*Aftermath of Supreme Court judgment returning Kwara CJ, Elelu-Habeeb
By Olajide Fashikun
For Justice Raliat Onaolapo Elelu-Habeeb, Friday 28th March 2008 will remain etched in her memory. Reason: It was the day she was sworn-in as the substantive Chief Judge of Kwara State following the recommendation by the National Judicial Council, (NJC) and subsequent confirmation by the state House of Assembly. Justice Elelu-Habeeb was all smiles at the brief but impressive swearing-in ceremony. Her appointment has put an end to seemingly months of controversy on who would be appointed to the exalted office.
Justice Elelu-Habeeb’s ascendance to the position commenced about nine months before. This followed the hurriedly packaged retirement of the former CJ, Justice Saka Yusuf. She was appointed CJ in acting capacity until the middle of December 2007 over and above her senior on the bench, Justice Fola Gbadeyan. After the initial three months, Gbadeyan took over and also acted for three months, which lapsed on the 15thMarch.
SIFTING SANDS ON INJUSTICE: In his address at the occasion, Governor Bukola Saraki charged the new CJ to bring her wealth of experience to bear on her new position by ensuring quick dispensation of justice without sacrificing thoroughness and fairness, pointing out that justice delayed is justice denied.
He said: “Following the recommendation by the National Judicial Council, NJC, and subsequent confirmation of the newly appointed Chief Judge of Kwara State by the House of Assembly, the oath-taking ceremony of today is a grand design to ensure that all the three arms of government are adequately equipped to effectively carry out their constitutional responsibilities.”
Noting that the task of steering the ship of the judiciary is an enormous one, Governor Saraki, who affirmed that his administration made the right choice in the appointment, noted that Justice Elelu-Habeeb has all it takes to succeed in her new position. His words: “No doubt, your appointment is as a result of your wealth of experience, competence and dedication to duty. You are required to put into use all these qualities with which you are abundantly endowed,” the Governor declared.
In her response, Justice Raliat Elelu-Habeeb commended Governor Saraki for doing what is constitutionally right. “Governor Bukola Saraki should be commended because he has stood firmly to uphold the constitution,” she noted.
Expectedly, Justice Elelu-Habeeb’s appointment generated varied reactions from different people in the state. While it drew flak from many indigenes of the state who alleged that the appointment ran foul of the constitution, others maintained that the appointment has not in any way breached the constitution.
To the critics, Justice Folayan Gbadeyan, who is the most senior Judge and had also served in acting capacity as CJ, should have been confirmed as the substantive CJ.
To Kehinde Eleja, immediate past chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, in Kwara State and Omotayo Ishola, another legal practitioner based in Ilorin, government’s action on the appointment of Justice Elelu-Habeeb has constitutional backing.
Eleja said: “The constitutional provision on the matter is clearly unambiguous. When the post of the state CJ is vacant, the most senior Judge shall be appointed for three months, then the next person in the order of seniority will be appointed if and when the period lapses pending the time a substantive CJ will be appointed.”
Going down memory lane, Ishola recalled a similar situation that occurred in the Western Region in 1955 when Justice Adetokunbo Ademola, for reasons best known to the regional government, was confirmed as the substantive Chief Justice of the Western Region over Justice Olumuyiwa Jibowu who was the most senior Judge.
But to Chief Wole Oke, leader of The Kwara Patriots, TKP and Alhaji Olola Kasum, a social critic, what happened in the state judiciary amounted to a violation of the rule of law, a great disservice to Kwara State in general and the country at large. They chastised the NJC for colluding to subvert the rule of law and the wish of the people. “The purported appointment was political and did not only lack merit but was a deliberate attempt to marginalise a senatorial district,” Chief Oke said:
THE FOUNDATION OF THIEVERY: when the tenure of Justice Oyeyipo was up as CJ, the next most senior judge was Fola Gbadeyan, from Obbo-Aiyegunle of Kwara South senatorial district. The governor, Bukola Saraki from Kwara Central probably wanted a weak judiciary. He was not convenient with an independent minded Gbadeyan and opted to bring Justice Saka Yusuf, an Ilorin man like him, from the Kano judiciary. This is feasible and allowed in law.
At the swearing-in ceremony, while his citation was being read, some junctions certainly do not connect. The Kwara Ekiti People wrote a petition to the NJC and the House of Assembly.The State House of Assembly, known to be a beldam was snoring when the NJC led by the respected CJN Justice Mustapha Uwais (as he then was) in unmistakeable terms gave its verdict based on the facts before it advising Saka Yusuf to resign, not to consider himself to have been the Chief Judge of Kwara for a day.
The House of Assembly woke up from the wrong side of the bed. Conscripted a ‘jaundiced’ Civil Service Commission to defend the judge and pronto, she overruled the NJC, lampooning the latter as mere advisory. Did President Goodluck Jonathan not awarded him the national honour, OFR? What a way to honour dishonest judges?
