Opinion: Discrimination against females at the Nigerian Bar

by Zubaida Mahmoud


It reminds me of the Senior FEMALE Law School Lecturer that not only addressed us as ‘gentlemen in skirts’ but always made it a point to correct anyone that said “Ladies and gentlemen” by saying “There are no ladies at the bar, only gentlemen in skirts”. In this 21st century!!! Such a degrading and sexist comment coming from a fellow woman.

My mom is Idoma, from Benue State while my dad is Fulani from Kano State. They met in 1979 when they were both at the Nigerian Law School. After their call to Bar, they were both posted to Rivers State for NYSC. They got married in January 1983 and settled in Kano State.

My mom joined the Civil Service that year – worked in the Ministry of Justice. She was appointed a Judge of the Kano State High Court in December 1991. She has served Kano State for a period of 31 years, 22 of which as a Judge.

She has been nominated at least twice for elevation to the bench of the Court of Appeal. But ‘disqualified’ on the basis that she is not an indigene of Kano State and cannot therefore be considered under the Kano quota. The National Judicial Council (NJC) has been applying the Federal Character Commission Guidelines: “Guiding Principles ; Formulae for Distribution of All Cadre of Posts” as a basis for such disqualification.

The relevant paragraph of the sub legislation states

“A married woman shall continue to lay claim to her State of Origin for purpose of implementation of the Federal Character Formulae at the National Level”

This of course implies that for my mom to be elevated to the Court of Appeal, she has to be nominated by the Benue State Judiciary, the State she has never served. How will any reasonable person expect them to skip their own Judges and nominate her?!

For me, there are a number of issues with this guideline.

1. The most important one , it conflicts with the Constitution. The Judiciary is responsible for interpreting and applying the Law and one of the most basic things that even non-lawyers know is that if any law is inconsistent with the provision of the constitution, the constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void. See Section 1(3) of the 1999 Constitution of the FRN.

Section 15(1) of the Constitution of the FRN states that:

The motto of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress.

(2) Accordingly, national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited.

(3) For the purpose of promoting national integration, it shall be the duty of the State to -…

(b) secure full residence rights for every citizen in all parts of the Federation;

(c) encourage inter-marriage  among persons from different places of origin, or of different religious, ethnic or linguistic association or ties;…

The said guidelines is clearly inconsistent with the constitution as it discriminates on the basis of place of origin and sex.

2. The guidelines is discriminatory against women and I find it pitiful that the person enforcing it against them is a woman. One would think that even if such a guideline were in force prior to her taking office, she would ensure their rights are protected especially as it isn’t even a Law of the NASS.

But then again, I find that we (women) are mostly our greatest enemy. It reminds me of the Senior FEMALE Law School Lecturer that not only addressed us as ‘gentlemen in skirts’ but always made it a point to correct anyone that said “Ladies and gentlemen” by saying “There are no ladies at the bar, only gentlemen in skirts”. In this 21st century! Such a degrading and sexist comment coming from a fellow woman. The irony was that the male lecturers always addressed the class by saying “Ladies and Gentlemen” but for the female ones it was always “gentlemen”. It always baffled me. Why are we so retrogressive, we hold on tight to archaic ways and then expect to progress as a country.

3. My mom is the most senior Judge by the way at the Kano State Judiciary (apart from the CJ) and I dare say one of the most COMPETENT and INCORRUPTIBLE ones (this, not because she’s my mother but a verifiable fact). She was disqualified because she is not considered an indegene of Kano, this, not minding that she has served Kano State all her career life (31 good years). The interesting part of it all is that the person that got the appointment is originally not an indegene of Kano either. She, like my mother got married and settled in Kano, but unlike my mother has since then laid claims to Kano as her state of origin.

How any reasonable person will sit and think that this is fair and just is beyond me. Although I believe and pray that this is what is best for her in shaa Allah, I cannot overlook the injustice. She has accepted it quite gracefully but I can only imagine her frustration.

She is next in line to become the CJ of Kano. Although she has strong reservations about that, I have told her that I think she will make a better impact there than at the Court of Appeal because anyone that knows about the Kano Judiciary at the moment, will agree with me that it is in turmoil. However, those that don’t want her to benefit from the Kano quota because of her indegeneship are also against her becoming the Cheif Judge of Kano for the same reason. So I ask, for a person in her position, what is she expected to do? She shouldn’t then progress in her career because she married outside her state?!

What are the lessons here for us young lawyers:

1. For the unmarried ones that wish to join the bench in the future, well you know what to do. When you meet prince charming, your first question should be “Where are you from?” If he isn’t from your State then “to the left, to the left”, say bye-bye!

2. If you must, then remember to find a LG in his state to lay claim to immediately! For those that are already married, it might not be too late to do that. Don’t worry about people knowing your secret, this is Nigeria after all, those that bend or break the rules, always get ahead. I believe that’s the message the NJC is passing to the younger generation.

3.  Forewarned is forearmed!

I’m reminded of my friend that once told me her mother not only wants them to get married to someone from their state, but from their village as well. I found it utterly ridiculous but as it turns out, that is what the Nigeria of today encourages so hey can you blame them?!.

In Nov 2012, Hon Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo (JCA) made the buzz because the CJN at first also refused to swear her in because of the same reasons. There was a huge outcry against it before she was finally sworn in. However it was a single success story because as it turns out the NJC is still strictly applying the Guidelines.

It’s sad that we are holding on tightly to such a retrogressive and discriminatory ‘guideline’. And a huge shame that the Judiciary is guilty of such injustice! I cannot stress the irony there.

As for me personally, this is part of the reason that when people ask if I would want to join the bench in the future I reply “HELL NO!”


This article was published with permission from Premium Times Newspapers


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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