The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday 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 State 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.