I started investigating him as a Reuters reporter. It did not take me long to find out that he had variously perjured with his age. Some of my findings then included:
1) Justice Saka Yusuf (also known by revelation of his school mates as Saka Oloru) attended Ballah Elementary School. He graduated from the Middle School (which transmuted to Provincial Secondary School and is now Government Secondary School) Ilorin, in 1951 as the senior prefect and a prominent footballer.
2) The following are some of his teachers: Retired Hon. Justice Saidu Kawu (JSC) was his English teacher; Late Alhaji Idiaro was his history teacher; Mr. Awe Afolayan from Osi was his craft teacher.
3) However, some of his prominent classmates at the middle school include: Ajao Ballah (now Hon. Gumi) who later became a woodwork teacher in G.S.S Ilorin, and was the former Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly during the tenure of Governor Mohammed Sha’aba Lafiagi’s tenure. He retired from Kwara Government service about 18 years ago (as at 2006).
4) Hon. Justice Abdulkadir Orire, who hails from Ilorin. He was the retired Grand Khadi of the Kwara State Sharia Court. He retired in 1999 about 8 years ago at the age of 65. Alhaji L.B Bayero from Ilorin; Omosudi Ajadi from Ilorin. They were one year junior to Yusuf in secondary school.
5) The following are some of the 1952 living graduands at the Middle School (G.S.S) Ilorin. Mr. D. A Sanni; Mr. G. J. Arogun; Mr. Abraham Fatola; Mr. Samuel Bamigboye who all hail from Omu-Aran; Alhaji Aiyelabegan from Oke-Ode; Mr. E. A. Olasupo (he was acknowledged to be the youngest of the above-mentioned and now over 75 years old) from Odo-Owa. All the above-mentioned graduates of 1952 are above 75 years of age and all of them retired around 1985 after 31 years in the civil service. They all attended clerical course in 1953 at Zaria. Their first date of appointment after clerical training in Zaria was in 1954 while Justice Saka Yusuf completed his clerical training in 1952 at Zaria and started work in 1953 with the Ilorin Native Authority.
6) Brigadier General David Lasisi Bamigboye (rtd) the first military governor of Kwara State entered the school in 1952, which was one year after Justice Saka Yusuf graduated from the school. Yet, Justice Yusuf claims to have been born in 1942!
7) The following are some of the 1953 living graduands. They graduated two years after Justice Saka Yusuf left school: Justice M. A Owolabi. He started work in 1955 and retired in 1998. HRH. Oba Adimula the Orota of Odo –Owa who had retired from service many years ago. HRH. Alhaji Usman Ayilara the Aloma of Babanlomo; Chief Bamidele Omotinugbon from Eruku.
So from these factual investigation, I asked in a letter to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for answers based on the posers:
a) Did Hon. Justice Saka Yusuf graduate from middle school in 1951 at the age of 9 years if he claimed he was born in 1942? All his immediate juniors graduated at about 21 years and above and “Saka Oloru” was older than them at the middle school. The same judge was reported to “the oldest in our class then”. Where then is the basis for 1942?
b) The following are some of the 1959 living graduands of the same school. Hon. Justice Timothy A. Oyeyipo (rtd) immediate past Chief Judge of Kwara State. He retired at the age of 65 years. There was a whooping gap of 8 years between him and Justice Saka Yusuf at the middle school. It was from Oyeyipo that Yusuf became Chief Judge; Chief Dapo Olarewaju from Omu-Aran retired from Gate-way Insurance Company over 10 years ago; Chief E. A Fabiyi from Isapa who had retired as Principal over nine years ago. He is now 69 years old. Mr. D. B. Aliyu from Okelele in Ilorin.
c) It is imperative to note that Justice Saka Yusuf served in the Civil Service between 1953 and 2006. Records show that he served under Chief J. O Daniel. He was in service with Prof. Adewumi in 1957 when Adewumi was transferred from Kaduna to Ilorin. He served under Justice Saidu Kawu (rtd) JSC (then Community Development Secretary) between 1957 – 1959.
d) Could Justice Saka Yusuf be employed at an unripe age of 15 years in 1957 when he served under retired Justice Saidu Kawu and Chief Julius O. Aje of Obbo-Ile? It is to be noted that he had by records at my disposal, worked for 4 years before 1957. None of his mates was less than 21 years old when they took their first appointments. Considering the fact that he was one of the oldest at the middle school during his time, he could not have been less than 22years in 1952 when he took his first appointment.
e) Conservatively put, Justice Saka Yusuf is no doubt above 73 years of age from prevailing information at my disposal. He must be at least 6 years old when he started his elementary school at Ballah where he spent 8 years and proceeded to the Middle School for another 5 years. He graduated in 1951 as the head-boy. The unresolved puzzle from the foregoing is: Could he truly be born in 1942? The logical conclusion is that he couldn’t have graduated when he was merely 9 years old. It is equally deducible that he was born around, or about 1931. The 1936 in his official record, as shown in the staff list attached to the earlier petition of the Kwara Ekiti Indigenes could not have been mistakenly written.
