Gombe State Governor, Muhammad Inuwa Yahaya, has sworn-in Justice Mu’azu Abdulkadir Pindiga as the new acting chief judge of the State.
Justice Pindiga’s appointment is coming after Justice Beatrice Iliya’s three months tenure as acting Chief Judge of the State High Court.
She occupied the exalted seat from September 3 to December 3 2019.
Yahaya disclosed that Justice Pindiga’s appointment was based on merit, being the next most senior judge in the State adding that he was a respectable judge, worthy of the position.
But the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria, is up in arms and says in a statement that the non-confirmation of Beatrice Iliya, the most senior judge, as chief judge of Gombe state is condemnable.
Others say she suffered the second jeopardy of being a Christian in a Muslim dominated State. That position, some say, does not hold water because Governor Yahaya appointed her in the first place in September, knowing her faith.
It is the second time in the North a woman judge has been denied ascension to the pinnacle of her career on account of gender. It is considered almost an anathema for women to become chief judges in some northern States, but it is instructive that Aloma Mariam Mukhtar rose to become the Chief Justice of Nigeria in July 2012. She retired 26 months later.
In Kebbi State, a female judge, Justice Elizabeth Karatu, denied headship of the Kebbi State judiciary, allegedly on account of her faith and sex, was prevented from delivering judgment and locked out of a court-room by a Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps officer, while her armed Police orderly stood by arguing.
The Governor of the State, Bagudu, had argued then that though he recommended her to become Chief Judge, the House of Assembly thought otherwise and overruled him. Karatu had three months to go as judge.
There is no evidence that the National Judicial Council (NJC) has initiated any investigations into these aberrations; or even if any such petition have come before it.
In the statement by FIDA National President, Rhoda Tyoden, National Publicity Secretary, Eliana Martins, said
“FIDA Nigeria unites with other groups and strongly condemn the non-confirmation of the Acting Chief Judge of Gombe State, the Hon. Justice Beatrice Lazarus Iliya, as the Chief Judge of Gombe State, having completed her statutory three months period as Acting Chief Judge,” the statement read.
“Hon. Justice Beatrice Lazarus Iliya, a noble lady is not due for retirement for another three years minimum period; and has served diligently.
“We therefore strongly object to the planned swearing in of a junior male judge as Chief Judge in her place for whatever reason.
“FIDA Nigeria views the act of swearing in a male judge who is junior to other female judges as the substantive Chief Judge as act of gender discrimination!!
“This is more painful as the UN 16 days activism against Gender Based Violence and Human Rights Violations is ongoing.”
A source conversant with workings of the NJC told Nigeria Everyday that there is no cause for alarm as long as the new appointee is in acting capacity.
“There is no way the Council would allow a junior to sit over a senior as Chief Judge…it can only be in acting capacity. NJC will not accept anything short of that”.
He cited the example of Kwara State when Dr. Bukola Saraki was Governor. Saraki, he said, allegedly attempted to side-step a female judge becoming chief judge, but the NJC would not budge until the female judge was sworn-in.
He also narrated a recent incident in Ondo State where an attempt to by-pass a female judge as President of the Customary Court was frustrated by the NJC by ensuring a woman was given the office.
The source disclosed that the council was unable to do anything on Karatu who was acting as chief judge because she had three months to go. “Our plea for her to serve her remaining days as a substantive judge fell on deaf ears, if she had time, the NJC would have stood its ground,” he added.