By Pini Jason
On Monday, 5 November, 2012, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Maryam Aloma Mukhtar refused to administer the oath of office on Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo as a Judge of the Court of Appeal because of a petition that she was not from Abia state.
Justice Jombo-Ofo, born in Anambra state, is married in Abia. She subsequently transferred her service to Abia State where she had served for 14 years. Now she cannot enjoy any benefit due Abia, including the fulfillment of her professional dream, just because she married across the state!
The irony of it all is that it happened as the world, including Nigeria, celebrated the re-election for a second term as the President of the United States of America, a man born of a father from Kogelo Kenya. Perhaps, if America was Nigeria, Barack Obama would never be President!
Of course, as usual, Jombo-Ofo’s predicament elicited the right noise. But Abia is not the only problem she has. Anambra would also have protested and petitioned against her were she to be appointed as an indigene of Anambra State!
They would have agued vociferously that she was no longer one of them, having married in Abia. So, effectively Jombo-Ofo is stateless by virtue of marriage and some of the silly policies we put in place.
So are all Nigerian women who married across state lines! And this mockery on citizenship is in a country that spends time and good money dishing out ridiculous jingles about being one nation! Now you can understand it when we say that the Nigerian woman does not exist in, and is not protected by our constitution.
Forget all the talk about whether her appointment was approved by the National Judicial Council, NJC chaired by the Chief Justice of Nigeria. All of that may not help her or any other woman in similar predicament.
I am sure that Justice Jombo-Ofo must have wept on that sad day! The tears must be for a country that lies to itself! Nigeria can be likened to a man who walks backwards all day just because he found out that he was wearing his pant the other way round!
Recall that when President Olusegun Obasanjo nominated Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu as an ambassador under Lagos state slot, it was met with a huge protest by some people who claimed they owned Lagos.
They protested to the then Senate President, Dr Chuba Okadigbo that it was a travesty for her, originally from Ogun State, to take the Lagos slot. These were people who had built their lives mouthing the Awo mantra! Some were even audacious to ask her to drop the Awolowo from her compound surname! Imagine!
The daughter of Awolowo was not even entitled to use her father’s name, whereas sycophants were making a living with the name! It took Okadigbo’s sagacity to override the protests against Tokunbo. Ironically, non-Lagosians later descend on the State like locusts and made fortunes in the state and left to pursue higher political careers in their states of origin! And these were men, not married women!
Even Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Recall also that when Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was appointed Minister by President Obasanjo, this same Abia state protested that having been born in Delta state she ought not take the Abia slot. Even Okonjo-Iweala who should be a slot of her own was subjected to this small mindedness!
Then, when Mrs. Josephine Anenih was appointed Minister of Women Affairs, Anambra people murmured; was she not married to an Edo man? On Tuesday 7 August 2012, in this column, I deprecated the protest by some people in Osun State against the intention of Comrade Rauf Aregbesola to appoint Justice Oyewole as the Chief Judge of Osun State on the ground that he was from the Lagos State judiciary (Thisday 29 July 2012)!
Incidentally Justice Oyewole was reportedly from Ila in Osun State and was made a Judge of Lagos State in May 2001 by Governor Bola Tinubu. So, I asked, why should what was good for Lagos not be good for Osun State?
In several articles I have called attention to the fact that we do not enjoy a common citizenship; that your Nigerian citizenship is diminished once you step out of your local government; that values are allocated in Nigeria not on the basis of our citizenship but on indigeneship; that the Nigerian passport only procures you foreign visas not common citizenship! Perhaps, when all these examples I have cited happened, they did not strike us as serious. Now the Jombo-Ofo case came with all the drama because of how and where it happened.
The truth is that all married women in Nigeria face this danger! Even if Ifeoma was born in one Local government in Abia and married in another local government, she would have been subjected to discrimination by the local government where she is married once there is a benefit to be shared! My fear is that very soon, if your mother is married from another state, you may be disfranchised by your state on account of that!
What is at stake is that opportunities are not enough to satisfy our expectations and we have therefore devised devious ways to short circuit competition! The more opportunities dwindle, the more primitive we become in fighting for what is available!
There are many ironies about the Justice Jombo-Ofo drama. It happened in the highest temple of Justice in the land, where, were she an ordinary citizen discriminated against in disregard to our constitution, she would have gone to seek justice!
And this pepper was rubbed into her eyes and yonder by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, a fellow woman! If Dr. Okadigbo could trash the petition from Lagos State chauvinists against Mrs. Awolowo-Dosunmu, why could Justice Maryam Mukhtar not protect one of her own? I will tell you why. It was not the CJN’s fault.
Remember, Justice Mukhtar had taken office as a Law and Order CJN. According to Hon. Nkoyo Toyo, herself a lawyer and one time civil rights activist with whom we used to interrogate these gender issues, “even within the judiciary itself, there is an extant policy that says all female Judges must come from their states of origin and they must occupy the slots that have to do with their states of origin” (Vanguard Wednesday 7 November 2012, page 5).
If Toyo is right, then the CJN was not to blame. The short sighted chauvinists who made the policy are to blame.
Another irony about this was that it was reported that the Governor of Abia State, Chief Theodore Orji, wrote the CJN to discountenance the petition against Justice Jombo-Ofo. Poor chap!
It appeared that his letter did not cut ice with the CNJ. If I were the CNJ, I too, would rightly have treated the Governor’s letter with ignominy. This was the same Governor who, a few months ago, sent workers in his state’s public service packing from Abia State on the very same obnoxious reason that they were non-indigenes of the State!
If those of us who protested the infamy and got insulted by Orji’s lickspittles could not dissuade him from that retrogressive act, why should his crocodile tears over Jombo-Ofo impress anybody?
I took particular hint while Senator Ndoma-Egba was making his contribution during the grandstanding in the Senate. He stressed (indeed stretched) the point that “an Igbo woman married by an Igbo man from another Igbo state….” That was another Nigerian hypocritical way of pigeonholing the issue out of proper understanding. It is not an Igbo problem. It is a Nigerian problem rooted in our mindset.
There are many political office contestants who had to carry the burden of their mothers coming from other tribes! In a South-South state, the ethnic origin of the wife of a Governor was made a campaign issue by his opponents.
Even in the very cosmopolitan Lagos, a governorship candidate was derided because his running mate was of another ethnic group! What of the parts of Nigeria where women are discriminated and oppressed just for being women?
These seemingly innocuous little drops of water ultimately became the flood that flowed uphill to the Supreme Court on Monday 5 November 2012.
I have read legal luminaries quote section 42 of our constitution. Others have cited the verdict in the Augustine Mojekwu v Caroline Mojekwu (1997) 7 NWLR (PT 512) 283. All these are fine. We may even call for further amendment of the constitution now that the National Assembly is reviewing the constitution.
But this cancer is not in the laws but in our minds. For sure, there are states where the Jombo-Ofo oddity would not play out.
But the place to fix this problem is in the mind, especially in the mind of men. As I have often argued, gender is not about women alone, it is more about men. It is about men understanding that gender is not just about women fighting for equality; it is a fight for equity!