The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Saturday cautioned the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, against partisanship and making utterances that could erode the integrity of the judiciary.
Justice Ariwoola had last Thursday, in Port Harcourt, said he was happy with the Oyo Sta
te Governor, Mr. Seyi Makinde’s membership of the G-5 governors led by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State.
But in a swift reaction, the Supreme Court clarified that the comment credited to the CJN was twisted and misrepresented by the media.
The G-5 governors include Governors Wike, Makinde, Samuel Ortom (Benue), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu).
The five aggrieved governors are insisting that the National Chairman of PDP, Senator Iyorcha Ayu, must step down to pave the way for someone from the South to succeed him, since the party’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, hails from the North.
Justice Ariwoola, who spoke during a banquet held in his honour by Wike, had backed Makinde, the governor of his home state, for his membership of the G-5.
Speaking on a lighter note, the CJN, who was in Port Harcourt as the Special Guest of Honour to inaugurate projects completed by the Rivers State Government, disclosed that Wike was threatening to withdraw Makinde’s wife, who is from Rivers, from Makinde.
He expressed the hope that Makinde would emulate Wike to replicate the good works in his state.
Ariwoola said: “That is why we should not be scared to have these men of the Integrity Group.
“And I am happy that my 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,” the CJN reportedly explained.
Reacting to the comment, the PDP in a statement said while it has the utmost respect for the judiciary and judicial officers, it would not tolerate any action or utterance by any judicial officer, let alone the CJN, that undermines the integrity of the judiciary.
In the statement signed by the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Debo Ologunagba, the main opposition party argued that the CJN delved into its internal affairs with a comment that encouraged division in the party.
The main opposition party described the CJN’s action as unacceptable and inconsistent with his status as the head of the judicial arm of government.
“Our party is worried that such partisan comment by the CJN is in violation of his Oath of Office as the head of the country’s judicial arm, which is expected to be impartial and non-partisan.
“Irrespective of the circumstance or situation, the CJN is expected to be circumspect at all times and avoid partisan actions and utterances that are likely to erode the institutional integrity of the Judiciary and bring it to disrepute especially as the nation prepares for the 2023 general elections,” Ologunagba explained.
The PDP spokesman further stressed that in Nigeria where there is a separation of powers, the judiciary, which is entrusted with the responsibility of interpretation of the laws, should be seen to be neutral at all times and also endeavour to interpret and review the laws in the context of the case and controversy of the parties before it.
He said Nigerians expect the CJN, with his experience, to be in a position to advise, rebuke and punish members of the judicial arm who get entangled in the political arena.
“The fact that the CJN himself is the one reportedly violating this critical ethic of neutrality, fairness and respect for the Oath of Office for judicial officers raises serious concern in our polity.
“The question is, how do Nigerians and especially the PDP trust that the CJN will be an even-handed arbiter in any case or matter relating to internal issues in our party or those connected to other political parties?
“It is instructive to note that the test for a Judge to recuse himself from a matter is the “likelihood of bias” and the CJN is expected to be mindful of that test in his public engagements,” he added.
CJN’s Comment was Twisted, Supreme Court Clarifies
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court yesterday clarified that the comment credited to the CJN was twisted and misrepresented by the media
The Director of Press and Information at the apex court, Dr. Festus Akande, in a statement issued in Abuja, titled, ‘Re-CJN: I’m happy Makinde is among G-5 Governors,’ said the CJN never said he was happy that Makinde was a member of the now christened ‘Integrity Group’ or ‘G-5 governors.’
“We wish to state unequivocally clear that the CJN, Hon. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, had never at any point said such during his brief remarks at the State Banquet organised as part of the events lined up for the commissioning of the two judiciary projects undertaken by the Rivers State government.
“Issues bordering on misconceptions and misrepresentations of this nature are not always strange in times like this when the country is preparing for a general election, as some people may want to take advantage of every opportunity to score very cheap goals. As we all know, this is the era of aggressive and even unconventional politicking; so, there’s nothing that will not be heard or seen at this crucial time, especially between now and February 2023, when the general election will be conducted.
“People say whatever they choose to say, just to please their selfish interests and inordinate desires. We can’t really pinpoint where such barefaced falsehood is coming from; and certainly, we don’t also know at what point the CJN said he was happy that Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State was a member of the now christened ‘Integrity Group’ or ‘G5 Governors.’”
The statement argued that the CJN is a judicial officer and not a politician, and as such, would never directly or remotely make such comments or innuendoes.
“We wish to set the record straight by making it clear that the CJN and other senior judicial officers, drawn from different parts of the country, were in Port Harcourt on Thursday and Friday, November 24 and 25, 2022 to commission the two buildings to accommodate the Federal Judicial Service Commission’s South-South Liaison Office and the Hon. Justice Mary Peter-Odili Judicial Institute, that was conceptualised and constructed by the Rivers State government,” the statement said.
The statement noted that even at the State Banquet organised as part of the events, the CJN made it clear in his brief remarks that he was not in Port Harcourt for the State Banquet, but simply to commission the two projects as a mark of honour for the judiciary and Justice Mary Peter-Odili (rtd).
“Similarly, he said he was very surprised to see the ‘G-5 Governors’ (Integrity Group Governors), just as he equally expressed the same surprise when he saw them in Ibadan, Oyo State, during the reception organised in his honour by his state government in October 2022. His surprise particularly stemmed from the fact that he saw his own State Governor, Seyi Makinde (who incidentally is a member of the G-5 Governors), at the Port Harcourt occasion. He equally stated jocularly that being that Makinde married from Rivers State and is equally very close to Nyesom Wike, he would be able to replicate the developmental strides of the latter in Oyo State for the good of the citizenry.
“This, of course, is a comment that, ordinarily, ought to elicit applause and not myopic misrepresentations, as governance is all about positive comparisons and healthy competition. Anyone or group of individuals making these unconscionable assumptions and pervading the misinformation are by implication, creating the impression that it is now a crime for the CJN to have come from Oyo State, which coincidentally, has a member of the group, Seyi Makinde, as the governor.
“Let it be noted that anything said, assumed, presumed, reported or placed in the public domain outside the above facts, is simply a mere figment of the imagination of such authors and doesn’t in any way represent what the CJN said in Port Harcourt, as we are not ready to join issues with such purveyors of misinformation,” the statement explained.
Chuks Okocha in Abuja