The challenges currently facing the judiciary will fall on the shoulders of Mariam Muktar, the most senior member of the Supreme Court, who is warming up to step into the shoes of the outgoing chief justice of Nigeria, Dahiru Musdapher
Mariam Mukhtar, the most senior member of the Supreme Court, is on the verge of making history as the first female chief justice of Nigeria, CJN, by July when the current head of the judicial arm of government will be bowing out. Following the recommendation of Dahiru Musdapher, outgoing CJN, Mukhtar’s name has already been pencilled down as the new CJN. This appointment however is subject to the ratification by the presidency. If all goes well, that would be another first for Mukhtar who was the first female to sit as a justice of the Supreme Court.
For the Kano State-born Mukhtar however, the journey to such a lofty height has been a rosy one. The 67-year-old has made a mark in the legal profession in the past 40 years that she has spent in the field. Besides serving in 1967 as the pupil state counsel, ministry of justice, Northern Nigeria, she also served as the interim common service Agency Magistrate Grade I, North Eastern government, between 1969 and 1973. Between 1973 and 1977, Mukhtar was the chief registrar, Kano State government judiciary, and in 1987 she became justice in the court of appeal. Between 1993 and 2005, Mukhtar served as the presiding justice of the appellate court. Owing to her demonstration of professionalism in her chosen career, the Senate could not but elevate her to the Supreme Court in 2005.
Before now, Mukhtar was said to have been a victim of power play when she was denied the opportunity of becoming the first female chief justice of Kano State some years ago. As compensation, she was elevated to the appellate court. Having shown her worth at the court of appeal, she was appointed the first woman judge of the high court in the state’s judiciary in 1977. From there, Mukhtar, who is also the current deputy chairman of the National Judicial Council, NJC, continued to ascend in the profession until she got to the Supreme Court, where she is currently occupying an enviable position as the next in line to the outgoing CJN.
Considering her track record in the legal profession, especially to assertion that Mukhtar has an independent mind, some people, particularly her colleagues in the profession, actually believe that her tenure as the new CJN would bring positive reforms to the judiciary. For instance, Fred Agbaje, a Lagos-based lawyer, believes Mukhtar is “one of the greatest women to have appeared on the Nigerian judicial landscape.” Agbaje also maintained that the incoming CJN is a thorough and cool-headed lawyer whom he believes could not be compromised. Describing Mukhtar as an unparalleled character “who has the wherewithal to turn the Nigerian judiciary around for the better,” Agbaje also insists that the woman has the potential to become the best CJN that the country has ever had. “She will turn out as the best CJN Nigeria has ever had – quote me,” Agbaje averred.
Nnaemeka Amaechina, another legal practitioner, could not agree less. Stating that Mukhtar is a woman who has scored first in many areas of her life, he told the magazine that the incoming CJN is very experienced in the legal profession and is likely to do well in the new position. Though her appointment is still subject to approval by the presidency, the lawyer said he does not see anything that will stop or disqualify her from being the next CJN. “I have been reading her judgements from the appeal court till now that she is at the Supreme Court and each case, she shows her wealth of experience. She has all it takes to excel in this job,” Amaechina said.
At a time when the integrity of the judiciary is in doubt, a fact which he said has been much admitted by the current CJN, the lawyer also said he is hopeful that the incoming CJN would raise the fallen standards of the legal practice, particularly as it concerns the appointment of lawyers to the bench. As he stressed, the judiciary needs to be sanitised. As the last hope of the common man, the judiciary should stir up justice according to law and constitution and not according to who pays the high bill, he contends. “Everybody – the rich and the poor – should be able to access justice. This is what is expected of her to do and I believe that she will be able to do it,” Amaechina further stressed. The same testimony of good conduct and uncompromising disposition of Mukhtar was also echoed by others who spoke to the magazine on the subject. “If she becomes the new CJN, it is not in doubt that she would bring her experiences to bear in ensuring that the judiciary wears a new face,” one of such observers noted. As the days draw nearer, Nigerians, especially those in the legal profession, are anxiously waiting to see Mukhtar assume office as the new CJN.