By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA —The National Judicial Council, NJC, after an emergency meeting in Abuja yesterday, persuaded the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mariam Aloma Muhktar, to rescind her decision and swear-in Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofor to the Appeal Court Bench.
The council, which has former CJNs and ex-Presidents of the Court of Appeal and Nigerian Bar Association as members, regretted that the issue “has generated so much controversy in Nigeria, especially in the print and electronic media.”
The CJN had on November 5, declined to swear-in Justice Jombo-Ofor alongside 11 other newly appointed Justices of the Appeal Court, following a petition challenging the state of origin declared by the judge, who was nominated under a slot reserved for Abia State.
Investigations by Vanguard had revealed that the CJN decided to step-down her swearing-in following agitation from some quarters that going by the prevailing judicial policy in the country; she was not qualified to represent Abia State on the appellate court bench.
The petitioners had contended that though Justice Jombo-Ofor is currently serving under the Abia State judiciary, she lacked the requisite locus to take a slot meant for the state since she was originally from Anambra State, notwithstanding the fact that she is married to a man from Abia State.
The embattled judge, who was asked to vacate the row reserved for the new justices shortly before the swearing-in ceremony was conducted, was said to have transferred her service from Anambra to Abia State after her marriage, and has served in the Abia State judiciary for over 14 years.
She is currently the Chief Judge of the State.
CJN not happy with Senate
Meanwhile, a source who attended the meeting, yesterday, told Vanguard that the CJN, while conceding to administer oath of office on Justice Jombo-Ofor, however expressed her displeasure over the way the Senate dabbled into the matter and issued a resolution without deeming it fit to hear her own side of the story.
It would be recalled that the Senate had after its deliberations on November 7, ordered the CJN swear-in Justice Jombo-Ofor without further delay.
While debating on a motion moved by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and 107 others, the President of the upper legislative chamber, David Mark, described the decision of the CJN as unfortunate and endangering the sanctity of marriage.
Disclosing the decision of the CJN swear-in Justice Jumbo-Ofor, yesterday, the NJC, in a statement signed by its Deputy Director of Information, Mr Soji Oye, maintained that “the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had, without any consultation with the Chief Justice of Nigeria, who is also the Chairman of the National Judicial Council, proceeded to pass a Resolution on November 7, 2012, to the following effect:-
“(a) That the Senate urged the Chief Justice of Nigeria to swear-in Honourable Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo as a Justice of the Court of Appeal; and
“(b) That the Senate urged all Government Employing Agencies to note in terms of employing a married woman, shall lay claims to her State of origin and that of her husband in relation to the Federal Character Regulations.
“That the binding principles and formulae for the Distribution of all Cadres of Posts (S.I.23 of 1997) provide in Part II, Section 2 as follows:-
“A married woman shall continue to lay claim to her State of origin for the purpose of implementation of the Federal Character formulae at the National level.
“That the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council had by letter dated November 5, 2012, duly written to Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to inform His Excellency of the matter of Honourable Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofor and the fact that she was not sworn-in on November 5, 2012, would be tabled before the National Judicial Council.
“That the Federal Judicial Service Commission and the National Judicial Council, being Federal Executive Bodies established in pursuance of Section 153(1(i) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, are bound and obliged to observe and obey the provisions of the Constitutional Law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, including the Federal Character Commission Act.
“That the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is also bound and obliged to observe and obey the stipulations of the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, including the Federal Character Commission Act; without prejudice to the undisputed power of the National Assembly to amend and\or repeal the said Act.
“That the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council must be commended for exercising sufficient caution, diligence and maturity in the matter, especially in the light of the documents, materials and other information available to her, and for taking the decision to put on hold the swearing-in of Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofor as a Justice of the Court of Appeal, to await a Meeting of the National Judicial Council to review the matter in all its ramifications.
“And after full and dispassionate deliberations on the matter, council unanimously decided that Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofor be sworn-in as a Justice of the Court of Appeal.”
NJC silent on Salami
Meantime, the council, yesterday, was silent on the prolonged suspension of the embattled President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Isa Salami, who has reportedly been mandated to withdraw all the suits he filed in court with a view to regaining his position for a period of three-months after which he will proceed on compulsory retirement with full benefits.