A public affairs commentator, Phrank Shaibu, has reacted to the remarks credited to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Oluwakayode Ariwoola, suggesting fraternity between the chief judicial officer and some politicians.
Shaibu, who is also Special Assistant on Public Communications to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, said in a press statement yesterday, that Justice Ariwoola’s descent into political commentaries portends great danger for the country’s judiciary.
According to the press statement, Shaibu noted that, “last month, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Lateef Ariwoola, inaugurated 277 election petition tribunal members to adjudicate on matters arising from the 2023 general elections in the country.
“At the event, Justice Ariwoola warned judges to remain neutral and impartial during this political season. He also warned politicians against trying to induce judges.
“However, it may seem the Honourable CJN is not ready to lead by example going by his recent utterances and open blatant hobnobbing with politicians.”
The press release specifically frowns at the frequency with which the CJN makes remarks in support of actions by a group of governors of the PDP led by the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike.
“On October 30, 2022, the CJN, who is from Oyo State, was hosted to an elaborate reception by Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde. At the event, Justice Ariwoola sat with Makinde and other governors who now pride themselves as the G5. The governors all posed with the CJN for the cutting of the cake where political statements were made.
“But it may seem Justice Ariwoola continues to enjoy the company of politicians. On Thursday, November 24, 2022, the CJN was in Rivers State, this time as a guest of Governor Nyesom Wike who also happens to be a member of the G5.
“Apparently overwhelmed by Wike’s lavish reception at the inauguration of judiciary projects, the CJN said at the live event that he was happy that Governor Makinde was a member of the G5 and solidly with Governor Wike.
“Aside backing Makinde’s membership of the group, Ariwoola joked that Makinde was being held to ransom by Wike who was threatening to withdraw his sister (Makinde’s wife), who he said is from Rivers.
It would be recalled that Justice Ariwoola, was in Rivers State a few days back to inaugurate some judiciary projects undertaken by the state government.
Shaibu noted, however, that it was inappropriate for the CJN to use such an event to double down on partisan remarks.
He said that it was wrong of Justice Ariwoola to have made a remark such as saying, “that is why we should not be scared to have these men of the integrity group and I am happy that my own governor is among them because he would try to imitate his friend and in-law because we came here to marry for my governor.
“So, Governor Wike will always threaten that he will call back his sister if my governor fails to play ball. That is why you see him following His Excellency (Wike) because my governor is afraid of his wife being recalled,” he joked.
Shaibu said that the CJN acknowledged the presence of the group of five governors at the gala night and judiciary project inauguration which was held in Rivers, stressing that “they had been similarly present when Makinde held a ‘lavish’ reception to celebrate his appointment as CJN some months ago.”
The statement further frowns on the CJN being quoted on record to have said that, “whether people like Wike or not, he was leaving a legacy for generations unborn, stressing that his record will be hard to beat by any other public official.”
“Such hobnobbing between the CJN and politicians is unprecedented in the annals of the country. As Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) put it, judges are like ‘the big masquerade that cannot be unmasked publicly in a traditional African setting.’
“They possess a god-like mystique that ought to insulate them from partisan politics.
“After God, the Supreme Court is the highest authority in our nation. It is therefore scary and most unfortunate that the man who leads Nigeria’s judicial arm continues to frolic with politicians less than three months to an election.
“Sadly too, Justice Ariwoola is the head of the National Judicial Council which enforces discipline of judges. What sort of example is he setting for other judges across the country? What then happens when there is a seeming compromise in Nigeria’s apex judiciary discipline body?
The statement urges stakeholders in the judiciary to call the CJN to order, saying: “this is why it is important for the Nigerian Bar Association, the Body of Benchers and all other reputable organisations in the judiciary to immediately caution Justice Ariwoola against desecrating the exalted office of the CJN.
“Without mincing words, a corrupt judge is no different from fake medicine. Both are expected to cure problems but it becomes deadly when they do the opposite of what they were intended to do.
“Nigeria has been blessed with honourable and remarkable judges in the last couple of decades such as Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, Justice Olukayode Esho, Justice Taslim Elias just to mention a few. Some have gone on to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to make Nigeria proud and etch their names in the sands of time. History will be unkind to Justice Ariwoola if he continues to show his hand by jumping into the political arena.”