By Ben Agande & Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, charged Justice Aloma Mukhtar, the new Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, to tackle delay in the dispensation of justice, cases of corruption and engender the much-needed judicial reform in Nigeria.
The President gave the charge during the CJN’s swearing-in in Abuja.
President Jonathan said: “Today, we are witness to history with the swearing in of Justice Aloma Mukhtar as the first female CJN. I join millions of our country men, women and youths in congratulating the Nigerian judiciary and Your Lordship as we record this important milestone in the annals of our nation’s judicial history.
“She was the first female lawyer of the northern extraction, the first female High Court Judge from the north, first female second in command, Kano State judiciary, the first Nigerian female jury to be elevated to the Court of Appeal, where she served for over 17 years.
“Today, she has risen to the pinnacle of her judicial career as the first female CJN in further service of our great country. My Lord, I congratulate you. Her Lordship’s achievement is an inspiration to all citizens, especially womanhood, not only in Nigeria but also in Africa and the rest of the world.
“The honourable CJN now joins an eminent and exclusive list of achievers recognized throughout the world as beacons of hope in this century. She will after leaving office become a member of our nation’s highest advisory council, the Council of State. Here again she will make history as the first female permanent member of that council.
”Your lordship is assuming office at a time when the nation is undergoing reforms in all critical areas of governance; it is particularly gratifying that her lordship had pledged during her Senate confirmation hearing to pursue judicial reform.
“I am, therefore, confident that your lordship will quickly settle down to work and commence urgent task of reforming and repositioning the judiciary for effective and efficient discharge of constitutional mandate. I have no doubt that your work at our nation’s apex court will benefit from your essential character of integrity, humility and courage.
Jonathan lists challenges
”Your Lordship will preside over the judiciary at a time of profound changes that demand united response. We believe that judiciary can play a crucial role as we confront critical challenges.
“We are dealing with security challenges occasioned by sporadic act of terrorism in some parts of the country. The three arms of government must work together to overcome this terrorist threat and acts in the country.
”The war against corruption is another endeavour that calls for concerted action by all arms of government. I am confident that the judiciary, under your able leadership, will rise up to the challenge and provide the most needed support for government to address these challenges.
“Our citizens complained of delayed trial, particularly in cases of corruption, terrorism and other matters of serious concern. This complaint has led to frequent calls for special courts or designation of special judges to handle them with the required experience and speed. It will be your prerogative to consider and decide on this call.”
Justice Mukhtar speaks
Speaking to newsmen after the ceremony, Justice Mukhtar re-iterated her earlier stand that there was no need for a special court.
She said: “A judge, two or three in the states can be designated to take care of that. I will again go back to what I said in the Senate, that I will lead by example and I will hope and pray that the others will follow.”
On security challenges, she said: “I did say, during my screening in the Senate, that we will partner with the authority to ensure that we curb this menace.”
On delayed trials, she said: “It is not the fault of the judges alone. We have counsel to contend with bringing various applications. We have the Constitution also to contend with.
“Witnesses will not be available and there is a whole litany of reasons for this delay. You just place the blame at the doorsteps of the judges.”
Other dignitaries, who attended the ceremony held at the council chambers, included Vice President Namadi Sambo; Senate President, Senator David Mark; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal; Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and Deputy Speaker, Emeka Ihedioha, and governors of Kano and Bayelsa states.
Tension in judiciary
Meanwhile, the emergence of Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar as the first female Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, has evoked mixed reactions within judicial circles.
The palpable anxiety that enveloped the Supreme Court, yesterday, shortly after President Goodluck Jonathan administered oath of office on Justice Mukhtar as the 13th indigenous CJN, stemmed from the fact that never in the annals of the country had a woman piloted the affairs of Nigerian judiciary.
When Vanguard visited the Supreme Court complex situated within the Three Arms Zone, Abuja, it was a beehive of activities with heavy movement of files and occasional cluster of judicial officers discussing the new change of regime at the apex court in hushed tones.
Meanwhile, One of the officials who spoke to Vanguard on condition of anonymity, said there was tension among some of the top judicial officers who had ordered their subordinates to ensure that all the legal records in their department were set straight.
‘She’s strict, motherly’
He said: “My brother, we have been sorting and arranging files since Friday. Many of us have been with Justice Mukhtar for a long time now. She is a strict person.
“We know what she can do to anyone or department that fails to do things the traditional way. Moreover, all the courts are proceeding on a long vacation today.”
Others described her as a disciplinarian, a mother and a jury per excellence, while others expressed fears that she might lead the most rigid administration in the history of the apex court.