28 December 2012

Nigeria: 2012 - the Year for Women in the Judiciary

"We, the Governments participating in the Fourth World Conference on Women, Gathered here in Beijing in September 1995, the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, Determined to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of all humanity----"

These immortal words are among 38 points of declarations by the fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China in September 1995..

The Nigeria women has more than achieved Beijing goals of equality in 2012 when President Goodluck Jonathan swore in Justice Mariam Aloma-Mukhtar as the first female and 13th indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) on July 16, 2012.

Jonathan also conferred on her the honour of Grand Commander of the Order of Niger (GCON) at the ceremony which took place at the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Mukhtar succeeded Justice Dahiru Musdapher, who bowed out of service on July 15, after clocking the 70 years mandatory retirement age for judicial officers within that cadre.

Following the impasse generated in the Court of Appeal with the refusal of President Jonathan to reinstate the suspended Court of Appeal president, Justice Ayo Isa Salami in line with the recommendation of the national judicial council (NJC) the CJN, Justice Mukhtar swore-in Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa as the acting Court of Appeal president on November 23, 2012.

Bulkachuwa who became the first female to preside over the affairs of the Court of Appeal had her acting appointment approved by President Goodluck Jonathan as Justice Dalhatu Adamu's fifth acting appointment on the same seat expired on November 22.

Another woman jurist who had made the news from the judiciary is Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo whose name was initially among the 12 newly Justices of the Court of Appeal that were sworn-in on November 5, 2012 by the CJN but was left out in controversial circumstances.

The confounding reason given by the CJN was that she received a petition to the effect that Justice Jombo-Ofor did not disclose her true state of origin.

The grouse of the petitioners is that Justice Jombo-Ofor is from Anambra State by birth but now married to a man from Abia State, which warranted the transfer of her service from Anambra to Abia.

The petitioners are of the view that Justice Jombo-Ofor ought not to proceed to the Court of Appeal on the slot meant for Abia State as, according to them, she is not an indigene of the state.

After much controversy, the National Judicial Council (NJC) after an emergency meeting on November 21 reviewed her case and directed that she be sworn-in by the CJN as a Justice of the Court of Appeal.

The other remarkable moment in the judiciary during the year2012 was the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) election that took place in Abuja on July 17.

Though it was a delegate election, but both the "inner and outer bar" gathered to cast or witness the electoral process.

However, the chairman of the electoral committee, Lanke Odogiyan declared the former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Rivers State, Okechukwu Wali (SAN), as the NBA's 26th national president, with the total votes of 688 to defeat Emeka Ngige (SAN), who polled 449 votes and Blessing Ukiri with two votes.

Barely a week after the NBA elections, Ngige who embraced Wali that won turned round to allege that there were "serious manipulations and grave anomalies" in the exercise.

He said "the entire process" was marred by irregularities and gross abuse, of the electoral process, all aimed to achieve a desired outcome.

He said given "the gross and programmed irregularities" at the election, the NBA has been placed in a most difficult and uncomfortable position in its mission to promote the rule of law.

"What moral right has the NBA leadership now or in the future to criticise the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the event of electoral malpractices?

"It is now apparent that NBA's programmes aimed to effect electoral reforms are a mere charade aimed to hoodwink the unwary."

Ngige said he has decided not to challenge the process in court, as doing so may throw the NBA into serious crisis and distraction, reminiscent of the 1992 crises which started in Port Hacourt.

"The NBA is bigger than all of us. I have decided to take the moral highground than descend into the arena of malfeasance with my traducers and persons bent on turning the NBA into their personal patrimony and oligarchy.

"I have no grudges whatsoever with my brother silk, Mr. Okey Wali (SAN). My concerns are entirely against the way and manner the electoral process was mindlessly manipulated by the outgoing leadership," Ngige said.

He alleged that the displayed voters' register contradicted the actual voters' register used for the elections, adding that the National Executive Committee (NEC) list was manipulated to include non-NEC members and even those who were disqualified from being NEC members.

But the outgoing executives of the NBA fired back, saying Ngige's allegation that names of dead legal practitioners were used in rigging the election to elect new national officers was malicious and spurious.

In a press statement signed by the former NBA general secretary, Mr Olumuyiwa Akinboro said Ngige must be suffering from "post election stress, depression or failure of expectation," adding, "we are not doing PDP or ACN election, we are not politicians, this is a professional body which requires that all its members must abide by the constitution and laid down procedures.

The raging controversy trailing Salami's suspension on August 18, 2011 has refused to abate in the current year under review.

Haunted by its inglorious mistake of donating its power to the presidency over Salami's suspension, the NJC on May 10, 2012 formally reinstated Salami to office. But because NJC suspended Salami and asked Jonathan to approve its resolve, it has to travel the same road to reinstate Salami.

However NJC might have mistaken act of statecraft when it expected the same Jonathan to play along and approve Salami's reinstatement in line with its recommendation.

Jonathan turned round to tell NJC that the endless suit filed for and against Salami's reinstatements must be resolved before Salami's reinstatement can be considered.

Curiously, so much was expected from Justice Aloma Mukhtar who headed the three-man panel that recommended Salami's reinstatement to the entire members of the NJC, which subsequently by the votes of 10 to 8 resolved to recall Salami during the said May 10 Meeting of the council.

The CJN, to many stakeholders has not put in the requisite initiatives and determination she demonstrated before ascending to the number one position in judiciary in the country.

The NBA had also on July 27, 2012 asked Jonathan to reinstate Salami without further delay because judiciary is a separate arm of government.

In a communiqué issued at the end of its national executive (NEC) meeting in Lokoja on May 24-25 and signed by NBA president, Mr Joseph Daudu (SAN), the association said Jonathan's refusal to recall Salami is capable of eroding the confidence reposed in the judiciary by Nigerians.

NBA said "NEC considered the recent NJC recommendation Jonathan to recall Ayo Salami back to the office and condemned the refusal of the President so to do on the pretext of pendency of litigation in court.

It is very likely that the fight for Salami's reinstatement may become fierce in the 2013 on the grounds that Salami was just suspended in order for Jonathan to have a favourable verdict in the presidential election petition tribunal sitting then in the Court of Appeal in Abuja.

Lest we forget, Justice Kumai Bayang Akaahs who replaced Salami as the chairman of the five-man panel of the presidential election petition tribunal was elevated as a Justice of the Supreme Court Jonathan and his oaths of office and allegiance administered to him by Justice Aloma-Muktar on September 26, 2012

Justice Aka'ahs successfully heard and determined the petition filed by the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) against Jonathan, in the April 2011 Presidential election.

It would be recalled too that with less than a week from February 26, 2008, for the presidential election petition tribunal fixed to deliver judgement in the petitions against his election, the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua announced the nomination of Justice James Ogenyi Ogebe as Supreme Court justice.

This is against the fact that Justice Ogebe was then the chairman of the presidential election petition tribunal. This action drew the ire.

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