The chairman of the NJC then, Justice Belgore, who hails from the same community like Yusuf, hurriedly ‘retired’ the judge when the bubble burst. That created a vacuum in the Kwara judiciary. Gbadeyan, who the establishment does not want emerged as the next feasible candidate. Justice Raliat Elelu-Habib allowed herself to be used against the Constitution in such a most glaring manner by illegally occupying a position not due to her for six months (26thMay 2007 to 30th November 2007) over and above a senior judge (See the provisions of section 271 (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria).
With protests, Gbadeyan was appointed in acting capacity for three months (13thDecember 2007 to March 2008). Elelu-Habeeb refused to vacate the office of the CJ. After the three months, she was appointed CJ with the stamp of the NJC.
Justices Gbadeyan & Elelu-Habib had parallel official cars bearing the same registration number, separate pilot cars and probably, may have enjoyed the same salaries and allowances since the state government preferred one to the other;
JUSTICE OLABANJI OLAGUNJU: This judge was the number three man in the judiciary of Kwara before he retired. He was the Chairman of the First Edo Election Petition Tribunal. His retirement was effective a day before the delivering the judgement that gave Adams Oshiomhole’s ACN victory. That was why he tactically avoided giving the PDP an alibi and allowed his deputy to deliver the judgement.
Fearless and bold as always, he gave his valedictory speech, 17 pages, which did not go down well with the state government officials. Pronto, they called off the dinner that was supposed to be given in his honour and held back the gifts they had prepared to give him having served the state so well in a glorious career.
Hear him, “It is disheartening and most unfortunate that today judicial appointments have been politicised and are no longer based on merit. It is who you know, whose son or daughter you are and where you come from in Kwara State that are the main considerations for appointing High Court judges. This will lead to lowering of standards and as time goes on, a situation will come when the blind will be leading the very blind.’
He added, “In 2004 or thereabout when two candidates were nominated, recommended and proposed for appointment as High Court judges in Kwara State, indigenes of a particular section of the state petitioned and complained that the two nominees were from Kwara South Senatorial district and should therefore not be appointed. These two candidates were then dropped. But only recently, six new High Court judges all of them from Kwara Central Senatorial district were appointed and nobody raised an eye-brow. Needless to say that all the newly appointed judges are from Ilorin.”
Speaking on the Constitution of the Kwara State Judicial Service Commission, Orilonise said, “in Kwara State there are 7 members with the Chief Judge as Chairman. Other members are the state Attorney general and the Grand Khadi of the Sharia Court of appeal. All these three ex-officio members are indigenes of Ilorin. One out of the two lawyers of more than 10 years post call is also an Ilorin man. This adds up to four Ilorin indigenes out of seven member commission. The secretary to the commission is also an indigene of Ilorin. Other two members are non-lawyers but nominees of the governor. They are people, who in the opinion of the governor are of unquestionable character. Invariably, the two nominees of the governor are politicians but very few politicians are of unquestionable character.”
POST SUPREME COURT DECISION: Ordinarily, Justice Elelu-Habeeb would be smart not to go and want to take over the judiciary after being absent for three years. The most honourable thing for her would be to ease off into retirement. However, the ethnic insanity is still permeable in the state judiciary.
Justice Bamgbola who hails from Omu-Aran (Kwara South senatorial district like Gbadeyan) is the most senior judge. He was sworn-in for three months. After which the next on the order, Suleiman Kawu (son of Justice Saidu Kawu (JSC) has been in acting capacity in excess of three months prescribed by the Constitution.
If today a CJ will be appointed, given the events that has happened, would the moribund NJC not go and approve a junior (Kawu) to be appointed as CJ over a senior (Bamgbola) for political expediency? Why would there be justice in such a system? Would justice be available when injustice is the very basis of their structure in the judiciary.
No wonder, the NBA President, Mr Dawodu recently stressed the falling quality of judges who are appointed and promoted without recourse to justice, fairness and merit. You must be the son of a former judge to get appointed. Merit and fairness are orphans in Nigerian judiciary. Open the window and see Kwara.
Olajide Ayodeji Fashikun,
Editor, National Accord Newspaper, Suite 005, TransPharmPlaza, Jabi, After ThisDay Newspaper, Opposite Jabi Motor Park, Abuja-Nigeria.
www.nationalaccordnewspaper.com www.olajidefashikun.blogspot.com PHONE: +234-805-3622-797.