By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN


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The name ADELEKE is revered in the annals of the history of Osun State, nay Nigeria, due to so many reasons. I met Alhaji Isiaka Adeleke (Serubawon) during my days as the President of the Students’ Union of Great Ife. He had invited us as leaders of the students to broker peace between the students and the management of the university even though Great Ife as a federal university did not operate under his immediate authority. He did his best to convince us but we could not find a point of convergence. He said he would give us time to think about his proposals but we never got to meet with him again. He was very jovial, accommodating and receptive to our divergent viewpoints. He was loved by the people of Osun State and the circumstances of his sudden death still remains a mystery to many. Then of course one cannot but mention Mr. David Adeleke a.k.a. Davido, who has been an inspiration to the young ones in some ways although he still has a lot to work to do in positive influence. So, when Mr. Ademola Adeleke sought to contest for public office in Osun State, he rode upon the goodwill already built for the Adeleke family. Even though some saw him as a jester of some sort, the people rallied round him massively and it was widely believed that he won the election but could not sustain the momentum at the end of the inconclusive election of INEC.
Governor Adeleke caught the attention of all with his eclectic dance steps and his general simplistic attitude to life. Coming from a mixed race of Ibo extraction through his mother, a stint in the North where he had his early life and the exposure to civilized life in the Western world, it was generally felt that he would make a good administrator. He chose the names Ademola Jackson Nurudeen Ifeanyi Adeleke and was at home with Muslims, Christians and even traditionalists. There were however questions on his academic qualifications, resulting in some prolonged litigation that ended in his favour. Notwithstanding his success in court, he demonstrated humility when he went back to school abroad to acquire more knowledge. He eventually danced his way back to government house in 2022 when he was returned as the elected Governor of Osun State, after his failed first attempt. Since the affirmation of his election by the Supreme Court, Governor Adeleke has been missing a lot in his dance steps, including his needless foray into the judicial waters.

Honourable Justice Adepele Ojo was appointed the first female Chief Judge of Osun State in June 2013 and was set to retire in October 2023 when she would clock 65 years of age. That was before the election and eventual swearing of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. One of his first assignments as President was to assent to the pending Bill for the harmonization of the retirement age of all judicial officers of the higher bench. By that action, judges of the various High Courts would now retire at the age of 70. Many judges benefitted from this exercise, including Honourable Justice Ojo, who had five more years added to her tenure as the Chief Judge of Osun State. For whatever reason, Governor Adeleke was not happy with this development, as he had prompted an action to push the Chief Judge into retirement, despite the new Act extending her tenure. It took the intervention of many for the Governor to back down. As if waiting for the right moment, the governor hurriedly dissolved the State Judicial Service Commission, the body responsible for recommending the appointment and discipline of judicial officers. The end game was very clear, to get rid of the Chief Judge at all costs, but as the saying has been from time immemorial, power belongs to God.
We were all jolted when it was suddenly announced that the Chief Judge of Osun State had been suspended by the House of Assembly of the State and in her place, the next most senior judge would be sworn in as the Acting Chief Judge. The Assembly claimed that it was conducting an investigation into some allegations against the Chief Judge, warranting her purported suspension. The Chief Judge had filed an action before the National Industrial Court, which granted an order of injunction against her removal. To circumvent that order, Governor Adeleke directed his Deputy to swear in an acting Chief Judge. Given the fate of judges who had jumped at such illegal appointments in the past, no judge in Osun State turned up for the mock swearing in ceremony although Governor Adeleke would continue the drama through the State House of Assembly via a phantom panel of investigation. The petition against the Chief Judge was itself bereft of any substance and lacking in merit, containing no cogent allegations worthy of investigation. What played out in Osun State was only a reminder of the mockery of the judiciary by the Buhari regime, which perfected the odious removal of a substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria through an ex-parte order and got the next most senior justice of the Supreme Court to be sworn in as the Acting Chief Justice. I verily believe that the judiciary and indeed Nigeria has not and may never recover from that assault on democracy and the rule of law.
Now, Paragraph 21 (d) of the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states that all matters of discipline of judicial officers should go through the National Judicial Council, being a provision enshrined to ensure the security of tenure of judges, as part of the tenets of democracy. This much has also been confirmed by the Supreme Court in Ngajiwa’s case. It was therefore surprising that a Governor would seek to bypass the Constitution to desecrate a hallowed institution such as the judiciary. I do not by the condemnation of the illegal actions of Governor Adeleke seek to shield anyone from investigation, but it is not for the House of Assembly of Osun State to launch an investigation into the activities of a judicial officer, purport to find her guilty and then approach the NJC for ratification of the disciplinary action already taken, albeit illegally. Should that happen, all judges in Nigeria would run into severe calamity with their Governors and indeed with the President, as once they deliver any judgment that does not sit well with the executive arm, they will be liable to summary dismissal.

The opposition All Progressives Congress in Osun State challenged the electoral victory of Governor Adeleke and succeeded in annulling it through the Election Petition Tribunal but Governor Adeleke reversed that damning verdict through the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. So, you imagine the same Governor Adeleke scheming to become an emperor with the power of arbitrary removal of the Chief Judge, and through that corrupt process become a terror to all other judges and indeed officers of the State! The unfortunate part of Governor Adeleke’s novel ambition is that it gives vent to the opponents of true federalism, as if power had been devolved to the States as we have consistently canvassed, the fate of the Chief Judge would have long been determined whimsically. We must not be deterred however, the solution being to strengthen our institutions for optimal performance, or else we will end up with tin gods in various positions of leadership who will seek to govern with absolute powers. In the case of Osun State, the Nigerian Bar Association, the media and other civil society organisations rallied in strong condemnation of the fascist tendency of Governor Adeleke. In the jurisdictions where we imported democracy, Governor Adeleke would have long been impeached, for the scandalous attempt to rubbish the strongest institution of democratic practice. If judges are no longer free to apply and decide the law without fear or favour, then society should prepare for a state of anarchy and terror.
The National Judicial Council eventually halted the naked dance of Governor Adeleke by dismissing the trumped-up allegations against the Chief Judge and reaffirming her status as the substantive leader of the Bench in Osun State. That should end the drama but as I write this piece, I am aware that members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, Osun State branch are on strike, having failed to prevent the Chief Judge from assuming her role as such. Although they claimed to be agitating for the payment of salary arrears and allowances, the coincidence all but points to the same direction of the dancer. JUSUN should call off its strike and save the common people of Osun State who are at the receiving end of this bargain. When the decision of the NJC in respect of the Chief Judge has been fully implemented and consolidated, JUSUN may thereafter review its actions and take a position based on some independent factors unconnected with the current ugly dance upon the face of the judiciary.
The emperor mentality of public office holders must be decimated and buried by those who have the statutory power to checkmate them. The impunity that we all suffer as a nation is due mainly to the condonation of the excesses of our leaders who hold themselves above the law and the institutions established to enforce the law. If there is a genuine allegation against any judicial officer, due process of law dictates that such should be routed to the NJC for investigation and consideration. Individuals should have no power of sanction over those saddled with the determination of the civil rights and obligations of citizens, to adjudicate on disputes between citizens and the government and to curb the excesses of the other arms of government through judicial intervention. It is commendable that for now, the NJC has stopped the superficial dance that was orchestrated without any drum or instrument.

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