By Awa Kalu, SAN
It is no longer news that for the first time in its history, Nigeria now boasts of its first female Chief Justice. I have heard it said, and for good reason, that a new broom sweeps better but no one has been able to determine whether a new broom sweeps better when the quantum of rubbish to be swept is more daunting.
I have also heard it said that what a man can do, a woman can do better. Again, in the context of this adage, except at Federal level, we have for a considerable period, had a good number of female chief Judges at State level. In fact, Lagos State very recently set a handsome precedent – a female chief Judge handing over to another female.
Unfortunately, despite some effort, I have been unable to find any worthwhile report chronicling the achievements of those female Chief Judges for the purpose of demonstrating the extra-ordinary inroads they have made in developing a better and more efficient judicial apparatus for the administration of justice. For me, I believe in gender equality and its concomitants, but the ladies have the onus to prove that the gentlemen have been less than able in their tasks.
Our new Chief Justice is the 13th. Her central and cardinal role will be to design and develop a better environment where justice and nothing less can thrive. Being female, in my view, makes her task more arduous and onerous. This is because, justice is often depicted as female.
After all, Justicia, acknowledged as the Roman goddess of Justice, is said to be equivalent to the Greek goddess Dike who in turn “is an allegorical personification of the moral force in judicial systems”. According to Wikipedia, “The personification of justice balancing the scales of truth and fairness dates back to the Goddess Maat, and later Isis, of Ancient Egypt”.
“The Hellenic deities”, the free encyclopaedia volunteers, “Themis and Dike were later goddesses of justice. Themis was the embodiment of divine order, law, and custom, in her aspect as the personification of the divine rightness of law”. It is said that it is Themis’ daughter Dike, “who was portrayed carrying scales”.
“Justicia is most often depicted with a set of scales typically suspended from her right hand, upon which she measures the strength of a case’s support and opposition. She is also often seen carrying a double-edged sword in her left hand, symbolizing the power of Reason and Justice, which may be wielded either for or against any party”.
Of further interest is the account given by Wikipedia of justice in a blindfold. Since the 15th century, in its account, Lady Justice has often been depicted wearing a blindfold. The blindfold represents objectivity, in that justice is or should be meted out objectively, without fear or favour, regardless of identity, money, power or weakness; blind justice and impartiality are said to be much alike.
Since Roman times”, Wikipedia affirms, “Justicia has frequently been depicted carrying seals and a sword, and wearing a blindfold. Her modern iconography frequently adorns courthouses and courtrooms, and conflates the attributes of several goddesses who embodied Right Rule for Greeks and Romans, blending Roman blindfolded fortune
(fate) with Hellenistic Greek Tyche (luck) and sword – carrying Nemesis (vengeance).
Our new Chief Justice is a woman of many firsts – first female lawyer of Northern Nigerian descent; first female magistrate from the same region, first Judge, first female Court of Appeal Justice, first female Supreme Court Justice and now first female Chief Justice.
To add to her list of firsts, I believe she is the first female Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON). From her poise, demeanour and carriage, she has the broadest of shoulders to carry the accolades and I have no doubt that at the end of the day, the encomiums will follow.
To be first female in anything or any field means that the men had been there. Accordingly, there had been twelve men on the hot seat of chief Justice. In that mix, you’d recall the venerated Sir Adetokunbo Ademola who served as Chief Justice for nearly a decade and half.
Teslim Olawale Elias, a distinguished Professor, Philosopher, scholar and profound jurist was also there. Perhaps, this is not a place to measure the strengths and weaknesses of those who had the distinction of serving in the exalted office of Chief Justice before our Golden Lady but one truth is self evident and it is this: that never in the history of this country has a Chief Justice been called upon to tackle the level of ignominy that now besets the justice administration sector.
Most commentators agree that the judicial branch is nearly being throttled and garrotted by monumental corruption. It is difficult to finger any other time in our history that Judges are being openly confronted with allegations of corruption.
Never have we had such a vibrant debate about how best the talents of our Judges may be deployed to tackle corruption and terrorism, the hydra-headed evils that want to asphyxiate this nation. These twin evils have occasioned an intractable debate as to whether we should resort to “special courts” to stem the tide. The learned Chief Justice, both at her confirmation hearing and after her swearing-in, did not fancy the fascination with special courts.
It is fitting to refer to a study by Dr. Fatima Waziri published coincidentally in a book dedicated as a Tribute to the immediate past Chief Justice-Hon. Justice Dahiru Musdapher.