Ariwoola in the Eye of the Storm
For the better part of last week, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, was at the centre of the storm after he was perceived to have breached the principle of judicial neutrality – an essential factor for the preservation of the integrity of the judicial system. A loose comment he made as a joke in Port Harcourt penultimate week came back to hunt him. Before the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) reacted to it, many who watched the event live on television or saw the video were simply disappointed.
Speaking in Port Harcourt as the special guest of the Rivers State Government, Justice Ariwoola said: “That is why we should not be scared to have these men of the Integrity Group. And I am happy that my governor is among them because he would try to imitate his friend and in-law because we came here to marry for my governor.”
Even when it was obvious that he made the comment and there was video evidence, the Supreme Court issued a statement on his behalf to deny it.
Many argue that the statement was the first mistake he made. What it meant was that the CJN didn’t even know that he didn’t need to attend the event in the first place.
To know that it was the same CJN who after his swearing-in ceremony, urged politicians to allow the judiciary to function properly that could not do what he preached was unfortunate.
No matter the interpretation, Justice Ariwoola’s comments were not tactful. He delved into the political arena. By virtue of his exalted position, he should avoid social dealings that are capable of eroding public confidence in the judiciary.
Being constitutionally expected to transcend petty political partisanships, the CJN ought not to be seen in any form of fraternity within the dispute-prone murky waters of politics or any matter at all.
A judge who doesn’t know that he should guard against being seen as supporting a partisan political cause – can’t be trusted to be impartial to people who are not in his good graces. This incident should serve as a lesson to him before he gets his fingers burnt.