Politics of Osun CJ’s succession
LANRE ADEWOLE of our Judiciary Desk, dug into the simmering lava over the coming retirement of the current Chief Judge of Osun State and the different permutations for the emergence of his succesor. It is the total story of the friction being generated by the pull for a revolution and the stop for the sustenance of the
THE Chief Judge of Osun State, Justice Olaniyi Ojo is retiring in November 2012 but controversy is already trailing the process of appointing a successor, with political undertone being read into what should be a strict judicial procedure.
If strict seniority is applied, it should be a straight duel between Justice Ojo of the Osun State High Court and Justice Gloria Ladoke of the state Customary Court of Appeal, who were both appointed to the state Bench same day and serving in courts of coordinate jurisdiction.
Ladoke, however, is Ojo’s senior at the Bar which gives her an edge, considering the immediate precedence regarding the outgoing CJ who was also of the Customary Court of Appeal and favoured ahead of Justice Tunde Awotoye when the then CJ, Justice O.Ogunsola died mid-way into his tenure, with Awotoye eventually being compensated with a promotion to the Court of Appeal.
Though judicial conventions and norms regarding promotion and appointment favour Ladoke, it was gathered that those in favour of Ojo nicking it are using Ladoke’s Edo State background as a campaign weapon, though she is married to an Ijesa man and was born, raised and has lived all her life in the state.
However, the frontiers of the permutations got expanded when news filtered out that the appointing authority in the state; Governor Rauf Aregbesola may be considering a revolutionary approach to the coming appointment which would be in tandem even if unintended, with the position canvassed in the report of the 29-man judiciary reform panel headed by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Muhammadu Uwais, pushing for a radical departure in the appointment of heads of courts up to the Supreme Court, with pure merit replacing seniority as a panacea to the embarrassing performances of judges and thereby restoring public confidence in the judiciary.
Aregbesola’s rumoured pick is the famous Lagos State Judiciary criminal trial judge; Justice Olubunmi Oyewole who unlike Ladoke, hails from Osun State, but like her, has had his Bench career outside his place of birth.
Since the rumour berthed in public domain, it has assumed a life of its own without any denial from the Osun State government when the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) went to town with the story and strong condemnation of the alleged plan “to impose an outsider on the state judiciary.”
Lawyers close to the state government have spoken in favour of the alleged plan, giving further impetus that the rumour might not just be a figment of the imagination of the opposition but a serious consideration by the state government “that is desirous of igniting a revolution in the state judiciary” according to a source sympathetic to the idea.
What further lent credence to the possibility of the state government thinking in that direction was the reported favourable disposition of Justice Oyewole to the said proposal as revealed by sources close to him who told the Sunday Tribune that “apart from being a son of the soil, Osun State has so much to benefit from the judge (Oyewole) leading the state judiciary.”
Though the opposition has been raising mainly the issues of the proposal being unprecedented, an imposition and immoral, the most germane issue in the whole brouhaha is the legality of the idea, which favours the governor as the appointing authority, though the state Judicial Service Commission headed by the outgoing CJ, with the state Attorney-General as a member, the State House of Assembly and the National Judicial Council (NJC) all have roles to play in bringing the governor’s desire to fruition.
If Aregbesola appointed Oyewole, he would not be contravening Section 271 (1) of the 1999 Constitution which reads: “The appointment of a person to the office of Chief Judge of a State shall be made by the Governor of the State on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council subject to confirmation of the appointment by the House of Assembly of the State.”
However, those angling for the retention of the old order of seniority are pointing at sub section 4 of the above provision which says that: “If the office of Chief Judge of a State is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of the office, or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the Governor of the State shall appoint the most senior Judge of the High Court to perform those functions.”
Sub-section 5 is however clear that such appointment is in acting capacity, which would be a non-renewable term of three months except the NJC recommends such re-appointment, which in this case would favour Justice Mrs Ojo in the interim before the final appointment, provided the process of appointing the outgoing CJ’s successor is not completed before he bows out in November.
With no constitutional impediments on the governor’s way, his challenges in getting the final aspect of the appointment done might just be the usual politics of judicial appointments of which Oyewole is no stranger.
Since the constitution did not specify that the favoured appointee should be from a particular division and must be the most senior of the division, coupled with Oyewole fulfilling the requirement of sub-section 3 of section 271 in becoming a judge, the governor would have enough constitutional cover against the arguments of lack of precedence and imposition, though Aregbesola would be playing the game safer if he could transfer Oyewole’s service to the Osun State Judiciary before November, to lessen the expected conspiracy against him within the system.
While the planned proposal is expected to sail through at the state Judicial Service Commission and the state House of Assembly with relative ease, the angle of the NJC on only whose recommendation the planned appointment could sail through, may prove a little tricky, though the council had maintained a sealed lip on the petition tabled before it by those opposed to the plan, with a system source within the system telling the Sunday Tribune that the council could not be reacting to what had not been placed before it, as no recommendation to the effect of Oyewole’s appointment as the state CJ had reportedly come before it.
The source added that while other aspects of the planned appointment would not pose any problem with the council, the plan being unprecedented truly at the level of CJ’s appointment could see the council ending up with “a political judicial decision.”
