By Festus Adedayo
With my knowledge of the geography and contours of state government operations, Governor Ademola Adeleke of Osun State may have last week fallen victim to one of three sets of
advisers that a political power base in government is exposed to. One is a set of competent advisers who are tainted by politics. Second is a class of advisers who are competent but are not bold enough to give right pieces of advice. These ones are too cowardly to advise right. The third set is a band of advisers who are not honest enough to tell the truth on the right path that the principal should take. Any one of the three will misadvise you, especially if you are not a professional.
Governor Adeleke announced the suspension of the Chief Judge of the State, Justice Adepele Ojo last Thursday. Almost immediately, he appointed a replacement, in the person of Justice Olayinka Afolabi, as the acting Chief Judge. Press Secretary to the Speaker, Tiamiyu Olamide, said that the Assembly, through its House Committee on Judiciary, Public Petitions and Legal Matters would thereafter proceed to investigate petitions submitted against Ojo by inviting her. What this means is that the suspension of the Chief Judge was taken even before the purported allegations against her were investigated.
So, when on Friday, another release was issued denying that the governor suspended the CJ, after the drama that attended it, you will understand the nugget on the need to get advice right by operators of government. When, if at all, should judges step into the political arena? This is a question which has consistently been a source of fascination and discussion for successive generations of jurists. The allegations against the CJ are very weighty, most of which are available on the social media. Having been appointed by APC bigwigs who are now operating at the federal level, it is alleged that she is not only an APC sympathizer but currently receives instructions on judicial matters from them.
Ordinarily, no governor would be comfortable with a serpent on his roof and thus, Adeleke’s initial goof. But he and the CJ are said to be distant cousins from the same Ede town. So, what is the problem if not APC vs PDP politics? Not even the people in Abuja would want a CJN who is alleged to be politically aligned against them. You will recall how Muhammadu Buhari was stampeded into disgracing from office Walter Onnoghen, the then CJN. However, in the exercise of power, every effort must be made to employ tact and wisdom by borrowing from the fable of the Tortoise (Ijapa) and the Pig (Elede). Borrowing from this fable, late Fuji Lord, Ayinde Barrister, counseled that it is always wise to learn the contours of arguments of one defence before embarking on a fight – Ejo laa ko ka to ko ija.
Joseph Folahan Odunjo, (J.F. Odunjo) poet and Minister of Works in the First Republic, in his Alawiye series, adumbrated the need for Governor Adeleke to have approached the issue with tact and wisdom. This he did in a Yoruba poem where he chanted: If the wise is taunting you to a fight (bi ologbon ba nwa e ni’ja)/ If you don’t fight him with wisdom (Bi o ko fi iye de’nu)/ he will constrict you with wisdom (a mu ogbon wewe, a fi yi e po)/ If the wise is drawing you to a fight, (Bi omonran si nwa e ni’ja,)/ if you don’t fight him with patience (Bi o ko fi ara ba’le ba ja)/ he will rescue himself with disarming calmness (A fi iwa imeso gba ara kale)/ This is explained in the anecdote of Tortoise and Pig (Bee ni oro Elede ohun Ijapa ri). The summary of the allegory is this: Tortoise owes Pig the sum of two thousand cowries (egbaa) but would not pay despite repeated demands. One day, Pig, fuming, threatens to make life uncomfortable for the fabled trickster animal. Tortoise hears Pig knocking on his door and tells his wife, Yannibo, to turn him upside down. She does and then begins to grind pepper on her husband’s belly. Pig enters and inquires of his chronic debtor. Yannibo ignores Pig and his rants (o fi Elede gun lagidi). In anger, Pig flings out Yannibo’s pepper with what he thinks is the stone grinder. Tortoise’s wife grabs Pig, demanding her stone. Tortoise dusts himself where Pig throws him to, enters by the door and asks what the noise is all about. He is told what Pig has done and shouts that the money he spent buying the grinder is more than the egbaa that Pig has come to request its payment. The next time you see Pig bulldozing everywhere up and down with his snout, it is Tortoise’s grinder that he is rummaging the whole world for. He has forever forgotten collecting back his two thousand cowries.
I imagine how Alaroye, a popular Yoruba newspaper, would have cast the headline of Adeleke’s impolitic decision to unilaterally remove a CJ, in spite of the avalanche of judicial decisions which clearly spelt out the boundary of that assumed boundless powers in the hands of gubernatorial political authorities. I imagine that Alaroye would clearly compare the attempt to rubbish ancient venerated judicial powers to the assault that Yoruba, in their fertile sense of comparativism, say that iru (locust beans) suffered in the hands of Okemesi, Ekiti State people.
