By Ochereome Nnanna
The sad story of Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo brings back to the fore the tragic situation of Nigeria’s negative socio-political development, better known as the “indigene-settler” syndrome.
Nearly one hundred years after its creation and 52 years after independence, Nigeria is still unable to provide for its citizens the canopy of assurance and protection in many ways. Nigerians continue to be strangers in their country, no better than nationals of other countries resident in Nigeria.
Justice Jombo-Ofo was born in Anambra State. She married in Abia State. Since the state was created 21 years ago she has served the Judiciary “meritoriously” (the words of Governor Theodore Orji, who recommended her to take up Abia State’s slot in the Court of Appeal). But some selfish elements wrote a petition to the Chief Justice of the Federation, Mariam Aloma Mukhtar, pointing out that she was not an indigene of Abia State and therefore should not take up a seat reserved for its indigenes. Based on this, the CJN refused to swear her in.
This story resonated around the world and rocked the worldwide social media. It showed that Nigeria has been moving backward rather than forward in terms of social and political integration. The struggle for Nigeria’s independence took off on a Pan-Africanists note, where Ghanaian, Sierra Leonean and Nigerian early educated elites, such as Dr James Kwegyir Aggrey, Sir J.E. Casely Hayford, Dr Herbert Macaulay and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, among others, saw British West Africa and Africa as a whole coming out of colonialism if not as one country but at least united by common bonds of brotherhood and vision.
The movement towards creating a nation where everyone would find fulfillment was alive in most Southern cities such as Lagos, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Aba, Calabar and others, before Barrister Obafemi Awolowo and his group, the Egbe Omo Oduduwa introduced tribalism, which he characterised as “federalism” into the body politic. From the North, Sir Ahmadu Bello introduced a regional party. Thus was defeated our progress towards building a normal nation. We have written several times in the past to show how, in those early days Nigerians were able to settle, integrate and struggle with fellow countrymen in parts of the country. They attained political heights similar to what we see in advanced Western countries like the USA, a country we admire so much and emulate in many ways (even if only where it suits us).
America is full of examples of people moving from their states of origin and attaining their dreams and ambitions in their places of residence. The most obvious is President Barack Obama, whose father was born in Africa. Obama hailed from Hawaii, settled in Illinois where he was elected to the US Senate and later twice as president of the United States. Since we are talking of the case of a woman, let us use the example of Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton. She was born in Illinois, married to Bill Clinton in Arkansas where she became the First Lady. After her husband’s two terms as president she moved to New York and was elected as a federal senator in 2000.
America’s infinite capacity to give its citizens the space, platform and protection to evolve to the best they can be is the primary reason for their intense patriotic instincts. It is one of the factors that draw people from all over the world to seek the citizenship of the USA. But here in Nigeria we allowed our society to degenerate from the sublime to the subliminal. We proudly proclaim ourselves first of all products of our tribes before being products of our states before being Nigerians. And yet we find it very convenient to leave our places of origin to seek fulfillment in other parts of Nigeria and the world. What hypocrisy!
The Justice Jombo-Ofo case is very intolerable when we consider the sacrifices that women make. It is the lot of women to leave their families at maturity and relocate to strange new families, and sometimes strange new lands and cultures in order to move mankind forward. It is cruel and wicked, after she has made such sacrifices, to deny her the right to grow in her new dispensation. Justice Jombo-Ofo, like other women in her situation, brought out her God-given talents to serve her husband’s community and state with all her strength. While she fought her way from the bottom up, helping to build the state in which she was married nobody raised any objection. But now that she has come to a point of self-actualisation some evil-minded people want to stop her and reap where they did not sow.
The pitiable part of this story is that a fellow woman and head of the Judiciary is the stumbling block on her path. I remember very well when Mukhtar was sworn-in as the Chief Justice of Nigeria in July this year, how the entire nation, particularly women, rejoiced. The Senior Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Affairs, Senator Joy Emodi, led a group of women to celebrate the first female CJN.
I would have expected CJN Mukhtar to be the first to say “no” to this brazen affront on the rights of a fellow woman to move into the higher Bench. Meanwhile, all the men concerned have thrown their weights behind his woman – Governor Orji, President Goodluck Jonathan and the Nigerian Senate with its presiding officer, David Mark, as the chief advocate. People say that women are often the greatest enemies to other women. CJN Mukhtar’s intransigence has given credence to this notion, even if it is not always true. She has climbed to the top and kicked away the ladder.
We must proceed, in this constitution amendment exercise, to elevate the citizenship rights of Nigerians above ethnic and indigenous considerations. Demographic mobility is one of the greatest factors in national development and individual actualisation.
Justice Jombo-Ofo must be sworn-in as a judge of the Court of Appeal.