By Ikechukwu Nnochiri & Emily Ofide
ABUJA —The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Maryam Aloma Mukhtar, yesterday, declined to administer oath of office on one of the newly appointed justices of the Appeal Court.
The decision of the CJN was sequel to a petition challenging the state of origin declared by the judge, who was nominated under a slot reserved for Abia State.
Consequently, only 11 Justices were sworn-in yesterday, including Justice Emmanuel Akomaye Agim who has been the Chief Justice of Gambia since 2009.
Meanwhile, Vanguard investigations revealed that the CJN decided to step-down the swearing-in of Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo, following agitation from some quarters that going by the prevailing judicial policy in the country; she is not qualified to represent Abia State.
The petitioners contended that though Justice Jombo-Ofo is currently serving under the Abia State judiciary, she lacks 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 commenced at the Supreme Court auditorium yesterday, was said to have transferred her service from Anambra to Abia State after her marriage.
She was called to Bar in 1979 and appointed a High Court Judge on November 4, 1998, and has since remained in the Abia State judiciary.
Further investigation by Vanguard revealed that when the attention of the Abia State Governor, Mr Theodore Orji, was drawn to the petition, he wrote a letter to the CJN last Saturday, confirming the state of origin of Justice Jumbo-Ofo, noting that she has been in the Abia State judiciary for the past 14 years.
According to a source at the apex court, Governor Orji in his letter to the CJN stressed that it was in recognition of her meritorious service to the state, that his government, nominated her for elevation to the appellate court, even as he urged the CJN to disregard the petition.
It would be recalled that a retired justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Olufunlola Oyelola Adekeye, had in a speech she delivered at a valedictory court session that was held in her honour last week Wednesday, implored the National Judicial Council, 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’ states of origin.”
She said: “Complaints of this nature are now rampant. Most women transfer their services to the states 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 among 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.”
Meantime, those sworn-in yesterday were Justices Ibrahim S. Bdliya, Abiriya James Shehu, Obietonbara O. Daniel-Kalio, Onyekachi Otisi, Stephen Jonah Adah, Tinuade Akomolaje-Wilson, Fatima O. Akinbami, Habeeb Adewale Abiru, Peter Olabisi Ige and Tijani Abubakar.
Among dignitaries who attended the event, yesterday, included Governors Orji of Abia State, Adams Oshiomhole of Edo, Idris Wada of Kogi and his predecessor, Ibrahim Idris.
While congratulating the new Appeal Court Justices, the CJN, warned that the task before them would be demanding and onerous, saying it would require best application of skill, knowledge and experience.
CJN tasks judges on skills, knowledge
“You must regularly update your knowledge of the law both through continuing legal education and personal endeavours in order to keep track of the fast changing tides of our society. In the words of Justinian, the great Roman jurist: “Ignorantia judicis est calamitas innocentis,” meaning “the ignorance of the judge is the calamity of the innocent.”
“I implore you to disregard every negative consideration of sorts and always be faithful to your oath of office, observe the code of conduct for judicial officers, and all other relevant national and international instruments,” she added.