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Celebrating first female Chief Justice

By Dame Carol Ajie

The Senate historic confirmation hearing of Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar, as the first female Chief Justice of Nigeria, is a most welcomed development, following an extraordinary journey, one could say, similar to the confirmation by the US Senate of the nominee of President Obama of the first female Hispanic, Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the United States’ Supreme Court, albeit a less comprehensive process.

Section 231(1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended required President Jonathan to make this historic appointment upon the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, NJC, subject to confirmation of such appointment by the Senate.

NJC made the recommendation following precedents on seniority. She is the most senior, so sidelining her and appointing others would have been incongruous. Thankfully, NJC and Mr. President did the right thing and the Senate heightened it at the historic session July 11, 2012.

Paragraph E, Third Schedule Part 1 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended requires the Federal Judicial Service Commission, FJSC, to advise the National Judicial Council in nominating persons for appointment to the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Upon receiving FJSC’s advise, NJC made the recommendation to Mr. President; unlike the US system where the President goes out of his way to search for a nominee and select from a list of qualified candidates.

However, in exercise of his constitutional duties, President Goodluck Jonathan acted in consonance with the wisdom exhibited through NJC’s decision when it recommended Her Lordship in the first week of June, 2012. However, I had wondered why Mr. President created some anxiety to my mind when it took approximately four weeks to write to the Senate only on July 3, 2012 for confirmation, long after the NJC had done its work.

One would have thought the presidency would have given priority to it in issuing the instrument expeditiously and causing same to be transmitted promptly through the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly matters, to the Senate so that the people will see the presidential enthusiasm that should accompany such history.

In the US, there are 20 female Chief Justices and 30 male Chief Justices. A good number of States in Nigeria have produced a female Chief Judge, some two or more, viz Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Kaduna and Lagos States.  Other African countries made ‘firsts’ in this regard including Chief Justice Ms Aloysia Cyanzaire of Rwanda, 2003; Chief Justice Georgina Wood of Ghana, 2007 and Chief Justice Umu Hawa Tejan Jalloh of Sierra-Leone, 2008. It edifies and exults to join the continent’s league of judicial reformers in a way that is significant.

The Justice Mukhtar, CJN, had worked twice as hard as others, as a Judge through the hierarchy of courts before she was elevated to the Supreme Court Bench in June 2005, a measure that wholly prepares her for the challenging task ahead. Of impeccable integrity, earned momentous respect from members of the Bench and Bar in a way that is unprecedented.  Accomplished, she comes with iconic experience and legendary judicial finesse. Adored by many who look upon her as our super model and mentor; firm yet fair with a reputation for intellectual precision and zero tolerance for corruption, fit as the 13th CJN and first female to ascend this zenith, at a time the judiciary seeks the cleansing of the Augean stable, to win public respect.

Ajie; Professor Scholar Juris, Constitutional and Human Rights Lawyer. Fellow, Leadership and Advocacy for Women in Africa, Georgetown Law Center, Washington D.C.


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