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Aloma Mariam Mukhtar:A tradition of firsts
THE inauguration of Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar yesterday by President Goodluck Jonathan as the first female Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) is a continuation of her trail blazing trend both at the bar and on the bench.
Called to the Nigerian Bar on June 26, 1967, after being called to the English Bar earlier in November, 1966, she became the first female lawyer from the northern part of the country. She is also the first female judge to be elevated to the Court of Appeal when she joined the appellate court in 1987. On May 10, 2005, she became the first female justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Born in present day Kano State on November 20, 1944, Mukhtar attended St. George's Primary School, Zaria; St. Bartholomew's School, Wusasa, Zaria; Rossholme School for Girls, East Brent, Somerset, England; Reading Technical College, Reading, Berkshire England; as well as Gibson and Weldon College of Law.
She joined the Northern Nigeria Ministry of Justice in 1967 as a pupil state counsel. Later she was at the Office of the Legal Draftsman before her appointment as a Magistrate Grade 1 by the North Eastern Government in 1969, thus becoming the first female Magistrate in the Northern region. She recorded another first with her appointment as the Chief Registrar in Kano State judiciary in 1973. She later became a judge of the High Court of Kano State in 1977. She served as a high court judge till 1987 and was set to become the first female chief judge in the state when she was nominated by the state government to the Court of Appeal that same year. She was presiding
justice of the Court of Appeal between 1993 and 2005 before until her elevation to the Supreme Court in June 2005.
Justice Mukhtar was one of the justices who held that there was substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2006 to void the 2007 presidential election that produced the late President Umaru Yar' Adua as the winner in the case involving Major General Muhammad Buhari and Yar' Adua. The other justices were George Oguntade, (now retired) and Walter Onnoghen.
Her independent-mindedness again came to the fore recently when she was appointed by the immediate past CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher to head a committee to resolve the differences among members of the National Judicial Council following the council's failure to approve the reinstatement of the suspended President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami. The committee later recommended the recall of the suspended CPA.
As a mark of honour and a reward for her industry and contribution to the advancement of the legal profession, she was offered the position of the Chief Justice of The Gambia on secondment a few months ago by Justice Musdapher but she tactfully declined the offer because she had her eyes on becoming the country's first female head of the judiciary at the federal level.
Reputed as a fearless bencher who is always on the side of the truth, Justice Mukhtar has been a life bencher since 1993 and a life member of the Federation of Women Lawyers. She was also the Vice President of the National Association of Women Judges of Nigeria. In 1989, she was honoured by the Federation of Women Lawyers and in 1991; she was decorated with a Gold Merit Award by the Kano State Government. In 2003 she was again honoured by the International Association of Women Lawyers, and in 2004, she was conferred with the Fellowship of the Nigerian Law School.
When she appeared at the Senate last week for screening, she had an opportunity to unveil her plans for the judiciary. She promised to devote her time as the nation's number one judicial officer to shoring up the image of the system.
Speaking on the image of the judiciary, she said, “The perception of the judiciary by the public is indeed bad and I'm saddened. I'll try to ensure that the confidence reposed in the judiciary before is restored. I'll ensure that the bad eggs that are there are cleansed. It is sad that the ordinary Nigerian feels he won't get justice, and it is because of the situation we find ourselves,” she said.
“Right from the time of Justice Uwais, judges have been warned to be cautious and careful in granting injunctions. The National Judicial Institute has conducted trainings on this, but still some judges will not heed the directives.
“The NJC will ensure that whenever any judicial officer contravenes the law or the directives given to him, I pray that with the cooperation of my colleagues, they will be dealt with.”
Throwing more light on her plans to reform the judicial system, the new CJN, who promised to lead by example, said, “Corruption is in every system of our society and I cannot pretend that it is not in the judiciary. What I intend to do to curb this is to lead by example and to hope and pray that others will follow.
“As the chairman of the National Judicial Council, I will encourage internal cleansing based on petition.”
She added, “As I said I will try to make sure that the confidence reposed in the judiciary as it were before will be restored. I will try as much
as possible to ensure that the bad eggs that are there are removed. I will try to ensure that there will be cleansing by the NJC based on petitions.
“It is sad that the ordinary man in the street now thinks and feels that he will not get justice and this is because of the situation we find ourselves. I will ensure that this perception is changed.”
There is no doubt that the greatest challenge facing the judiciary at the moment is abuse engendered by corruption. If the new CJN matches her words with appropriate actions and is able to rid the judiciary of corruption, then she will have made history not just as the first female to sit atop the nation's judiciary but the one to restore the third arm of the government to its lost exalted position.Share