The recent nomination of Justice Alooma Mariam Mukhtar by President Goodluck Jonathan as the first female Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) will for a long time continue to generate commendations. It is significant to note that Mukhtar's nomination is based on merit and not on federal character.
This development shows that her capacity and resourcefulness for the job distinguish her from the rest in a male -dominated legal profession. Beyond her historic nomination by the President for Senate's confirmation, it is not in question that she will take control under the hot seat in due course.
So while she savours the people's goodwill at the moment, the CJN-designate must also realise that Nigerians are impatient especially with public office holders. Having operated for long under the shadows of the former CJNs, the stage has been set for her and the light is being turned on her. Everything will be happening very fast from now on.
Largely described by legal practitioners and fellow judges as courageous and independent-minded jurist, the incoming CJN was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1967, a year after she was called to the English Bar. She also made history as the first female lawyer from the North with impeccable credentials.
A child of destiny, Justice Mukhtar, who hails from Kano, was born on November 20, 1944. Then the long road to stardom started for her when she enrolled at St. George's Primary School, Zaria. There, she began what was to become a prosperous career. She later attended St. Batholomew's School, Wusasa, Zaria, for her secondary education.
Young Mukhtar attended Rossholme School for Girls, East Brent, Somersets, England and later Reading Technical College, Berkshire England. She was also at Gibson and Weldon College of Law and was called to the English Bar in absentia in November, 1966.
A life member of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Justice Mukhtar started her career as a Pupil State Counsel, Ministry of Justice, Northern Nigeria, in 1967. She was later to work at the Office of the Legal Draftsman, Interim Common Services Agency, Magistrate Grade I, North Eastern State Government, 1971.
She became the Chief Registrar, Kano State Government Judiciary in 1973 and a judge of the High Court of Kano State where she served from 1977 to 1987.
From there she was appointed a Justice of the Court of Appeal in 1987 and served till 1993 when she became the first female Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, a position she held from 1993 to 2005.
In 2005, Justice Mukhtar was elevated to the Supreme Court where she made history as the first female Justice of the apex court. She also scored another historic first on Wednesday when Jonathan nominated her as the first female CJN- designate.
But many pundits believed that the very first challenge Justice Mukhtar faces in her new position is not her being a woman, but the increasing rot in the judicial system.
The outgoing CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, upon assumption of office had decried the level of rot in the system and then proposed a judicial reform. Not much was done on this due to his very short stay in office, barely one year.
Incidentally, this is the same system Justice Mukhtar will be inheriting as from July 15. At 68, Mukhtar has the advantage of time which her predecessor lacked. For the next two years or so when she will head the nation's judiciary, the greatest obstacle to her leaving a lasting impression in judicial system lies in her ability to embark on an all -inclusive reform of the system.
It is not just enough to make history as the first female CJN, as there is the compelling need for the incoming CJN to work hard to leave the system better than she met it. A number of women have been firsts in some other careers, but had their names smeared by greed.
Many people believe that the Justice Mukhtar has what it takes to be a courageous reformer. They quickly point to her antecedents as an independent judge as a strong signal that she cannot go wrong.
In what many consider a very bold step, Justice Mukhtar was one of the few justices who gave a dissenting judgment in the presidential tussle between the late President Umaru Yar'Adua and the Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd).
Justice Mukhtar alongside Justices George Oguntade (now retired) and Walter Onnoghen, ruled against the late Yar'Adua and insisted that there was substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act, 2006 in the election that produced him in 2007. Today, her stand is widely acclaimed in legal circles and the academia.
Oguntade, Mukhtar and Onnoghen held that there was substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2006 which vitiated the election of the late President. But the lead judgment carried the day.
It was even gathered that at that time, efforts were made by certain individuals to play on the regional sentiments. But amiable Mukhtar stood her ground and ruled that the election was fraught with irregularities. Though the lead judgment carried the day, she made a mark with her conscience.
That explains why her nomination was greeted by overwhelming applause by both the Bar and Bench, with a former Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Kayode Eso describing her as 'incorruptible and the best for the job'.
In an interview with LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, Justice Eso said: "Alooma Mukhtar is easily the best for the job. She is absolutely incorruptible. Alooma would surely make the best CJN Nigeria ever had. I whole-heartedly welcome this development. I congratulate the judiciary and all Nigerians on having Alooma as the CJN."
Chairman of the Census Tribunal, Justice Ifeyinwa Obegolu also congratulated Mukhtar for being able to wangle her way through the men's world by dint of hard-work and discipline in character and expressed the belief that her nomination would help bring Nigerian women out of the woods.
"It is a sign of excellent things to come in the way of the judiciary and Nigeria. It would take the Nigerian women to another level in the collective drive to bring women out of the woods. I am proud of Justice Mukhtar for being able to wangle her way through the men's world by dint of hard work and discipline in character. I congratulate her very warmly."
Former Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), and Minister of Justice, Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN), described her as an excellent judge. "I wish her a big success. I have no doubt of her quality and ability to man the seat. She is an excellent judge. I congratulate her and the entire judiciary on her achievement."
Though a constitutional lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), had wished that the CJN come from outside the Supreme Court, he was however delighted by her appointment, saying that it was unique.
"My mood or inclination has been that the CJN should start coming from outside. But the nomination of Alooma Mukhtar as CJN is unique, since she will be the first female CJN. Besides, she is a progressive judge, and it is a good step towards gender equality. For Nigeria to have a female CJN is worthy of celebration."
Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) also expressed much hope in her abilities. "Alooma's appointment as the CJN is timely. Though she is inheriting a tattered judiciary, but the no-nonsense iron lady of the Supreme Court is much likely to do Nigerians proud. I bet you, it would no longer be business as usual in the judiciary. It is remarkable to note that Justice Mukhtar will be inheriting a tattered judiciary".
But as the commendations are pouring in, lawyers are also setting agenda for the incoming CJN on the steps to take to move the nation's judiciary forward.
The chairman of the Ikeja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Monday Ubani, said that Mukhtar has succeeded in scoring another first. He believed that the authorities must have seen good qualities in her before elevating her to the position of the CJN.
Another Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Wale Ogunade, said the new CJN should be looking at "the promotion of the rule of law." He said there should be a situation where sheriffs of the court are empowered to implement court judgments and not the police.
For Kayode Dada, Justice Mukhtar's appointment is a reflection of the principle of gender equality, saying that the development is worthy of note and deserves commendation by the stakeholders.
In his view, Lateef Abdulsalam, said the new CJN should have zero tolerance for corruption in the judiciary and encourage a state-to state increment in the remuneration of judges. He also wanted her to focus on the further training of judges and magistrates.
"Training and retraining of judicial officer is indispensable for a judiciary that wants to make progress. They should be availed the current trends in the dispensation of justice. A situation where most court proceedings are still recorded long-hand is very deplorable.
"Even when the facilities exist, they are often not in use either because the judges are not competent in their use or the constant power outage makes it impossible. These are some the issues which Justice Mukhtar must address to be remembered for good".