The Recent Appointment of Justice Jombo-Ofo to the Court of Appeal and the Issue of National Integration in Nigeria

Recently, Justice Jombo-Ofo, a female High Court Judge serving in Abia State had her swearing in to the Appeal Court of Nigeria stepped down because of a petition alleging she was not from Abia State and denied elevation to the Appellate court by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mrs. Aloma Muktar. Thankfully the National Judicial Council has reviewed the petition in her favour and hopefully she will be sworn in to take her much deserved place amongst her colleagues who had been sworn in earlier.

The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) grants that the initial decision to refuse to swear in Justice Jombo-Ofo was not based on a personal conclusion arrived in isolation of a petition emanating from the originating State. The National Association of Seadogs also accepts that the CJN may have had no option but to step down the swearing in of Justice Jumbo-Ofo as a result of the petition in order to refer the petition to the NJC for a decision. The National Association of Seadogs also concedes that the Petitioners may have heavily relied upon the concept of Lex Domicile as contained in the Federal Character Commission (Establishment Act) Decree 34 of 1996. However, the above does not absolve the Chief Justice in the manner in which the refusal to swear in Justice Jombo-Ofo was publicly done which presented an avenue for embarrassment of the Honourable Judge.

Furthermore, the National Association of Seadogs believes that the interpretation placed on the relevant section of the Federal Character statute by the Petitioners renders its application counter to the spirit of unity and equality in a nation such as Nigeria and should not be encouraged. This provision should not be used to override the provisions of Section 42 of the Nigerian Constitution which prohibits discrimination on grounds of sex, place of origin or ethnic group. Nigeria is also a signatory to international conventions which protects women against discriminatory treatment. The CJN being a woman herself should be seen to respect the obligations of Nigeria to meet universally accepted standards of fairness and equity in this regard.

It has clearly been established that Justice Mrs. Jombo-Ofo is married to a man from Abia State, and having served for more than 14 years in Abia State, Justice Jombo Ofo was still deemed an outsider by the petitioners. No woman who marries a person outside her State of origin should be made to suffer limitation as a result of that marital status. This would be a breach of the woman's rights under the constitution. It is traditionally accepted that a woman once married in most instances finds herself settling wherever her husband is located for family cohesion. The principle of integration through cross tribal marriage which promotes peace and harmony in Nigeria should therefore far outweigh the concept of Lex domicile and should be interpreted to mean that the woman choses to identify with the State of origin of her spouse as the case of Justice Jombo-Ofo suggests.

The National Association of Seadogs realizes that this incidental travesty of natural justice, fairness and equity was ironically almost perpetuated in the hallowed halls of the guardians of justice themselves. Had it succeeded, the glowing career of this hardworking Nigerian judge would have been stunted. This is just one in millions of cases of injustices perpetuated under the umbrella of the 'state of origin' regime. Justice Jombo-Ofo's case will perhaps resonate because of its high profile nature but ordinary Nigerians, legitimately qualified to be considered for employment are subjected to this primordially motivated 'state of origin' regime. It is also ironic that Gambia, desirous of improving its legal system, utilizes the services of Nigerian judges whereas in Nigeria, Judges cannot serve in the appellate court unless they fall within or under the moribund convention of ethnicity or tribe.

Nigeria's insistence on this hydra headed monster of the 'state of origin' regime trivializes all efforts the country tries to make towards socio economic development. The National Association of Seadogs is compelled to ask the question of how our country can rise above the fetters of poverty when we celebrate mediocrity and sacrifice excellence on the altar of zonal politics. Our country cannot move forward when we erect unnatural boundaries inhibiting the elevation of our citizens in their chosen careers, especially where such limitation is not based on the lack of professional merit or eligibility as required by Law.

The National Association of Seadogs through its Nigerian Integration Bill has been advancing the cause for the amending of the 'state of origin' regime as well as encouraging Nigerians to change this retrogressive mentality. An individual who has lived in any particular State for 10 years or more should have every right to aspire to any level of service in that State. Nigerians must insist on a 'state of residency' regime and also ensure that the intellectual drain through migration which the 'state of origin' regime precipitates is checked.

The National Association of Seadogs is encouraged that the elevation of Justice Mrs. Jombo-Ofo is duly okayed by the National Judicial Commission and the National Assembly but further calls on the Media, civil society organizations and all well meaning Nigerians to reject the current status quo and insist on the amendment of this retrogressive practice so that Nigeria can truly be a country where justice shall prevail.

Signed,
Ide Owodiong-Idemeko
NAS Cap'n


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