice Jombo-Ofo's swearing in is flawed in process, wrong in law and subversive of our constitutional values of equality among citizens.

"Let us begin with the process. The administration of oath of office follows judicial appointment and does not precede it. With respect to appointments to the Court of Appeal, this process begins with the nomination of candidates by the respective heads of court around the country. In Justice Jombo-Ofo's case, the Chief Judge of Abia State would have consented to her appointment. Thereafter, the security services would usually prepare dossiers on the candidates.

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