Saturday, October 19, 2019 2:51 pm
By Richard Akinnola
First, it was Justice Bulkachuwa, president of the Court of Appeal. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) raised lots of dust when the presidential election petition was before the Tribunal, then headed by Justice Bulkachuwa.
The PDP asked the presiding Justice to recuse herself from the the election petition case of Atiku Abubakar, which though the court dismissed but the judge acceded to the PDP’s request.
This application was premised on the fact that Justice Bulkachuwa’s husband was then a Senator-elect from Bauchi under the ruling All Progressive Congress(APC), and thus, the presiding Judge would be biased towards the APC in the matter.
For me, l think it is rather unfair to subject a female judge to this sort of discrimination just because of the vocation of her husband as a politician. Why not the other way round, that is, male judges being subjected to this sort of discrimination because their spouses are politicians?
The perception that these female judges would be compromised based on the political standing of their husbands, to me, is ill-conceived.
Now, the PDP caucus in the House of Representatives has asked the Chief Justice of Nigeria to empanel only the most senior justices of the Supreme Court, to determine the appeal of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in the presidential election appeal.
This call has been subject to various media interpretations and slants, with the media focusing on Justice Mary Odili and Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, two of the most senior justices at the Supreme Court.
Conspiracy theories are being woven round these two Justices in the media, portraying them as people who would be sympathetic to the PDP. According to some reports, Justice Rhodes-Vivour’s son, Gbolahan contested for election in Lagos this year under the auspices of PDP. However, the fact is that the said Gbolahan is not the son of Justice Rhodes-Vivour.
In respect of Justice Odili, according to conspiracy theorists, the fact that her husband, Dr Peter Odili was a founding member of PDP, invariably makes her susceptible to pander towards the interest of PDP. Hence, the demands of the PDP House of Reps caucus, was like working towards the answer.
But does this have any basis?
After the 2015 Governorship elections, Mr Dakuku Peterside, the Rivers State Governorship candidate on the platform of APC, challenged the election of Nyedom Wike of the PDP.
The sitting of the Tribunal was moved from Port Harcourt to Abuja for security reasons.
Wike kicked against it. He went to court to challenge the relocation and fought up to the Supreme Court.
Justice Mary Odili, wife of Wike’s political leader in Rivers State, was on the Supreme Court panel and she dismissed Wike’s appeal.
Similarly, while Justice Odili was at the Court of Appeal and the appeal of Charles Soludo, Anambra State PDP governorship candidate, came before the court, she gave judgment against Soludo.
Also, few years ago, Justice Fati Abubakar, wife of former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, as the Chief Judge of Niger State, had to swear-in her Son in-law as the Governor of Niger State. In other words, there was a situation in Niger State where the mother in-law of Governor was the Chief Judge and the First Lady, was the daughter of the Chief Judge.
The fact that her son in-law was the Governor did not affect her job as Chief Judge of the State because she swore to a Judicial oath.
I’m also not aware that Justice Atinuke Ige (of blessed memory), recused herself from political cases involving the Unity party of Nigeria(UPN) /Alliance for Democracy(AD) when she was a Judge and her husband, Bola Ige was a Governor in Oyo State and later a Minister under Obasanjo. There was no insinuation that she would pander to the dictates of UPN.
Justice Mrs Pedro was also a Judge of Lagos Judiciary when her husband, Olufemi Pedro was the Deputy Governor of Lagos State. The husband even had a momentary bitter fued with the then Governor, Ahmed Tinubu, while his wife was still in the Bench of Lagos Judiciary and that never affected her job.
I don’t think a female Judicial Officer should put her Judicial career on hold just because her spouse is a top politician or recuse herself in political cases.
Justice Umaru Abdulahi, then president, Court of Appeal, was a classmate and friend of General Buhari. But when Buhari’s appeal on Yar’adua’s election came before the court, he didn’t recuse himself. In fact, he ruled in favour of Yar’adua.
Judges are human beings, not spirits. They interact with people. They have old students and belong to village associations. If we continue to raise objections either on the basis of consanguinity or marital relationships, no judge would hear any case.
While working on the biography of Justice Yaya Jinadu in 1988, he told me that his wife, a lawyer, sometimes appeared before him and they NEVER discussed official matters at home. Every judge, particularly whose spouse is a politician should be true to his or her conscience and oath of office.
We should therefore be very circumspect the way we politicise the judiciary. We are doing incalculable damage to the institution.
-Mr Richard Akinnola, journalist, lawyer and human rights advocate writes from Lagos