"As straight as an arrow!" Justice Amina Augie’s Journey to the Supreme Court of Nigeria
On 7 November 2016, Justice Amina Augie was sworn in as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (SCN), the highest court in the land. This makes Justice Augie the sixth woman to serve on the SCN, out of about 104 past and present judges of the court. The appointment of Justice Augie to this position is a modest indication of the progress of women’s entry into, and rise within the ranks of the judiciary in Nigeria. At the Federal level, the current President of the Court of Appeal is a woman, while at the State level, the State of Lagos continues to lead with the largest number of female judges with the Chief Judgeship of the State having been held by women for the past three terms. “She is as straight as an arrow”, is one phrase that has constantly been used to describe Justice Augie by those who have had contact with her pursuit of justice on the bench. This descriptor is often used for a couple of reasons. First, is the fact of her hard work and devotion to the pursuit of justice and, ensuring a fast and orderly justice delivery process. Second, is the analogy to an arrow depicting her proven integrity and an above the board probity against corrupting enticement that judges are exposed to. With this premise, a couple of questions are worth exploring. First, who is Justice Augie and what do we know about her? What can we learn from her professional trajectory as it relates to the law, justice and women’s rights? What does her appointment to the highest court in the land tell us about women in law in Nigeria? About women on the bench and the politics surrounding judicial appointments to the federal courts in Nigeria? Justice Amina Augie (neé Anne Eva Graham) was born on 3 September 1953, in Lagos, Nigeria as one of nine children. She had her primary and secondary education in Ibadan, Calabar, Enugu and Kaduna between 1958 and1971. She enrolled at the University of Ife, Ile-Ife between 1972 and 1977 where she received her undergraduate degree in law (LL.B). She continued to the Nigerian Law School and qualified as a barrister and solicitor in 1978. After completing the mandatory national youth service in Sokoto State, she enrolled at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria between 1980-1981 to pursue a masters in law (LLM). Even though she finished her examinations, she had to suspend the completion of her thesis in order to move to Lagos with her husband. Her quest for knowledge and personal enrichment led her back to the University of Lagos where she obtained an LLM degree in Criminology and related subjects. Aside from her formal education, she is also certified by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators Nigeria and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. Justice Augie has had an illustrious professional background spanning legal work, academia and the bench—a woman of many hats. Upon completing her legal education, she began her career as a Legal Aid Counsel in the Sokoto State Legal Aid Council in 1978, subsequently serving as the Head of the Legal Aid Council between August 1979 and December 1979. She then proceeded to work as an Assistant Lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria between 1980-1982. Between 1982-1984, she served as the Senior State Counsel in the Office of the Chief Counsel to President Shehu Shagari in Lagos. Her passion for knowledge acquisition and contributing to enriching the lives of others, led her to once again take on the role of teaching. From 1984 to 1988, she was a Law Lecturer at the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos [WU1] where she taught the Law of Evidence. Her judicial career began in 1988, when she moved to Sokoto State where her husband (now deceased) was running for office as Governor of Sokoto State. In this new location, she was appointed as a Chief Magistrate in the Sokoto State judiciary. In the meantime, she maintained her passion for teaching by serving as a part-time lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Uthman Dan Fodio University in Sokoto between 1989 and 1992, and later as an Associate Lecturer from 1999 to 2002.
Justice Augie steadily rose through the ranks in the judiciary. In 1992, she was appointed a Judge of the High Court, Sokoto State Judiciary and was eventually elevated to the Court of Appeal in 2002. As a Justice of the Court of Appeal, she served in various Divisions (locations), including, as Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal in Benin Division (2009-2010), Enugu Division (2010-2011), Kaduna Division (2011-2012) and Lagos Division (2012-2016). Justice Augie has also served as the Chair of many tribunals including; the Recovery of Public Properties Tribunal in Sokoto State (1995-1996), Failed Banks (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices in Banks Tribunal, Lagos Zone V (1996-1999), National Assembly, Governorship and Legislative Houses Election Tribunal (2000-2002), and, Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Niger Dock (2001-2002). The diversity of talent and skill exhibited by Justice Augie also led her to serve on numerous national and international committees including the National Swim Team (1973-1976) Prisons Reform Committee and as the International Director of the National Association of Women Judges. She also served as a participant on several international conferences and seminars on women judges in Canada, Austria, Addis Ababa, USA and South Africa, to name just a few. She has authored and published over 70 conference papers, articles and book chapters on various aspects of the law with a focus on human rights. With this background information on Justice Augie, let us return to the questions posed earlier; what lessons can we learn from her professional trajectory as it relates to the law, justice and women’s rights? Justice Augie’s experience and her journey to the Supreme Court of Nigeria can be perceived through two lenses. First, it exemplifies how women judges in Nigeria are making progress in the law profession and, the potential towards creating a critical mass of women judges on the higher courts. Her appointment shows the continued remarkable trend of Nigerian women breaking boundaries and challenging masculine contestations of space and authority. Qualified women merit positions of authority, and this has long been recognized and respected in traditional Nigerian society. Will this appointment mark the beginning of many more appointments of women to the Federal courts? We will have to wait and see.
Again, what does her appointment to the highest court in the land tell us about women in law in Nigeria and in particular, about women on the federal courts in Nigeria? Justice Augie’s appointment signals that Nigerian women judges are making important strides in filling positions of authority on the bench and there is no turning back. Their ascendancy into these positions are not to be viewed as creating tensions between men and women. Rather, their representation on the courts, I argue, is a reflection of how men and women in African contexts can, should, and have worked for the advancement of their communities. The presence of women in high courts should not be viewed only as symbolic representation of women in public office. Rather, such appointments should be viewed as a return to the traditional notions of women’s leadership, but more importantly, as indications of women’s positionality as important partners for national development. Another important lesson to be drawn from her journey to the Supreme Court is the fact there is still some work to be done for attaining gender parity on the Federal Courts. Women judges in Nigeria still have some work to do. It is not enough for women to serve in the lower courts, it is not enough for men to be promoted to higher courts at a faster pace than women, and it is not enough to allow the politicization of judicial appointments to affect women’s progression. And for these reasons, we throw a challenge to nomination, appointment and confirmation bodies to ensure that women who are qualified and merit promotion to the higher courts are given equal opportunities for consideration when promotions and appointments are being done. Justice Augie, has entered the historical record as a female Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. She, like other women Supreme Court judges before her, are setting the stage for more women to rise to positions of authority within the judiciary. This achievement should be viewed not only as a victory for women’s rights and gender equality, but more so as a victory for national development. There is more work needed to ensure that the appointment of Justice Augie is not one of the few such stories of women being appointed to higher courts. The appointment of women to the Federal Courts of Nigeria should not end here, may this be the beginning of many more appointments of women to the highest court of the land.