Female Judges and Gender Stereotypes

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Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia
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Female Judges and Gender Stereotypes

The first salvo was fired last year by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) when the anti-graft body sent a letter to the Chief Judge of the Federal High court, Abdul Kafarati.

Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia

In the said letter, the Chairman of EFCC asked the Chief Judge to reassign all corruption cases being prosecuted by the EFCC, from the court of Justice Nyako. Not because the judge had been found wanting in the discharge of her judicial responsibilities but because of her marital connection.

Justice Nyako is one of the wives of Murtala Nyako, a former Governor of Adamawa State, currently undergoing trial, along with two of his sons for alleged corruption.

On the basis of the trial of her husband, the EFCC felt that corruption cases were not safe in the court of Justice Nyako.

To me, l find this premise preposterous. Does it mean that if the judge’s husband was standing trial for any other alleged offence, her wife would also be divested of any case relating to such an offence.

It is against that background that l view the application of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), asking the president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Bulkachuwa to recuse herself from the election petition case of Atiku Abubakar, which though the court dismissed but the judge acceded to the PDP’s request.

For me, l think it is rather unfair to subject female judges to this sort of discrimination just because of the vocation of their husband’s as politicians. 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.

After the 2015 Governorship elections, Mr. Dakuku Peterside, the Rivers State Governorship candidate on the platform of APC, challenged the election of Nyesom Wike of the PDP.

The sitting of the Tribunal was moved from Port Harcourt to Abuja for security reasons.

Wike kicked against it. He challenged the relocation in court, 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 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. As a matter of fact, it is on record that when Justice Odili’s husband became governor of Rivers State, Justice Atinuke Ige, who was like her mentor, went to meet her in Port Harcourt and admonished her not to quit the Bench but to concentrate on her Judicial duties, irrespective of the new status of her husband, particularly since she had been on the Bench before her husband’s foray into politics, of which he has retired.

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 feud with the then Governor, Ahmed Tinubu, while his wife was still in the Bench of Lagos Judiciary and that never affected her job.

Today, Justice Mrs. Ogala is a judge of Lagos Judiciary, an APC state, while her husband is the National legal Adviser of the APC. Would Justice Ogala be asked to recuse herself from cases involving Lagos State? I think the objection of PDP in the Atiku case on Justice Bulckachawa is misplaced.

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 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 her conscience and oath of office.


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