By the way, iru is a popular ancient condiment which, without it, the culinary component of homes in Yorubaland is incomplete. Okemesi, on its own, is famous for its unique terrain and undulating mountains which create a scenic wonder to view, revealing its touristic potentials, especially the below average temperature it manifests during the harmattan season. It also parades a great historical significance as it was home to the famous warrior, whose name became an prefix whenever Okemesi is mentioned, the great Fabunmi Okemesi, whose wardom provokes historical remembrance of the Kiriji war where he led the Ekiti-parapo forces.
As indispensable as iru is in the broths of the Yoruba, Okemesi people seem to have a condescending perception of this essential condiment. It is not an unpopular seasoning in broths of Òkèmèsí people and this condescension of an exemplary condiment, Yoruba situate in the aphorism, which Tolulope Abisodun Oluremi1 and Olumide Olugbemi-Gabriel put in context in their Yoruba Proverb as Impoliteness and Power Negotiator in Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys (2022). The aphorism is, Irú sọ pé òhun ò jìyà rí, ó l’óhun ò bàjẹ rí, ó l’óhun ò k’àbùkú rí, sùgbón ni’gbà tí ó dé Òkèmèsí, wón pe ní eégbon. Translated, it is rendered as, until it got to Okemesi where its majesty was disdained colossally by reference to it as tick, the locust beans had always thought it was insular to perceptional assault. It particularly never imagined that its honour and respect would be this dragged in the mud. This is because, rather than call the locust beans iru as it is known in the rest of Yorubaland, Okemesi people call it eegbon, which, again in the language of the rest of Yoruba, is tick.
In the hands of politics and politicians, the judiciary, revered and venerated as iru, seems to be nothing other than a leech which the tick is. It also underscores the borderlessness of dishonor that politics can bring the way of an otherwise respectable institution, once it stands in the way of ego and ambition. To politicians, an institution of influence and veneration can be smattered with mud to get at an obstacle.
It is a known truism that the fundamental principle of the independence of the judiciary and the courts underpin the Nigerian legal system. This principle is predicated on the belief that the courts are independent as an organ of government. It is expressed in the popular Yoruba saying that when partridges stand on the ridge of a farmland, their equality can never be in doubt (aparo kan o ga j’aparo kan lo). Like in Orwerllian (George Orwel’s) “all animals are equal,” which privileged animals tinkered with to read “but some are more equal than others,” aparo kan o ga j’aparo kan lo was eventually inflected to read “except the one that mounts the ridge top” (af’eyi t’o ba g’ori ebe).
Exhibition of the power to terminate the appointment of judicial officers in Nigeria by the executive has posed a huge subject of examination to legal scholars. In many instances like the recent example of Osun State, governors have gone outside of their boundaries to make eegbon of the iru which the Nigerian judiciary was designed to be. Rather than tailor the procedure employed in disciplining and termination of appointments to follow the constitution, whims and caprices of the executive is the order of the day.
As per the 1999 Constitution, a judicial officer may only be removed from office on any of the following grounds: Misconduct, inability to discharge the functions of his office and appointment or contravention of the Code of Conduct. In A.G. Cross River State of Nigeria v. Esin, where the removal from office of the Respondent, a Judge of the Cross River State High Court, was based on allegations of misconduct that did not have bearing with his official duties as a judicial officer, as per Katsina-Alu JCA, the court ruled that the actions of the respondent as manifest in letters he wrote to the principal of a school and an officer in his wife’s work place, did not constitute misconduct that was capable of justifying his removal from office as a judicial officer.
The second ground is what is called inability to discharge functions of his office. A ground of insanity as basis for removal of a judicial officer from office may however prove difficult to prove. This is because the establishment of insanity is medical and will necessitate cogent medical evidence presented to the investigating panel and which must convincingly prove the fact of insanity.
The third ground, which is breach of the Code of Conduct, refers to two codes which are the Code of Conduct for Public Officers in Nigeria and the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers in Nigeria. As we shall see presently, in his bid to make an eegbon of the judiciary’s iru, Governor Adeleke and his House of Assembly appear to have violated the procedure for removal of judicial officers from office in Nigeria. The accepted procedure is that, once the judicial officer has been investigated and found liable for allegations preferred against him, the ground is leveled for the process of his removal.
