BABATOPE OKEOWO writes on the diatribe between Ondo State Governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN) and the Chief Judge, Justice Olanrewaju Oluwatoyin Akeredolu, over alleged move to abridge the tenure of the Head of Judiciary in order to disgrace her out of office
For the first time since the creation of Ondo State in 1976, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and former President of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, is the governor of the state.
His kinswoman, Justice Olanrewaju Oluwatoyin Akeredolu is also the Chief Judge of the state, making the Akeredolus the Head of both the Executive and the Judicial arms of government in the Sunshine state.
Despite the fact the two Akeredolus are from the ancient town of Owo, they are at loggerheads over an alleged plan to abridge the tenure of the Chief Judge of the State. Justice Akeredolu’s tenure as the Chief Judge and a judge in the state judiciary would end in August.
The fear of Justice Akeredolu that her tenure might be cut short came to the fore when the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Charles Titiloye, recommended that the State Judicial Service Commission and the House of Assembly should investigate the Chief Judge over the alleged delay in the trial of Olupelumi ‘Fagboyegun’ who claimed to be a son to the late father of Justice Akeredolu, Revd Johnson Fagboyegun. Olupelumi was arrested and charged to court for alleged forceful entry into the property of Late Fagboyegun in Owo.
The trial lasted for about three years before a viral video made by him accused the Chief Judge of being the mastermind of his travails in court.
Although, the Bar Association and the judiciary in the state came to the defence of the Chief Judge over the delay in the trial of Olupelumi, which they blamed on the lockdown due to outbreak of COVID- 19 and several adjournments by the lawyers to the accused, Justice Akeredolu sought protection from an Abuja High Court in order to prevent her being kicked out of office.
Abuja High Court Order
The Federal High Court, Abuja, on hearing the counsel to Justice Akeredolu restrained the State Government from investigating the Chief Judge over a viral video made by a citizen of the state, Olupelumi Fagboyegun.
Justice Inyang Ekwo, who gave the order while delivering a judgement in the suit brought by the Chief Judge against Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu and others, described the move to probe her as “unconstitutional and illegal.”
Olupelumi ‘Fagboyegun,’ who claimed to be a stepbrother to the state’s chief judge, in the viral video, had alleged that Akeredolu instigated his detention for three years for going to their father’s house. While the Chief Judge is the plaintiff, the Attorney General of the Federation, the National Judi
cial Council (NJC), Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, the Ondo State Attorney General (AG), the state’s House of Assembly and the Inspector General of Police are the first to sixth defendants respectively in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/2016/2021. During the pendency of the suit, the state government was not represented in court.
Ondo State on court’s order
The Commissioner for Information, Donald Ojogo, in his reaction to the order of the court said the suit which prompted the judgement was an ego trip, which the government refused participation.
Ojogo in his statement on behalf of the government said: “The attention of the Ondo State Government has been drawn to a news item circulating in the media in respect of the subject matter referenced above.
The Ondo State Government from the commencement of the said suit in question did not consider it worthy of any legal efforts. It was vainly an ego pursuit as far as Government was concerned.
“In unambiguous terms, the suit was an unnecessary distraction for which no legal representation was made neither on behalf of the Attorney General nor the Government for the period it sufficed.
The reasons behind the needless efforts to drag in the Executive Arm of the State Government, particularly Governor Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu (SAN) into the matter are well noted.
“It must be stated however, that, Governor Akeredolu is not only a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria; he is indeed a Life Bencher who had served as a member of the National Judicial Council (NJC).
“He is, therefore, better informed with the procedural processes relating to the removal of a serving Chief Judge of a State, hence, his directive that the State Government should not participate in the hearing of the needless suit filed by the Chief Judge (CJ).
“Simply put, the Executive Arm of the Ondo State Government led by Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN) at no time had interest whatsoever, in cutting short the tenure of the State CJ. If at all, the State Government can only wish the CJ God’s Infinite Grace till August so as to accord her a deserving retirement honour as a Jurist.
CJ’s lawyer fumes
Reacting to Ojogo’s statement, Lead Counsel to the Chief Judge of Ondo State, Jibrin Okutepa (SAN), lashed out at Governor Akeredolu and the state government over their comments on the court’s judgement which barred the governor from sacking the Chief Judge. In a statement,
Okutepa described the government’s position as ‘most unfortunate and uncivilised’ saying the state government’s reaction was ‘contemptuous’. Okutepa’s statement reads: “My attention has been drawn to a press statement said to have been issued by the Government of Ondo State on the judgement delivered by the Hon. Mr Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, in favour of the Chief Judge of Ondo State, Justice Oluwatoyin O. Akeredolu.
“The said press statement was titled: “Re: Court Bars Ondo Government from probing Chief Judge was an ego trip which the government refused participation” and signed by one, Donald Ojogo, Commissioner for information.
“It is sad and unfortunate that the Government of Ondo State could authorise such contemptuous statement to be issued against a judgement that was delivered after all the parties were served with hearing notices on many occasions and the government led by an eminent Senior Advocate did not deem it fit to respect the processes served on the government.
“As lawyer to the Hon. Chief Judge in the matter, I consider the press statement as insulting to my person as it portrays me as accepting brief to take the matter that was purely academic to court for judicial determination.
“It is important to remind the Ondo State Government that the press statement is certainly an afterthought and face-saving measures to cover the plots that gave the Hon. Chief Judge of Ondo State the cause of action which led his Lordship to brief me to go to court.
“It is sad that the government of Ondo State can suffer memory loss of the reasons why the Hon CJ went to court. Let me repeat again that the press statement is an afterthought and a face- saving measures after the evil plot was denounced by proper judicial decision. “In the first place, the Government
Judiment of Ondo State and parties involved were duly served the originating processes and hearing notices. If the government has respect for judicial process as it claims, it should have appeared in court and inform the court that the issues and concerns raised were not true or not being pursued by the government. Ondo State government did not do so.
“Secondly, Ondo State Government forgot that legal letters were done to the Governor, State House of Assembly and the Attorney General of Ondo State on the matter. We must set record straight.
It is appalling to see a childish display of adolescent behaviour in the press statement issued on behalf of the government being led by the learned gentleman of the highest distinction at the Bar like this.
“So sad. Perhaps, I will need to draw the attention of the Ondo State Government to the press statement issued by the the Attorney General of Ondo State on 18th February 2021 which led the CJ to brief me to go to court”.
Akeredolu dares Okutepa
Governor Akeredolu while reacting to Okutepa’s statement through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Richard Olatunde, challenged the Senior Advocate to seek legal relief over the ‘contemptuous statement’.
Olatunde’s statement on behalf of the governor reads: “The attention of the Ondo State Governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN) has been drawn to a statement made by Mr. Jubrin Okutepa, (SAN), lead counsel to the State Chief Judge, Justice Oluwatoyin Akeredolu, suggesting that the state government’s reaction to a court ruling on the alleged plan to remove the CJ from office was ‘contemptuous’ “This statement by the CJ’s lead counsel did not come to the governor as a surprise.
Only people who understand the import of government statements would refrain from blunders. “Moreover, Governor Akeredolu recognizes the profundity of civility. Nevertheless, he also understands that civility is not common.
He, however, takes no offense in the outburst of the lead counsel. “Governor Akeredolu challenges Mr. Okutepa to feel free to approach the court if he truly finds the reaction “contemptuous.”