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Mukhtar: The challenges ahead
LANRE ADEWOLE of our Abuja Bureau projects into the 28 months that lay ahead of the new Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and first woman to hold the position, Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar (MAM) and periscopes the challenges ahead of the woman of history.
As the Chief Justice of Nigeria-designate; Justice Mariam Aloma Mukthar (MAM) takes oath- of- office today, she would be cementing her place in history as the first ever female head of the third arm of government; a position, all things being equally, she is expected to hold for two years and four months before bowing out on 20th November, 2014 when she would hit the mandatory retirement age of 70 years.
Kano-born Mukhtar is not a stranger to history. She almost made one in 1979 as the first female Chief Judge of old Kano state before she was by-passed for a junior who happens to be the senior, handling over to her today; outgoing CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, but still ended up landing at the Court of Appeal, though after Musdapher had gotten there before her, as the first female.
She continued with her history-making by becoming the first ever female justice of the Nigerian Supreme Court, opening the gate for others like Justices Oluwafunmilola O Adekeye and Mary Odili to stream in, before capping it with the ascension to number one position mainly on seniority.
What many Nigerians might not know is that this history almost never happened, given concerted but failed efforts to shoo Mukhtar to Gambia as its Chief Justice in the usual practice of sending top Nigerian jurists to the country to help them in developing their jurisprudence. Mukhtar who was resolute to keep her date with history in her country of birth resisted all pressures which were reportedly geared towards getting her out of the succession line, and she is today inking her place in the nation’s judiciary and country’s history.
Unlike her recent predecessors-in-office, Mukhtar has many positives going for her; she is largely seen as a clean break from the controversial past which saw top judicial officers in the land including the then CJN, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, accusing each other publicly of corruption and unethical conducts to the extent of facing a probe panel and testifying falsely on oath. Also unlike her predecessors, many could still vouch for integrity, mainly because she had been seen to be largely above partisan interests either in political parties or judiciary’s politics, though the rumour of her sympathy for the perennial presidential candidate and former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari, hangs in the political horizon.
She allegedly sieved Buhari’s petition against late President Umaru YarÁdua in 2007; a judicial practice to check petitions’ vulnerability or viability before filing, but many would doubt if her minority judgement voiding YarÁdua’s election alongside Justices George Oguntade (retired) and Walter Onnoghen in 2008, had anything to do with her alleged sympathy for Buhari, considering the confirmed widespread malpractices that hall-marked the 2007 presidential election.
As elucidated by Musdapher in a recent interview with the Nigerian Tribune, election petitions account for the large chunk of corruption in the judiciary today and Mukhtar during her confirmation session at the senate confirmed the existence of high-scale corruption in the judiciary and vowed to eliminate it. She has a head-start in checking politician-induced corruption, because her tenure is outside of real election year because she would no longer be in office by the time politicians would start challenging election results, though her leadership would still have to deal with candidates’ nomination by political parties who are known to always put political consideration ahead of constitutional provision in their conducts.
However, governorship elections in Edo, Ondo and Anambra States that would take place during her leadership would test her resolve to combat corruption occasioned by election petitions, considering the win-at-all-cost syndrome of the political class.
But corruption is obviously not limited to election petition in the judiciary and given its perverseness as attested to by her, fighting the monster of judicial corruption at all levels would be Mukhtar’s biggest challenge, considering her admission that the corruption in the system had eroded nearly all public confidence, which she pledged to restore.
The restoration of public confidence which she admitted is a now a matter of an emergency requires that the bad eggs in the system must be purged, possibly by adopting the suggestion of Musdapher that sting operation be employed in nailing corrupt judges at the point of committing the corrupt acts.
Fighting corruption in the system would require a holistic approach which would make it compelling for her to expand the frontier of the reform agenda of her immediate predecessor-in-office, which had been variously acknowledged by stakeholders and the public as a right step in the right direction in restoring public confidence in the judiciary.
Musdapher had also launched a constitutional move to get the reform agenda entrenched by amending the constitution and like the president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), J.B Daudu SAN said at Musdapher’s valedictory court session last Friday, there would be no two ways on the reform agenda than for Mukhtar to pursue it to a logical conclusion.
Fortuitously for her, Musdapher’s reform agenda seems all-encompassing, touching on almost all issues bedevilling the system, including personnel welfare, launching the system into real modernity through ICT known as e-litigation which is expected to quicken the process of justice and lessen the burden of judicial officers as well as administrative and constitutional corrections that consultants of different hues hired by Musdapher, identified with projected recommendations.
Undoubtedly, the biggest headache Mukhtar would be inheriting from Musdapher is the tricky issue of the suspension and reinstatement of the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami by the National Judicial Council (NJC) which she would now head by virtue of her new position as the CJN.
Fortunately for her, she is not a complete outsider on this issue having been a member of the NJC as Musdapher’s number two as well as chairing a reconciliation committee that ended up recommending Salami’s reinstatement following the reported refusal of Katsina-Alu to meet with her committee due to the sub judice nature of the matter, considering the numerous cases including Salami’s, pending in court over the suspension.
For now, it seems all parties to the crisis had agreed that the due process of law should take its course, with the pending cases being allowed to run their full course, instead of taking extra-constitutional means of resolving the matter which has become purely legal. Though a rumoured Salami’s sympathiser, the new CJN would be doing the system a lot of good by avoiding taking controversial steps on the issue of Salami’s return and live out her advocacy for the rule-of -law mantra, by allowing the cases in court to run their full course and abiding by the pronouncements of the courts on the matter. The suspension has become a political matter which only court pronouncements could sanitise.
Beyond Salami, she could also consider Musdapher’s suggestion, though not contained in the bill for constitutional amendment on the reform, that serving judges should be taken off election petitions as well as creation of a constitutional court to handle election petition matters, thereby reducing contacts between serving judicial officers and politicians, considering the fact that Salami’s career record had been glittering; integrity wise, before his direct contacts with politicians of a certain political party, leading to the unsavoury state of his career.
Though the Muhammadu Uwais’ panel called for a comprehensive reform of the National Judicial Council (NJC), Musdapher’s reformative bill appears inadequate in this area, providing Mukthar opportunity to brush up the Bill with a supplementary Bill on the areas not too-well covered.
Mukthar pledged before the senate to lead and live by example, she owes herself that promise especially in her dealing with politicians, in order not to soil a glittering career, which is being capped today with a historic appointment.Share