For the third day running, members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, Osun State branch, on Wednesday, continued to stage protest at the premises of the State High Court while kicking against the alleged abuse of office and high-handedness by CJ Ojo.
The protest, which started on Monday, has led to the paralysis of court-related matters in the State High Court.
On Wednesday, police operatives fired teargas to disperse the protesters and those at the scene ran in different directions.
However, the Chairman, Osun JUSUN, Gbenga Eludire, citing the action of the police and the state CJ, ordered all judicial workers in the state to immediately withdraw their services till further notice.
The following is the timeline of the events that surrounded the suspension-cum-removal of Ojo and the appointment of Afolabi, amongst many others:
An Ibadan-based lawyer, Yomi Alliyu (SAN), who is a native of Ede, Osun State, raised concerns over alleged plans to force CJ Ojo into retirement.
Alliyu alleged that the state governor, Ademola Adeleke, had requested the retirement letter of the CJ from the State Head of Service.
The senior advocate also narrated how Ojo became aware of her planned retirement after the meeting between the HoS and the Secretary of the state Judicial Service Commission.
Alliyu condemned the act while citing a bill signed by President Bola Tinubu which increased the retirement age of the High Court and Supreme Court judges to 70.
At the time, Ojo was due for retirement in October 2023 when she will clock 65.
In a statement by the governor’s spokesperson, Olawale Rasheed, he dismissed Alliyu’s allegations, saying, “Members of the public need to be informed that there is no controversy on the processes of disengagement or otherwise even with respect to the old and new law on the retirement age for judges of superior courts. All insinuations in the hatchet’s job are false and figments of the imagination of the propagandist.”
Adeleke appointed Justice Olayinka Afolabi as the acting Chief Judge of the state with immediate effect, following the approval of the resolution of the House of Assembly.
The governor had approved the resolution of the State House of Assembly that recommended Ojo’s suspension.
Adeleke, thereafter, directed his deputy, Kola Adewusi, to perform the swearing-in of Afolabi as the acting CJ on Friday, November 17, at the Executive Lounge, Governor’s Office, Osogbo, the state capital.
Earlier, Ojo had secured a restraining order from the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, sitting in Ibadan, Oyo State, barring Adeleke from removing her qs the substantial CJ of the state.
The court adjourned the matter till December 12, 2023, for hearing of the pending motion on notice.
Meanwhile, a coalition of Civil Society Organisations in Osun State had earlier accused Adeleke of plotting to remove Ojo as the state CJ.
Mr. Ayo Ologun, who spoke on behalf of the group, said the governor’s move was “particularly troubling as it appears to be a reprisal against the Chief Judge for her principled stand against attempts to manipulate the judiciary in the state.”
The swearing-in ceremony of Afolabi as the acting CJ failed to hold.
Sources close to the government, who preferred to remain anonymous, said Adewusi was in Abuja when announcements that suspended Ojo and appointed Afolabi were made.
It was later discovered that Adewusi was in the office before the close of work on Friday, but Afolabi was absent around the Executive Lounge of the Governor’s Office in Osogbo, the state capital.
It was also learnt that courts in the state did not sit in the outgoing week as the judges were said to be outside the state attending a conference, according to the state’s Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Kolapo Alimi,
The Nigerian Bar Association condemned the actions of Adeleke and the state’s lawmakers in defiance of the court order restraining Ojo’s removal as the state’s Chief Judge.
The NBA’s National Publicity Secretary, Akorede Lawal, described the series of events by Adeleke and the lawmakers as “unwarranted assaults on the judiciary and aimed at intimidation,” adding that the action is an “abuse of the rule of law and a desecration of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 ( as amended).”
The Osun State Government denied reports that Adeleke had suspended the removal of Ojo as the CJ, and the subsequent appointment of Afolabi in acting position.
The state Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Kolapo Alimi, said in a statement that Adeleke “only forwarded the resolution of the House of Assembly and recommendation for an acting appointment to the Chief Justice of the Federation for decision and action.”
Alimi described Adeleke as “a man of due process and rule of law with a deep level of respect for the bar and the bench, the NJC and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
A member of the National Judicial Council, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said the state governor and the Stae House of Assembly lack the constitutional power to suspend or discipline any judge.
He said the NJC was the only body that could investigate and recommend sanctions for judges.
In its reaction, the state’s chapter of the All Progressives Congress said Adeleke was uninformed about the constitutional provisions on the matter.
The Osun APC chairman, Tajudeen Lawal, in a statement, said, “The haphazard handling of the CJ’s suspension by the Osun State lawmakers further confirms the allegation by the public that nothing beneficial to the citizenry can evolve from the Assembly,”
Lawal also said the speaker of the State House of Assembly, Wale Egbedun, “has an image problem to contend with before the members of the public can take them seriously that they are not the suckers and lapdogs of Governor Adeleke.”
In a counter-reaction, the state Peoples Democratic Party, in a statement by its chairman, Sunday Bisi, voiced its support for Adeleke, saying, “In the case of issues around the Chief Judge, Governor Adeleke has done the right thing by communicating the development to the National Judicial Council for action.
“The sign of a good leader is the capacity to set records straight in cases of misinformation. This is what Mr Governor has done. The state PDP reaffirmed its confidence in the leadership style of the state governor and that of the state Assembly, chiding the state APC for lacking a deeper understanding of the dynamics of governance.”
More so, the governor’s spokesman, however, dismissed the claim that the CJ’s troubles stemmed from her judgment in the murder case of a Master’s student of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Timothy Adegoke, leading to a death sentence on the owner of Hilton hotels, Ile-Ife, Ramon Adedoyin.
Members of the dissolved Osun State Judicial Service Commission on Tuesday alleged that Adeleke sacked their commission to ease his objective to remove Ojo as the state Chief Judge.
In a statement signed by Messrs Rotimi Makinde and Tomi Olagbaju on behalf of the other members of the commission, they described the dissolution before the end of their five-year tenure as an act of “executive recklessness which should not be enlivened for the sake of common sense, decency, orderliness and our fledging democracy,” adding that the move was politically motivated and had a connection with the move to oust Ojo.
The Chief Registrar, Osun State High Court, Mr. Ishola Omisade, alongside some magistrates, on Tuesday, visited the State House of Assembly Committee on Judiciary probing the allegations against CJ Ojo.
About 12 staff members of the high court working in the Affidavit Office and Salary Section were seen at the Assembly.
In a statement, the Chief Press Secretary to the Speaker of the Osun Assembly, Tiamiyu Olamide, said, “Some people appeared and more will appear but I don’t know their designations and where they are from.
“The committee is working round the clock to complete the investigation within the period given to them by the House of Assembly.”
Members of the Osun State chapter of the Judiciary Staff Union have continued to block the entrance to the State High Court in Osogbo, the state capital; a move that has lasted from Monday till Wednesday, as of the time of filing this report.
The protesters, led by the chairman of the state’s JUSUN, Gbenga Eludire, prevented movement into the premises from 7 a.m.
The protest was aimed at showing their dissatisfaction with CJ Ojo and the management’s handling of judicial affairs in the state.
Speaking with journalists, Eludire accused Ojo of suspending workers without following due process, adding that the Chief Judge had put a stop to statutory training for workers to improve their productivity.
Eludire added that some members of the state’s union were suspended for more than three years, and for some others, about 59 months now.
The union leader further ordered all judicial workers in the state to immediately withdraw their services till further notice.