Lettered hubris: summing up the judge’s person

Lettered hubris: summing up the judge’s person

By Emeka-Mayaka Gekara

There is no doubt that Supreme Court judge Jackton Boma Ojwang is a man of many feats. He scored a First Division in the Cambridge School Certificate and was in the pioneer law class of the University of Nairobi of 1971.

After graduation, he was the only student admitted to Master of Laws and immediately after graduation was employed as a law professor before proceeding for his doctorate at Cambridge in the UK. He would then return to the University of Nairobi where he rose to become dean of the Faculty of Law. 

Prof Ojwang is also the only Kenyan with a higher doctorate in law – awarded to individuals who have graduated with at least a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Medicine (MD) and who have been full professors for at least five years. The only other Kenyans with higher doctorate degrees are professors Julius Ogeng’o, David Ndetei, Geoffrey Moriaso Ole Maloiy and John Onyango Kokwaro.

Justice Ojwang’s illustrious career has seen him chair the board of examiners that reviewed Attorney-General Githu Muigai’s PhD thesis at the University of Nairobi. He was also the external examiner of law scholar Mutakha Kangu’s PhD thesis at the University of Western Cape in South Africa. His classmates at UoN include retiring appeal court justices Philip Waki, Erastus Githinji and former judge Riaga Omollo.

But for all is achievements, the professor’s conceit could create a painful reversal of fortunes. A member of the Judicial Service Commission who spoke to the Nairobi Law Monthly said the decision to recommend his investigation was informed by what they read as “arrogance and disdain for the commission by the learned judge.”

Lawyer Muthomi Thiankolu offers that despite Justice Ojwang being a great scholar and intellectual, “as a person, JB (Ojwang) is arrogant, vindictive, petty and lacking in emotional intelligence.”

Another lawyer, Ombati Omwansa, who is also pushing for Ojwang’s removal says the judge “suffers from a god syndrome.”

“Prof Ojwang has used his distinguished academic record to cover more fundamental flaws as a person who is unfit to judge others,” he says.

The judge, notes Apollo Mboya who also unsuccessfully petitioned for his removal for asking his colleagues to withdraw services, is like the lizard in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, that jumped from the high Iroko tree to the ground saying it will praise itself if no one else did.

But where did it all start? 

Those familiar with his thinking say the judge has never reconciled himself with the fact that he was not picked to succeed former chief Justice Willy Mutunga. 

When the position was advertised in 2016, Ojwang applied but was not short-list for the interview. However, he benefited from a court decision directing that the JSC interviews all the candidates who applied for the post. At this point, it is worth noting that when Prof Yash Pal Ghai and others moved to court seeking orders that all applicants be interviewed, their target was the intended target of their crusade was Prof Makau Mutua, the US-based distinguished law scholar and human rights defender, whom the civil society favoured for the job. 

When subjected to aggressive questioning by Justice Mohammed Warsame, Ojwang lost his cool and turned the interview into an altercation with the commissioner. He came out as temperamental, touchy, disdainful and egoistic. 

He performed dismally. He was ranked last in the interviews with 34 marks – Chief Justice David Maraga scored 84. He has always remained wounded. 

A conservative pro-establishment man, it was an open secret he was the preferred candidate to succeed Mutunga by powerful forces in government. The JSC was the biggest roadblock to that scheme, and the State has never forgotten it. The State never forgives, and its current war with JSC is testament to that.

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