Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Softly, Softly, CJN Mukhtar!

opinion

If it is true that morning shows the day, it must also be true that our Judiciary under the new Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Maryam Aloma Mukhtar, may be heading for troubled waters, if not directly for the rocks.

Understandably, the Senate was in a hurry to make history, the good history of producing the first female CJN, hence it sacrificed excellence on the altar of speed. By now, the senators must be biting their fingers for taking this woman through a black market confirmation.

She probably did not undergo the rigorous confirmation process that her forerunners underwent. The shorthand process she went through denied Nigerians the opportunity of knowing her antecedent and judging her by it.

We are now stuck with a CJN who is intent on violating the very Constitution which she swore to uphold just a few months ago; a CJN who is bent on defiling the sanctity of the marriage institution; a woman, who rather than respect and protect the gains recorded by the womenfolk, would rather have them completely eroded.

Like all of us, Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo had no control over where she should be born. She was born in Anambra State. Perhaps, she had a choice as to where she could pick a husband. She got married to a man from Abia State. Her name was submitted by the government of Abia State. She was duly cleared for nomination as a Judge of the Court of Appeal by the National Judicial Council under the chairmanship of the same CJN, Justice Mukhtar! Her name was duly forwarded to the President who in turn nominated her and forwarded her name to the Senate for confirmation. Her nomination was duly confirmed by the Senate.

It was only after her name came to the CJN to be sworn in that the CJN blatantly refused to swear her in, claiming that she was in possession of a petition to the effect that Justice Jombo-Ofo is not from Abia State.

For the first time in our history, we have a situation where a woman like the CJN has been thrown up by the same National Judicial Council that also threw up the CJN; a woman like the CJN was nominated by the President the same way that the CJN was nominated, this woman has gone through the same Senate confirmation as the CJN did; and only to be rejected by the woman CJN whereas she was accepted by the men she met on ground!

Clearly, all the noise about women liberation, "no woman, no nation" and all that jazz are mere noises in abstraction; they are not real! It would be recalled that as a prelude to the 2011 presidential election, the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan and all the high profile women of the PDP jetted through all the states and pretended to be drumming up support for female aspirants. But at the PDP primary where there was only one female aspirant, that female aspirant got only one vote, which we assume was her own vote! Where did the thousands of other female delegates votes go?

Self-hatred among women is endemic. The lower women are available to be used as bridges, which the upward mobile women burn off after crossing the river. That explains why the women who have made it only identify with men and mirror their contempt for women. But that is not the main issue here.

Again, for the first time in the history of Nigeria, we have a situation where the 109 senators co-sponsored a motion on a single subject - asking the CJN to swear in Justice Jombo-Ofo. Yes, it is good to appeal to her moral conscience but it is still more relevant to challenge her demonstration of knowledge of the law and her total lack of sense of history.

Justice Mukhtar is probably unaware that by her reluctance to swear in a duly cleared Judge, she has vetoed the collective decisions of the National Judicial Council, the President and the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The truth is that the moment a nominee goes through Senate confirmation and is duly cleared, not even the President can change or withdraw the nomination anymore, even where the process of the nominee's confirmation was demonstrably flawed.

The entire Chapter III of the Nigeria Constitution deals with the issue of citizenship. The learned CJN should have known that a woman is automatically a citizen of her husband's state. Today, Dame Patience Jonathan who is originally from Rivers State is a Permanent Secretary in the service of Bayelsa State. Justice Mary Odili has since risen to the Supreme Court on her husband's state of origin.

Come to think of it, this CJN is a bundle of duplicity. What did she hope to achieve by submitting Justice Jombo-Ofo's name for appointment and praying for her disqualification? What role has been assigned to the CJN by the Constitution? Section 238 of the 1999 Constitution stipulates: "The appointment of a person to the office of the Court of Appeal shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council."

In a profession where seniority counts the most, Mukhtar has sworn in other Judges cleared with Jombo-Ofo and left her behind. Where do the women groups stand in all this? Will they keep watching while women are reduced to the centre of the sociological marginal theory - unwanted by their states of birth and unwanted by their states of marriage?

Incidentally, the Constitution is silent on who swears in a Judge. If the CJN now throws away the undeserved respect enjoyed by her predecessors, even a junior magistrate could lay wait to perform that function and it will be as valid as any other swearing in! Meanwhile, the learned CJN has violated the due process of law by showing deep disrespect to our Constitution. That's what the Senate should now be talking about.

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