The controversies centered on which body between the NJC and the Senate and House of Assembly as the case may be, constitutionally possesses the power to receive petitions against judicial officers.
We must turn to Section 292 of the 1999 Constitution for an answer to this poser. An examination of the provisions of this Section 292 has the tendency to lead us to the hasty conclusion that only judicial officers who are referenced in subsection (1)(b) of the section are entitled to the recommendation of the NJC before they may be removed from office The governors’ interpretation of the constitution is that the power of investigation and recommendation for the removal of the Chief Judge of their States resides in the House of Assembly and not the NJC.
Paragraph 21 (b) and (d) of Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, Part 1 provides that the NJC has exclusive powers to receive complaints against all judicial officers, as well as to investigate complaints and make recommendations to the President or governors.
This position was affirmed by the Supreme Court in the case of Erelu-Habeeb v. National Judicial Council, where the first Appellant was the Chief Judge of Kwara State at all times material to this case. The Kwara State House of Assembly, in a purported exercise of its powers under the 1999 Constitution, sought to exercise disciplinary control over the 1st Appellant by his removal from office. The NJC nevertheless does not exercise this power suo motu.
Adeleke’s motive may be noble – and it may not be. His goal may be to wean the state judiciary of APC’s creepy politics but good things done in a bad way can never be crowned with nobility. But some errors are never late to correct. Which is why, we must agree with and hail Governor Adeleke’s latest claim that he never initiated the suspension of the CJ. This is gladsome. Doing othersie will be akin to what Yoruba call, “at’ehin r’ogbon Ijakumo.” Ijakumo is a fearsome, wondering wolverine renowned with passing through a path only once. So when the wisdom of an action comes after the act, Ijakumo and its ways are invoked in the rhetoric of rebuke. It can also pass for what Fuji music great, Kollington Ayinla, called “o nu’di ko to ya’gbe, igba to ya’gbe tan, o ni ohun ti nu’di l’ekan!” (he cleans his anus before defecating; but after defecating, he says he had earlier cleaned his anus!). In Osun State last week, the Muslim faithful in the Government House prayed before ablution – o kirun k’o to s’aluwala!’ The governor’s advisers should have done better than they did.
Jolaoso: Dividends of responsible parenting
WHENEVER I sneak into the premises of the Ibadan Tennis Club in the capital of Oyo State, the life of one elderly man named Ebenezer Adewale Jolaoso (also known as Alani) fascinates me. As they say in Christendom, I use him as my prayer point and his life a piece of mentorship. I always use him as pulpit material to sermonize to parents on the dividends of being a responsible parent, the clan of which is becoming extinct in the Nigeria of today. Pa Jolaoso clocked 80 years in September, having being born in 1943.
I do not want to talk about his CV, his nativity of Orile Ilugun, Ogun State or that he met the boardroom czar, Mr. Ayoola Obafoluke Otudeko, as an Accounts Clerk in the then Cooperative Bank in 1962. Otudeko later taught Jolaoso rudiments of banking. Fate was to later twine them together as Jolaoso became Otudeko’s in-law, having married the latter’s sister.
After marrying Oluyemisi Yetunde Otudeko in 1973, she unfortunately passed on twenty years after, specifically on January 2, 1994. By this time, their last born was preparing to enter the Olashore College in Osun State. Not only did Jolaoso make up his mind not to remarry, he made the training of his children a career, to which he devoted the totality of his being. At his 80th celebration, one of the children thanked him for being their Daddy and Mommy simultaneously.
The morale of the life of Jolaoso which every parent must clone is that his children, who are now scattered all over the world, have made it a career to give him the best life can afford. He rejects automobiles from them at will on account of surplusage and there is a fierce competition among them on who dots most over their father. After escaping an inexplicable auto accident a few weeks before his 80th birthday and being examined by Nigerian medics, his children sent him an air ticket to come for thorough medical examination in the United States. It is one of the dividends of responsible parenting.
Of course, it is not easy to be a responsible parent in an atmosphere of turgid finance and collapsing values as we have in Nigeria today. Parents must however struggle to be a Jolaoso to their children. If Providence is kind enough to give such parents long life and good health, the dividends of responsible parenting, at adulthood, is almost like money rituals.
I wish Pa Jolaoso belated 80th birthday celebrations.
In this article