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With the coming on board of Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar to Nigeria’s leadership, the ratio in gender consideration for the first time in the history of the country has balanced. Two men to one woman is a good ratio, and it should be a base of comparison between the leadership of the male and that of the female at the end of this administration. This development is a good omen to the government of President Goodluck Jonathan if the opportunity can be utilized to the best for the interest of the citizenry and enthronement of democracy and the rule of law.

The executive and the legislative arms of Nigeria’s government have never been entrusted to Nigerian women politicians. The first female Speaker of the lower Chamber of the National Assembly, Hon. Patricia Etteh, which was then the highest elective position for the Nigerian women, was conspicuously set up and removed by the same people who are now facing the nemesis. How God works should caution human beings of not just looking at their feet but imagining the pregnancy in tomorrow.

Aloma’s appointment is another outstanding achievement by President Goodluck Jonathan because, assuredly, there were a lot of interests against her emergency as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). The President, who has shown clear disposition to the empowerment of Nigerian women and the recognition and promotion of the excellence in them, withstood all the pressure and made a history as the first Nigerian president to appoint a first female CJN. More women (at least 35% of the executive members) are in his government. The oil cartel is being fought for the first time and oil industry is up for repositioning to enhance the nation’s economy.

On July 30, 2012, President Jonathan sent a letter of Aloma’s appointment to the Senate for confirmation in conformity with Section 231 Sub-section (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended. The letter read, “I have the honour to forward the nomination of Honourable Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, CON, CFR for confirmation as Chief Justice of Nigeria. These appointments have been necessitated by the impending retirement from service of Hon. Justice Dahiru Musdapher, Chief Justice of Nigeria and Hon. Justice F.F. Tabai,” he said.

A woman ordained to excel and triumph, the political profile of Justice Aloma is great. Born on November 20, 1944, she attended St. George Primary School, Zaria and St. Bartholomew’s School, Wusasa, Zaria, Kaduna State, Rossholme School for Girls, East Brent, Somerset, England, Reading Technical College, Reading, Berkshire, England and Gibson and Weldon College of Law, England. She was called to the English Bar in Absentia in November, 1966 and to the Nigerian Bar in July 1967. She began her career as Pupil State Counsel, Ministry of Justice, Northern Nigeria, 1967,Office of the Legal Draftsman, Interim Common Services Agency, Magistrate Grade I, North Eastern State Government, 1971, Chief Registrar, Kano State Government Judiciary, 1973, Judge of the High Court of Kano State, 1977-1987, Justice of the Court of Appeal, 1987-1993 and Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, 1993-2005.

She was was the first woman on the bench and the first woman Justice of the Supreme Court. She was also the first woman to be appointed into the Appeal Court. In 2000, she served in the Court of Appeal and ranked third in seniority behind his predecessor, Justice Dahiru Musdapher and the President of the Court of Appeal. In 2005, she was confirmed as Supreme Court Justice and was much later joined by Justices Olufunlola Adeyeye and Mary Odili.

She is the 13 indigenous CJNs Nigeria had produced. The past CJN’s included justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, who retired in 2011. Others are, Adetokunbo Ademola 1958–1972, Teslim Olawale Elias, 1972–1975, Darnley Arthur Alexander, 1975–1979, Atanda Fatai Williams, 1979–1983, George Sodeinde Sowemimo, 1983–1985, Ayo Gabriel Irikefe, 1985–1987, Mohammed Bello, 1987–1995, Muhammad Lawal Uwais, 1995–2006, Salihu Moddibo Alfa Belgore, 2006–2007, Idris Legbo Kutigi, 2007–2009, Aloysius Ignatius Kastina-Alu 2009 -2011 and Justice Dahiru Musdahper 2011-2012.

Forces for and against her emergency stood stark. This had been the greatest force. A woman heading the judiciary! The odd forces had haunted her from the early parts of her service. She was said to be senior to the immediate past CJN, Dahiru Musdapher, in the old Kano State judiciary, having joined service some six months before the retired CJN, though younger in age, but was sidelined when it was time to appoint the Chief Judge of the state.

It is said that she was then asked to transfer her service to the Court of Appeal where she served for 17 years. Unfortunately even while qualified, but still being a woman, she was allegedly kept at the Court of Appeal as one president emerged after the other in that court. And to seal any possibility of heading that court, her promotion to the Supreme Court was engineered. There were even alleged moves to make her the full time Chief Justice of the Republic of Gambia. But God had heard her cry and encouraged President Jonathan to fight off the forces and insist on her merit and competence.

She is described as a trailblazer in her career and one who has risen to this pinnacle in the judiciary on account of her brilliance, resilience and hard work. Mr. President himself summed up her fate and qualities saying, “There is the hand of destiny in the life of this distinguished jurist. From the records 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 jurist to be elevated to the Court of Appeal where she served for over 17 years at the appellate court. 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 beacon of hope in this century,’’ Mr. President believes.

Since her appointment by the President, reactions have been pouring in as to whether she is capable or not. What is paramount is that the country needs concerted efforts by the three arms of government. It is never impossible for any arm of government to prove its integrity and discharge its duties according to the constitution. The executive and the legislative arms are headed by men. Now that the judiciary is headed by a female for the first time, it is a challenge for both genders.

Some Nigerian patriots, including the writer has advocated for a Nigerian vice president. Let us see how the proverb that what a man can do a woman can do it even better works in Nigeria with this development. So, this is a very heavy task that has been placed on the shoulders of Justice Aloma. She must tell the world that Nigerian women have come of age. Not minding her marital status, she is now a leader of a complete arm of the nation’s leadership, and by extension the most herculean because it the last hope of every Nigerian.

Even as the new CJN has been favoured by Mr. President, it should not be a base for her to subject the office – the people’s real office - to the dictate of other two arms. Although there are believed to be a lot of rots in the judiciary which demand the employment of judicial officers with wealth of experience in criminal jurisprudence and terrorism to preside over the courts, she should base her own appointments on merit and ensure that she fulfills her promise of cleansing the system.

Cleansing an already established system in Nigeria is not just as easy as reeling out measures to do it. Can she step on the toes of them who have aided corruption and indiscipline in the management of the nation’s affairs? Rhetoric and oratory are the mostly employed in solving Nigeria’s problem. Practically, none of both yields positive results. Can there be any change? Can our judiciary really become a house of incorruptible judges and justices?

There have been serious complaints of delayed trials particularly in cases of corruption, terrorism and other matters of serious concern. Many citizens have been behind the bars for very minor reasons while others have been moving freely on the streets in Nigeria and abroad, yet with very serious punishable offences.

Such uncountable complaints have forced many Nigerians to seek the creation of special courts or designation of special judges to handle them with the required experience and speed. As the CJN seems to have opted for the second choice of designating special judges, she has to ensure that the judges to be appointed into such positions are incorruptible. But as a woman, will the men judges obey her orders? Will they not conspire against her in that enviable appointment?

Her promise of reforming the judiciary as made clear during her confirmation by the Senate is a heavy burden. If the reformation of the Nigerian judiciary can be possible under a woman, then in the next few years, the women should take over the National Assembly leadership. If they can reform the legislative arms, then Nigerians will resolve to give them the backing for the first Nigerian president. This is the beginning, nay, the testing beginning!

The judiciary needs to be independent so as to ensure that only the people of the people are in power. If that is assured, then the national development and survival are come by. Can the new CJN ensure timely justice delivery and reform the nearly rotten system?

Written Muhammad Ajah
[email protected]

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