Since the establishment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (SCN), men alone decided the constitutionality of Nigerian laws until Wednesday, June 8, 2005 when Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar was elevated to the Supreme Court bench. Aloma also broke the jinx to become the first woman Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
The second woman elevated to the Supreme Court bench was Justice Olufunlola Adekeye, who declared in 2012 that “writing judgments is not for lazy jurists.”
Today, there are only three women on the apex court’s bench. In order of seniority, they are Mary Peter-Odili, Clara Bata Ogunbiyi and Kudirat Kekere-Ekun.
The accomplishments of these women in the legal realm should encourage girls and women to work toward high positions in the nation’s judicial system.
The fact of their gender makes them tick but traditionally, these three women of the apex court are never referred to as “she” or” her”, they are all referred to individually as “His Lordship” following the British tradition in which there are no females on the bench. When you come into the judiciary, it is assumed that you are a man. But when these three women go for functions outside the apex court, they once again become women.
They are even more daring than men as they insist on merit of the case and hardly get into any scandal.
Their judicial pronouncements compare with the men’s and they are never intimidated by men whom they see and refer to as “brother justices.”
Justice Mary Ukaego Odili:
Was born on 12th May, 1952 at Amudi Obizi, Ezinitte – Mbaise LGA of Imo State.
She attended various primary schools including St Benedict’s Primary School, Obizi Ezinitte, St Michael’s Primary School, Umuahia, St Agnes Primary School, Maryland, Lagos and Our Lady of Apostles Primary School, Yaba, Lagos between 1959 and 1965.
She also attended various secondary schools including Our Lady of Apostles Secondary School, Yaba, Owerri Girls Secondary School, Owerri, Mbaise Girls Secondary School, Mbaise and the Queen of the Rosary College, Onitsha between 1965 and 1972.
She later proceeded to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (Enugu Campus) and obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Law (LL.B (Hons)) in 1976. She attended the Nigerian Law School in 1977 for her B.L certificate.
The professional appointments and positions Justice Odili held include:
Pupil State Counsel, Ministry of Justice, Abeokuta, Ogun State (1977 – 1978)
Pupil State Counsel, Ministry of Justice, Benin, Bendel State (1978)
Magistrate Grade III, Benin, Bendel State (1978 -1979)
Chairman, Juvenile Court, Benin, Bendel State (1978 – 1978)
Magistrate Grade II, Rivers State (1979 – 1981)
Chairman, Juvenile Court, Rivers State (1979 – 1981)
Magistrate Grade I, Chief Magistrate Grade I (1981 – 1992)
Judge, High Court of Rivers State (1992 – 2004)
Justice, Court of Appeal, Abuja Judicial Division (2004 -2010)
Presiding Justice, Court of Appeal, Kaduna Division (2010 -2011)
Justice Mary Ukaego Odili was appointed a Justice of the SCN(JSC) on 23rd June, 2011.
Justice (MRS) Clara Bata Ogunbiyi
Was born on 27th February 1948, at Lassa, Borno State. She had her primary education in Borno State. His Lordship started her legal career with a Diploma in Law from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, October 1969 – June 1971. She returned for his L.L.B Hons in the same institution from October 1972 to June 1975. She was called to the bar in 1976.
She served the National Service (NYSC) between July 1976 and June 1977.
She obtained a Master’s degree in Criminology at University of Hull (United Kingdom) in 1982 and Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) University of Maiduguri in 2002.
His Lordship commenced her civil service career as a clerical officer in the then Northern Nigerian Marketing Board, Kaduna in November 1967 to September 1969.
She was Assistant Registrar High Court of Justice Maiduguri October 1971 – 1971 September1972.
She served as a youth corps member at the Ministry of Justice Kaduna State July 1976 – June 1977.
She rose to the position of State Counsel in July 1977.
While in Ministry of Justice, she progressively rose through the ranks to Senior State Counsel in August 1979. Thereafter Senior State Counsel I & II from August 1979 – January 1983.
From 1st February 1983 – November 1984, she held the position of Deputy Director of Public Prosecution (DDPP). Her next appointment was as Director Civil Litigation from December 1984 to January 1987 following which she was appointed as a High Court Judge of Borno State Judiciary making her the first lady Judge at the state and the entire North-east sub-region.
She was appointed Justice of the Court of Appeal in October 2002. She also served as presiding justice, Court of Appeal Ibadan, Lagos and Jos Divisions. She was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in July 2012.
His Lordship has had several publications, among which are ‘Sentencing and Prison System in England and Wales’, for the award of Master’s Degree in Criminology in the University of Hull – England in March 1982; ‘The Concept of Fundamental Human Rights to Education in Nigeria’ (being a thesis submitted to the School of Post Graduate Studies University of Maiduguri in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the award of a postgraduate Diploma in Education in January 2002.
His Lordship belongs to several clubs and professional associations and was the 1st woman judge in the Northeastern sub-region.
Justice (Mrs). Clara Bata Ogunbiyi (JSC) is married with children and enjoys housekeeping, gardening, walking, reading and engaging in religious activities, adventurous and humanitarian activities.
She has travelled to virtually all continents of the world.
Justice Kudirat Motonmori Olatokunbo Kekere-Ekun:
Was born on the 7th of May, 1958. She obtained her LL.B in 1980 from the University of Lagos and a Master’s Degree in Law from the London School of Economics and Political Science in November 1983.
She was called to the Nigerian Bar on 10th July 1981. His Lordship rose from the post of Senior Magistrate Grade II with the Lagos State Judiciary to this present position as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
As a High Court judge, his lordship served as Chairman Robbery and Firearms Tribunal, Zone II, Ikeja from November 1996 to May 1999. She also served as a member of the court of Appeal ICT Committee from June 2011 to July 2013.
His lordship has attended numerous courses and seminars within and outside Nigeria, such as induction course for judicial officers organised by the National Judicial Institute, Abuja in May 1997; Case Management and Court Administration training workshop organised by the National Centre for State Courts in June 2001; ICT training course (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) in Dubai, UAE, in July 2012.
From her wealth of knowledge on diverse areas of law and national issues, his lordship has delivered various papers, among which are “Delay in Election Tribunal Proceedings: Solutions”, delivered at the All Nigeria Judges Conference, Abuja on 16th- 20th November, 2009 and “Law: A Tool for Social Change” delivered at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Ibadan Branch Law Week on 30th November, 2010.
His lordship is a member of notable clubs and professional associations, and has received several merit awards. She enjoys playing the piano, reading and swimming.