Nigerian print media coverage of the historic swearing in of Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, the new Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, had been remarkable. However a visitor from an outer space reading through the praise-word would have been misled to assume that the singular historic inauguration of the 13th indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria, was another exercise in Nigeria’s distorted elitist office sharing gender affirmative action of which an accomplished judge was a beneficiary.
The simplistic and misleading and patronizing headlines included; “First female CJN in Nigeria”, “The Iron-Lady takes charge of Judiciary”, “Age of Women”, ad infinitum. Joy Emodi, the presidential liaison officer on Assembly matters overdramatized the gender dimension of Justice Aloma’s deserved appointment while praising President Goodluck Jonathan for appointing Justice Mukhtar CJN. According to her; “The appointment of Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, a woman, to head one of the three arms of government in Nigeria for the first time in almost 100 years of the country’s existence and 52 years of Nigeria ’s Independence is a victory for Nigerian women. This is a great moment in history. By this action, President Goodluck Jonathan has added a new dimension to his promise of gender inclusive government and promotion of women. He has indeed lifted Nigerian women to greater heights and left an indelible mark in the annals of this nation.” We were denied the benefit of the robust profile of Justice Aloma who was at the court of Appeal for 17 years and had been in the Supreme Court for almost a decade of meritorious service.
We were not even told that justice Aloma was the most senior Judge of the supreme court legitimately derserving of the appoitment. Belatedly we thank God that Emordi remembered to tell those who care to listen after her dramatized gender card that Justice Mukhtar’s appointment was indeed based on merit and not on federal or gender character. With such exaggerated gender outlook of the likes of presidential spokespersons like Emordi, one can appreciate while President Jonathan’s speech at CJN’s inauguration opened with the recognition of Justice Aloma first as a woman rather than globally accomplished jurist that she is. Witness the President; “Today we are witness to history with the swearing-in of the Honourable Justice Aloma
Mariam Mukhtar, CFR, as the first female Chief Justice of Nigeria.” Certainly Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar is an accomplished woman. It is certainly remarkable and historic that she is truly the first female Chief Justice of the Federation worthy of celebrating. However our obsession with gender dimension of Justice Aloma’s deserved appointment as CJN if care is not taken further points to our readiness to undervalue the participation of women in nation building and belittle their achievements made in spite their gender. In a continent in which women hit the headlines because of their status as spouses either as first ladies, female headship of the judiciary might rightly capture the imagination. But even at that narrow perspective, the point cannot be over stated that Justice Aloma’s earned nomination and confirmation by the Senate was a product of hard work in a competitive gender blind merit-based setting like judiciary spanning decades. Hers is a fallout of earned and deserved appointment than an ascribed gender. All of us, not just women but men too who are eager to follow her footsteps must realise thatthere is a long walk to deserved appointment. Former Justice Dhahiru Musdapher bowed out as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) after attaining the mandatory age of 70 years and meritorious sevice just like the immediate past CJN Justice Alfa Belgore.
It should be pointed that Justice Aloma is not the “first lady” heading an “arm of government” in the sense of ladies whose roles are defined in relations to their husbands who hold public offices, but in the sense of a first achiever who worked desrevedly worked herself up for merit and integrity. Happily too President Jonathan’s speech says as much “…the learned Chief Justice achieved this outstanding feat on account of her brilliance, resilience and hard work”. For Nigeria, the appointment of Justice Aloma, (whose acknowledged zero-tolerance for corruption in judiciary is global) assumes even special importance. Justice Mukhtar is reputed for her courage. We must support her to courageously rid judiciary of the acknowledged rot of dubious injunctions, judgment for sale in place of justice, rule of extortionist lawyers in place of rule of law. Her robust testimony and all inclusive knowledge based submissions for genuine judicial reforms at the senate confirmation hearing are refreshing for citizens who are sick of serial judgments in Nigeria’s courts without justice.
Issa Aremu can be reached by email ([email protected])