The source may be correct at the end of the day, considering that the political opposition to the planned appointment spear-headed by the South- West chapter of the PDP, though being reportedly given covert support by disgruntled judicial officers in the state who might be affected by Oyewole’s coming, had hinged almost all the hope of stopping Aregbesola on the planned appointment, on how much could be done at the PDP-controlled federal level which the council is taken to be a part of.
Further indication that the issue may become fully political at the NJC level is borne out of how political some of its decisions and resolutions turned out under the leaderships of former Chief Justices of Nigeria; Justices Aloysius Katsina-Alu and Dahiru Musdapher, and though now under new leadership of Justice Aloma Mariam Mukthar, nothing suggests that the council had been completely divested of the inclination, considering that Aloma was also deeply involved in the PDP/ACN and Katsina-Alu/Dahiru Musdapher/Justice Ayo Isa Salami’s multi-dimensional battle, while members of the council that participated in the politics of the intractable crisis are still on board.
It is instructive that politicians of ACN and PDP hues, who were involved in the judiciary political battle, are the same dramatis personae in the current burgeoning dispute.
While PDP South-West is leading the political charge against the governor, the state judiciary is also being abuzz on the matter with different issues coming to the fore on the likely implications of Oyewole’s coming. Oyewole, who joined the Lagos Judiciary on May 24, 2001, is considered to be a junior to both Ojo and Ladoke and bringing him to be their boss, could mean early and compulsory retirement for the duo.
Sunday Tribune, however, can disclose that precedence does not support that fear, considering that when the former CJN, Musdapher was appointed the CJ of Old Kano State in 1979 after serving a few months as a judge of the court, the incumbent CJN, Aloma Mukthar was his senior by almost a year but was not compulsorily retired and co-existed until Musdapher was moved to the Court of Appeal, with the former CJN disclosing in an interview with Nigerian Tribune that all he did was to give Aloma and another judge then who was also his senior, their due respect.
Musdapher also revealed in the interview that he was appointed the Attorney-General of Kaduna State in 1975 which was not his state.
The feuding South-West PDP and supporters of the state government are also alluding to different motives for Aregbesola’s reported consideration for Oyewole. Though PDP appears publicly to be fighting for the preservation of the status quo in the appointment of Osun State CJ, Sunday Tribune gathered within the senior members’ ranks that its main grouse could be the suspicion that the planned appointment was to reward Oyewole for jailing the hitherto leader of the party in the zone and Aregbesola’s party’s staunchest critic; Chief Olabode George, for corruption when he headed the board of the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA).
At a point in his career, Oyewole was considered the most courageous judge in the land, nicking one high-profile conviction after the other, including jailing the 419 kingpins Emmanuel Nwude, Mrs Anajemba and others involved in the infamous world biggest fraud of $264 million defrauded a Brazilian bank with went under due to the fraud with almost all its directors committing suicide.
Apart from jailing them, he also ordered the forfeiture of their properties acquired illegally from the proceeds of the advanced fee fraud, while other known 419ers such as Fred Ajudua, had tasted of his courageous pronouncement.
It was also Oyewole that convicted the high-flying Lagos Pastor of the Christ Praying Assembly (CPA), Reverend Emeka Ezeugo a.k.a Rev. King for murder, sentencing him to death by hanging. The death sentence had been upheld by the Court of Appeal, with King awaiting his fate at the Supreme Court.
He also commenced the case of attempted murder of late Alex Ibru against Major Hamza Al-Mustapha and other, though he could not conclude the case, with General Ishaya Bamaiyi (rtd) opting for a separate trial and got freed due to sloppy prosecution by the state.
He equally jailed an Ojota, Lagos-based Islamic cleric, Alfa Rasheed Yusuf and three of his accomplices; Morufu Olaleye, Musa Yusuf and Rafiu Ojesanmi.
His biggest moment on the Bench, however, was the jailing of George.
Oyewole is qualified to be called a veteran of the politics of judicial appointments. His promotion to the Court of Appeal about three years ago, primed as Osun State’s slot, was shot down at the last minute, though more by external forces.
With the brouhaha that the then promotion list was too lop-sided in favour of the Northern part of the country, the opposition to the said list containing Oyewole’s name, led by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) under the leadership of Rotimi Akeredolu SAN was so ferocious that the NJC had to halt the exercise. The list was never revisited, with two of those on the list, eventually becoming the CJ of their states.
At the twilight of Justice Dahiru Musdapher’s tenure as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and chairman of NJC, another process of elevation to the Court of Appeal was commenced, with Oyewole back on the radar for the same Osun slot and the PDP, reportedly backed by some judicial officers who reportedly felt what was due them was being “dashed out” quickly fired a petition to NJC, accusing Oyewole of trying to reap where he did not sow, with certain forces from the Lagos end reportedly “tipping” his traducers with ammunition to stop his elevation.
With the said proposal beckoning at him to come and serve his home-state, it appears the idea of elevation to the Court of Appeal has been dropped, considering that a state CJ and justice of the Court of Appeal are judicial equals, though the NJC which was the battleground for the planned elevation to the Court of Appeal, would still remain the war-front for the gladiators if Aregbesola eventually took the step to bring Oyewole home to serve, though certain branches of the total 97 of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) are also said to be having their eyes on the issue and would take positions at the appropriate time.Share