PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Aloma Mariam Mukhtar
First Woman Chief Justice (Nigeria)
By Sabrina Newton
Aloma Mariam Mukhtar is a distinguished Nigerian jurist and pioneer who has championed human rights, justice, and gender parity through the legal profession with diligence and excellence. Mukhtar was born on November 20th, 1944, in Lagos, Nigeria to Muktari Mukhtar and Hadiza Mukhtar. She attended Saint George's Primary School in Zaria, Nigeria, before completing her primary education at the St. Bartholomew School in 1957. Aloma later relocated to Somerset, England to obtain her General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary level certificates from the Rossholme School for girls in 1962. Aloma often referred to her time at the Rossholme school as transformative, mentioning the difficulty that came with being the only African student at her school during her tenure. This, however, will not be the sole instance of Aloma breaking barriers.
Aloma later pursued higher education at the Reading Technical College in Berkshire, England, initially intrigued by nursing and library studies, but later became increasingly interested in law. It is said that after being teased by her male friends that she should pursue the legal profession, she took this challenge head-on and would go on to study Law at Gibson and Weldon College of Law, England. Mukhtar was later called to the English Bar in absentia in the year 1966 and thereafter, the Nigerian Bar in 1967.
Upon entry to the Nigeria Bar in 1967, Aloma began her career as Pupil State Counsel at the Ministry of Justice in Northern Nigeria. This feat would make Aloma Mukhtar the first female attorney to serve across the nineteen (19) states of Northern Nigeria. Four years after her call to the Nigerian bar, Aloma transitioned to the Ministry of Justice, working as a legal counsel for the state. During her tenure at the Ministry, Aloma was tapped by the Late Alhaji Buba Ardo to serve as an interim magistrate to rectify the backlog of cases in Maiduguri. This would make Aloma the first woman to be appointed as a Magistrate in the Northern States of Nigeria, a post she excelled in until 1973 before serving as a Chief Registrar at the Kano State Government Judiciary.
In 1977, Aloma Mukhtar was appointed a judge for the Kano State High Court. This appointment made Aloma Mukhtar the third woman to serve as a judge in the history of Nigeria, the first woman to serve as a judge in the Northern part of Nigeria, and the youngest judge in the country during that period at thirty-two years of age.
A decade later in 1987, Mukhtar was appointed a Justice of the Court of Appeal, making her the first woman in this position. She served at the Court of Appeal until 2005, before being appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria from 2005 to 2014, making her the first woman to serve in the highest court of Nigeria. During her tenure on the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Mukhtar also served as a Justice of the Supreme Court of The Gambia from 2011 until 2012.
On July 16th, 2012, Aloma Mukhtar was sworn in as the first woman Chief Justice of Nigeria by the then serving President of Nigeria Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who conferred on her the National Honour of the Grand Commander of the Order of Niger (GCON). A woman of unfaltering courage and admirable tenacity, Aloma Mukhtar has contributed tirelessly to the advancement of justice and the rule of law in Nigeria. She has served as the Vice president of the National Association of Female Judges in Nigeria and has been honored for contributions to gender parity and justice. In 2005, Mukhtar was inducted into the Nigerian Hall of fame, before receiving the National honor of the Grand Commander of the Order of Niger in 2012, as well as the Gold Merit Award for her contributions to the development of law in Kano State in 2016.
Described as 'incorruptible' Aloma is known for her integrity and impartiality. In her capacity as Chief Justice, she launched investigations into corrupt members of the justice system, holding those found guilty accountable for their actions; notably stating "Corruption is in every system of our society and I cannot pretend that it is not in the judiciary. I will encourage internal cleansing based on petition and as much as possible ensure that bad eggs are removed so that the confidence reposed in the judiciary will be restored once again." This is indeed the legacy of her tenure on the bench, rooting out frivolous petitions, corruption, and streamlining the delivery of justice in Nigeria.
Aloma Mukhtar is regarded by her colleagues as fair-minded, impartial, bold and effective, yet gracious, humble, and kind. Many people who pave the way for others through being 'firsts' don't initially set out on a path to be 'first,' they merely work diligently and industriously at a craft they love. Few individuals are more befitting of this title than Aloma Mukhtar—a pioneer, a trailblazer, and a phenomenal woman.