Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mukthar
By Tobi Soniyi
The row over the non-swearing-in of Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo as a justice of the Court of Appeal drew to a close Wednesday with a directive from the National Judicial Council (NJC) that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mukthar, should inaugurate her.
The NJC, rising from an emergency meeting held in Abuja, said the directive was to end the controversy which the CJN’s refusal to swear in Justice Jombo-Ofo had generated.
In a statement signed by the council's Deputy Director, Information, Mr. Soji Oye, the council said: “After full and dispassionate deliberations on the matter, the council unanimously decided that Honourable Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo be sworn in as a justice of the Court of Appeal.”
Justice Jombo-Ofo, one of the 12 newly appointed justices of the Court of Appeal, was summarily dropped on November 5 when she along with 11 others were about to take the oath of office.
Those sworn in were Justices Ibrahim S. Bdliya, Abiriya James Shehu, Obietonbara O. Daniel-Kalio, Onyekachi Otisi, Stephen Jonah Adah, Tinuade Akomolaje-Wilson and Fatima Akinbami.
Others included Justices Habeeb Adewale Abiru, Peter Olabisi Ige, Tijani Abubakar and Emmanuel Agim.
But the CJN had refused to swear in Justice Jombo-Ofo owing to a petition against her, which accused her of wanting to take the Abia State slot in the Court of Appeal.
Although by birth, an indigene of Anambra State, Justice Jombo-Ofo, whose husband is from Abia State, had been in the state judiciary for 14 years before her recommendation by the Abia State Government for elevation to the Court of Appeal.
Justice Mukthar, however, declined to swear her in, because doing so would have amounted to a breach of the Federal Character Act as it affects the state of origin of married women.
The CJN had anchored her decision on the binding principles and formulae for the Distribution of all Cadres of Posts (S.I.23 of 1997) provided in Part II, Section 2, which states: “A married woman shall continue to lay claim to her state of origin for the purpose of implementation of the Federal Character formulae at the national level.”
However, the CJN’s action had spawned controversy and criticism, leading to the Senate’s directive to Justice Mukthar to swear in Justice Jombo-Ofo.
The Senate, in a resolution passed on November 7, had urged the CJN to swear in Justice Jombo-Ofo and for all government agencies to note that a married woman can claim either her state of origin or that of her husband in relation to the Federal Character principle.
The NJC, which reviewed the controversy that surrounded the CJN’s decision and the Senate’s intervention, nonetheless, absolved Justice Mukthar of any wrongdoing in the incident.
According to the NJC, “The Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council must be commended for exercising sufficient caution, diligence and maturity in the matter, especially in the light of the documents, materials and other information available to her, and for taking the decision to put on hold the swearing-in of Honourable Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo as a justice of the Court of Appeal, to await a meeting of the National Judicial Council to review the matter in all its ramifications.
“That the Federal Judicial Service Commission and the National Judicial Council, being Federal Executive Bodies established in pursuance of Section 153(1(i) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, are bound and obliged to observe and obey the provisions of the Constitutional Law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, including the Federal Character Commission Act.
“That the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is also bound and obliged to observe and obey the stipulations of the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, including the Federal Character Commission Act; without prejudice to the undisputed power of the National Assembly to amend and/or repeal the said Act.”
The NJC noted that the CJN in a letter dated November 5 to President Goodluck Jonathan, had informed him that Justice Jombo-Ofo’s matter would be tabled before the NJC for a decision to be taken on it.