Osun judge rejects Governor Adeleke’s appointment as acting CJ

David Afolabi, who was named the Acting Chief Judge of Osun State by Governor Ademola Adeleke after the purported suspension of the substantive holder of the office, has rejected the appointment.

It was learnt that Mr Afolabi has communicated his decision not to accept the appointment to the National Judicial Council (NJC), the body statutorily empowered to play the central role in the appointment and discipline of Nigerian judges.

Mr Afolabi’s grouse about his appointment as the acting Chief Judge is that it was done by the governor without NJC’s input as prescribed in the Nigerian constitution and judicial precedents.

“He has communicated his decision not to accept the appointment to the council,” a credible source at the NJC, who is not permitted to discuss the sensitive case with the press, told newsmen, providing an insight into why the scheduled swearing-in of the acting chief judge has failed to hold.

In an attempt by newsmen to confirm Mr Afolabi’s stance on the matter from him in a phone call on Friday. But he ended the call as soon as the caller introduced himself as a journalist. He refused to answer subsequent calls.

Background

Governor Adeleke had suspended the Chief Judge, Adepele Ojo, on Thursday, over allegations of misconduct, abuse of power, corruption and disregard for rule of law levelled against her by the House of Assembly.

Announcing the development in a statement, the governor’s spokesperson, Rasheed Olawale, said Mr Adeleke approved the resolution of the state House of Assembly passed on 16 November (Thursday), asking Mrs Ojo “to step aside pending investigation of allegations” against her.

The statement signed by Mr Olawale reproduced the House of Assembly’s resolution in which it was stated that asking Mrs Ojo to step aside was “not for any disciplinary action, but to allow for proper investigation of the allegations.”

The House of Assembly tasked its Committee on Judiciary, Public Petitions and Legal Matters of the House of Assembly, to investigate the petitions against Mrs Ojo.

It asked the committee to invite the chief judge and report to the House “within seven days from today (Thursday, 16 November).”

On the same day, the governor, through another statement by his spokesperson, announced the appointment of Mr Afolabi as the acting Chief Judge, complying with the House of Assembly’s resolution that “the next in order of seniority to Justice Adepele Ojo be sworn in immediately to avoid any vacuum in the third arm of government in Osun State.”

The statement said the appointment was with immediate effect “following the approval of the resolution of the House of Assembly.”

But with Mr Afolabi’s rejection of the appointment, the swearing-in of the acting Chief Judge scheduled to be presided over by the state’s deputy governor on Friday failed to happen.

‘Complaint sent to NJC’

The Osun State government has doubled down on its actions in the matter, pushing back criticisms of its disobedience to a court order earlier stopping Mrs Ojo’s suspension.

In a third statement on the crisis, on Thursday (16 November), the state’s Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Oluomo Alimi, denied the state government’s knowledge “of any pending case at this material moment.”

He also said “the Osun State House of Assembly that confirmed the appointment of Mrs Adepele Ojo and asked her to step aside is not a party to any ongoing case or court order.”

Chief Judge of Osun State, Adepele Ojo

Mr Alimi described criticisms of the disobedience to the court order halting the suspension of the chief judge as a “mere stunt. ”

He also disclosed that the state government said “the petition and preliminary actions on the Osun state Chief Judge have been sent to the National Judicial Council (NJC),” a step it saw as a validation of the actions it had taken on the matter.

He said in the statement that the step “affirmed Governor Adeleke has not defied any court order,” and maintained that the state House of Assembly has the constitutional right to investigate the allegations against the chief judge.

According to him, the allegations include the misappropriation of funds and petitions filed by judiciary staff members and other employees of the state government.

He said the House of Assembly, being the body that appropriated the allegedly misused funds and with some of the petitioners being under its authority, has the constitutional right to investigate the Chief Judge based on the allegations.

He insisted that the chief judge was not suspended by the governor, who, he said, only acted on the resolution of the House of Assembly.

“We re-assure the public that appropriate representation has been made to National Judicial Council, over the development and we affirm that the Chief Judge was not suspended by the Governor, as being mischievously represented by some sections of the media.

“Rather it is the State Assembly on the premise that an official cannot be on the seat whilst investigation is ongoing, that asked the Chief Judge to step aside. The Governor only acted on the Resolution of the House,” the statement said.

It urged the House of Assembly to inform the public, the NJC and the governor “about its findings, on conclusion of its investigation, and also make resolutions on the next line of action.”

Describing the governor as a law abiding person who “will not do anything to compromise the rule of law,” the statement said, “Whenever the court processes are served on the persons listed as defendants in the alleged suit (if any), they would take appropriate steps to react.”

Condemnation

Some key actors in the justice sector, including the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), have condemned both the suspension of Mrs Ojo and the subsequent appointment of Mr Afolabi as acting Chief Judge.

The NBA said the action of the governor not only negated the principle of separation of powers but also disregarded a court order.

Mrs Ojo had obtained an order of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria in Ibadan, Oyo State, on 15 November, stopping any moves by Governor Adeleke, the state House of Assembly and other relevant institutions and officials of the state from removing her from office.

NBA said on Friday that it unequivocally condemned the “unlawful” actions, adding that the provisions of the Nigerian constitution are not ambiguous as to the way and manner a Chief Judge of a state could be removed from office.

It noted that the tenure of a judicial officer is not subject to the mood of politicians, adding that a judge cannot be appointed or removed from office without recourse to the NJC.

The association also cited various judicial authorities declaring that a judge is not subject to the disciplinary control or scrutiny of the state House of Assembly.

According to NBA, a Supreme Court decision has “clearly stated that the Chief Judge of a state cannot be removed under any guise, including the infamous ‘step aside style’ by the Osun State Government without recourse to the NJC.”

Therefore, the NBA said it would not recognise the acting chief judge appointed by the governor.




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