Female judicial officers

By Emmanuel Aziken

WHEN Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State on Thursday, December 3, 2020 travelled more than 290 kilometres to attend the valedictory court session in honour of the retiring Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson in Benin, it again reminded many of the governor’s proclivity towards the wellbeing of judicial officers.

Honouring a retiring judicial officer is naturally not the inclination of political actors. After all, in retirement, they have no judgments to dispense.

However, the Rivers State governor has been able to show that judges serving in Rivers State or indigenes of Rivers State in the judiciary anywhere should not be catered for only while in service, but should also have a life of comfort soothing of their pedigree after retirement.

It is in that light that Governor Wike has not only provided judicial officers from Rivers State with state of the art vehicles but has also provided them with houses bearing their names in the Certificates of Occupancy.

The fact that a judicial officer is assured of stability in accommodation and pension after retirement goes a long way to push fair minded judges to dispense justice without fear or favour.

However, Wike’s presence at the valedictory session for Justice Akomolafe-Wilson was particularly remarkable and soothing for the retiree judicial officer.

Mrs. Akomolafe-Wilson had been particularly wounded by the intrigues and politics that have shadowed the ascent of female judges in the country.

As she stated last Thursday, her progression to the Court of Appeal was delayed by issues surrounding her paternal history.

Justice Akomolafe-Wilson, regretted that despite being married to an Edo husband and starting her legal career in the former Mid-Western State in 1975, in 2009 when there was an opening for her to be appointed to the Court of Appeal, it was scuttled because she hails from Ekiti State.

“Apart from the fact that I was not in the good books of some people in certain quarters, because of my disciplined style of life, some others raised objections on the ground that I am not an indigene of Edo State. That was in spite of my longstanding marriage to an Edo man, long running service to the State at different levels and the fact that my mother is an indigene of Edo State. The appointment was scuttled and my name was dropped.”

Her story compares in part with the ongoing travails of Justice Beatrice Illya of the Gombe State judiciary service.

Though she is the highest-ranking judicial officer in the state, and should by right, following the recommendations of the National Judicial Council be inaugurated as the state’s chief judge, Governor Inuwa Yahaya has refused to inaugurate her.

She is allegedly being held back based on her gender and her Christian faith.

Before her, another female judicial officer, Justice Esther Asabe Karatu of Kebbi State was faced with a similar situation. Governor Atiku Bagudu refused to take the counsel of the NJC to inaugurate Justice Karatu and instead kept on promoting her subordinates to the position of acting chief judge until she reached retirement age.

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Such obnoxious tendencies by state governors who swore to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is particularly provoking. It is a direct insult on half of Nigeria’s population that is female.

It is worthy of note that while noting her ugly experience, Justice Akomolafe-Wilson brought to light the salutary experience of the incumbent chief judge of the High Court of Justice in Rivers State, Justice Adama Lamikanra.

Justice Lamikanra is from Edo State just as her husband. However, she started her service in Rivers State and was in due session appointed a judge. However, when a vacancy arose in the office of the chief judge and her name was mentioned sometime around 2015, the primordial biases of ethnicity and gender arose.

There were some in Rivers State who felt that an Edo State indigene married to an Edo man should not be made chief judge of the state.

However, as he settled in the office of governor of Rivers State, Mr. Wike promptly dismissed the prejudices levelled against Mrs. Lamikanra who had worked in the Rivers State judiciary for most of her career.

The likes of Justice Karatu in Kebbi State and Justice Illya in Gombe can only pray for the kind of rational governor that Rivers State has been blessed with especially in the treatment of judicial officers.

Mr. Wike’s inclination to the promotion of equity on the bench according to a commentator, flows from his experience as a lawyer and as a life bencher.

Some others have also pointed to the fact that his marriage to a judge may have been responsible for his activist zeal in seeing to the promotion of the dignity and comfort of judicial officers. But he is certainly not the only lawyer that is a governor or has been governor.

The initial pains that Justice Akomolafe-Wilson passed through before she was elevated to the Court of Appeal were unnecessary as they help to dampen morale.

The present distress that Justice Beatrice Illya is passing through in the hands of Governor Yahaya of Gombe State is seriously uncalled for.

Female judicial officers must not be muzzled on account of whatever prejudices that society or those in authority may have.

It is salutary that the cases of marginalised female judicial officers are countered by the positive narration of the situation in Rivers State and it would do Governor Yahaya to learn from Wike to stand in the positive side of history in this direction.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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