By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Abuja
Customarily, standing at the entrance of every court in Nigeria is usually a statue, depicting a blind-folded lady, carrying scales in the left hand and a double-edged sword in her right hand.
That statute referred to as Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice, is a personification of the moral force in contemporary judicial systems across the globe.
It is a common assumption that with the scales, she measures the strength of cases presented before her for adjudication, while the sword which symbolizes the power of reason and justice, may be wielded either for or against any of the parties found guilty in the face of the law.
The blind-fold which Justitia who is equivalent to the Greek goddess Dike, has worn since the 15th century, represents objectivity, in that justice is or should be meted out objectively, without fear or favour, regardless of identity, money, power or societal status.
This is further exemplified in the Latin legal maxim, “Fiat justitia ruat caelum” meaning “let justice be done though the heavens fall.”
Significantly, since 1963 when the Federal Republic of Nigeria was proclaimed and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe became its first President, this is the first time a woman is heading its judiciary.
Justice Mariam Mukhtar Aloma made history as the first female Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, having succeeded Justice Dahiru Musdapher, who retired on July 15, 2012. She became the 13thindigenous CJN.
Statutorily, as the CJN, she superintends over the Supreme Court and the National Judicial Council, NJC, two key organs of the judiciary that not only wield enormous power, but to a large extent, determine the course of justice administration in Nigeria.
Though varying controversies dogged the judiciary under previous male CJNs, however, Justice Aloma has successfully managed to avoid crisis until last week when she declined to administer oath of office on a female judge who was elevated to the Appeal Court Bench by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Despite the intervention of the Senate, indications emerged that the CJN might have decided to stick to her decision not to allow Justice Ifoma Jombo-Ofo to proceed to the appellate court, owing to alleged discrepancies in her application.
Even though the apex court is yet to issue a formal statement with a view to explaining the rationale behind the CJN’s action, however, it was gathered that the reason Justice Jombo-Ofo who was ab-initio scheduled to be sworn-in alongside eleven other justices, was denied the opportunity, due to a petition challenging her state of origin.
The petitioners had contended that Justice Jombo-Ofo who is currently serving under the Abia state judiciary, 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 called to Bar in 1979 and appointed a High Court Judge on November 4, 1998, was said to have transferred her service from Anambra to Abia state after her marriage, and has worked in the Abia state judicial service for over 14-years.
According to the petitioners, going by the prevailing judicial policy in the country; she is not qualified to represent Abia state.
Meanwhile, despite the deafening silence from the apex court on the matter, investigations by Vanguard revealed that the CJN decided to step-down her swearing-in, after it was discovered that Justice Jombo-Ofo, in her bid to ascend the appellate court bench, filed two separate applications where she chose both Anambra and Abia as her state of origin.
It was gathered that only recently, when the opportunity emerged for Anambra state to nominate a judge to be promoted to the Appeal Court, Justice Jombo-Ofo, applied, claiming the state as her place of birth.
However, following her inability to clinch the slot, she waited till much recently when it was the turn of Abia state to nominate a candidate, and re-applied again, this time filling Abia as her state of origin.
Thus, when the issue was brought to the attention of the CJN after her nomination had already been ratified by both the NJC and the Presidency, the CJN, was said to have confronted her with the facts, demanding to know the reason behind the mix-up.
It was learnt that Justice Jombo-Ofo on each of the occasions she was queried by the CJN, failed to give satisfactory explanation in her own defence, a situation that compelled the decision of the CJN to deny her the position pending the outcome of an emergency meeting the NJC is billed to convene over the matter soon.
Not even a quick intervention of the Abia state Governor, Theordore Orji, was enough to persuade the CJN to rescind her decision, an action in-line with the legal maxim, “Frustra legis auxilium quaerit qui in legem comittit”, meaning, “He who offends against the law vainly seeks the help of the law.”
Meanwhile, prior to the entire hullabaloo, a retired justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Olufunlola Oyelola Adekeye, had in a speech she delivered at a valedictory court session held in her honour, implored the NJC and the Federal Judicial Service Commission, FJSC, “to review the policy that married women cannot reach the peak of their career in their husbands’ state of origin.”
She said: “complaints of this nature are now rampant. Most women transfer their service to the state of origin of their husbands immediately after their marriage. This is logical and in compliance with the tenets of marriage that the two spouses shall become one. In some native customs particularly amongst the Yorubas, the wife no longer has a place in her ancestral home after marriage. Whenever there is vacancy at the top in the husband’s state of origin, she will be denied the post and there and then referred to her own state of origin, after climbing the ladder and putting so many years into the service.
“On a more serious note, I think it is unconstitutional as well as discriminatory to deprive her of her promotion in her acquired state as a citizen of Nigeria, by virtue of section 42 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
As the judicial-abracadabra continues, one thing that remains certain is that justice administration in the country is currently on trial.