Goodluck Jonathan, a former president, has cautioned the political class to respect the judiciary’s constitutional authority and not subject it to blackmail or other forms of abuse because of its conservatism.
He delivered the warning over the weekend at a book presentation/reception that was a part of the week-long celebrations honoring Justice Kate Abiri, the chief judge of Bayelsa State, who is retiring. The event was held in Yenagoa, the state capital.
The departing judge has received praise from the governors of Bayelsa State’s Douye Diri, Edo State’s Godwin Obaseki, and Rivers State’s Nyesom Wike.
Jonathan commended Justice Abiri for the crucial role she played in swearing in Rivers State Governor Wike and preventing a constitutional crisis. He also cautioned politicians from becoming obsessed with their positions of authority.
He advised politicians not to be blinded by the power they wield while urging judicial officers to strive to be impartial and courageous in upholding the rule of law, which he noted was significant in the delivery of justice.
The former president equally tasked judicial officers to be impartial and courageous in upholding the rule of law, which he noted was significant in the delivery of justice.
His words: “I advise politicians that while in office, let us not try to blackmail the judiciary because it is conservative. When we get political power, we get so blinded. Politicians should know that society is changing.
“Today, we are celebrating our retiring Chief Judge because she has served meritoriously. In 2015, she left Bayelsa for Rivers to perform the swearing-in of the governor thereby averting anarchy. It appears that the judicial arm is more functional than the executive,” Jonathan explained.
In his remarks, the Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Diri, hailed Justice Abiri for her outstanding achievements, noting that during her 15-year term as Chief Judge, she swore in three governors in Bayelsa and one in Rivers.
Diri listed the governors as Chief Timipre Sylva (2008), Senator Seriake Dickson (2012), Senator Douye Diri (2020) and Nyesom Wike (2015).
Governor Diri described Abiri as a legal icon, who rendered unblemished and meritorious service in three decades of legal practice.
He said the state would still require her services due to her commitment and wealth of experience.
Chairman of the occasion and Chairman of the Body of Benchers, Chief Wole Olanikpekun (SAN), lauded Abiri as an elegant, brilliant and hardworking jurist, who represents the very best in the legal profession.
Olanikpekun also commended the Diri administration for supporting the judiciary, expressing the hope that in a few days, a substantive CJ would be appointed for the state judiciary.
Responding, Justice Kate Abiri expressed appreciation to the Bayelsa governor for his support and encouragement.
Three books were unveiled at the event, which includes “Kate Abiri: Footprints on the Bench,” “Judges and Judging in Nigeria” and “Bayelsa State Law Reports: Volume One.”
The chief launcher and President of the De Wayles Group, High Chief Emonena Wayles Egukawhore, donated the sum of $100,000 and N20 million for the books while the Rivers State government donated N200 million, the Bayelsa government gave N250 million and Chief Gesi Asamowei N5 million, among other donations.
Dignitaries at the colourful event included the wife of the former president, Dame Patience Jonathan; the wife of the first civilian governor of the state, Mrs. Margaret Alamieyeseigha; Governor Wike represented by the Rivers State Head of Service, Rufus Godwin, and the Edo State governor, Obaseki represented by the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Oluwale Iyamu (SAN).
Some of the legal icons in attendance were Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Chima Centus Nweze; retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Francis Tabai; Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Gabriel Kolawole; President, National Industrial Court, Justice B. B Karnyip; the Chief Judges of Rivers, Edo, Cross River and Zamfara states, among others.
Speaking on behalf of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Chief Thompson Okpoko stated that Abiri served well in honour and character, having witnessed her emergence as the third substantive CJ of Bayelsa.
Okpoko said lawyers in the state attested to the fact that she exhibited the true qualities required of a judge while presiding over cases as well as in the administration of justice.