The National Judicial Council (NJC) has rejected Osun State Governor Ademola Adeleke’s nominee for replacement of the state’s Chief Judge.
The NJC rather insisted that Adepele Ojo, who was purportedly suspended from office by the governor, remained the Chief Judge of the state, a decision the council took as part of its resolutions during its two-day meeting which ended on Thursday.
The Director of Information of the NJC, Soji Oye, announced the resolutions of the council in a statement on Thursday.
Mr Adeleke had sought the NJC’s permission to swear in the next most senior judge in the state as the Acting Chief Judge of the state, after purportedly suspending Mrs Ojo from office in November.
But in its stance on the issue on Thursday, the NJC said that during its meeting, it “considered and declined the request of Governor Ademola Adeleke of Osun State requesting its permission to swear in the next most senior judge in the state in an acting capacity, following allegations levelled against Hon. Justice Adepele Ojo, Chief Judge, Osun State and the resolution of the State House of Assembly to suspend him.”
“The council affirmed that Hon. Justice Ojo is still the recognised Chief Judge of Osun State, and would not work on the resolution of a State House of Assembly,” the statement by the NJC said.
Governor Adeleke had, on 16 November, suspended Mrs Ojo as the Chief Judge over allegations of misconduct, abuse of power, corruption and disregard for the rule of law levelled against her by the House of Assembly.
Announcing her suspension in a statement, the governor’s spokesperson, Rasheed Olawale, said Mr Adeleke approved the resolution of the state House of Assembly passed on the same day.
The governor asked Mrs Ojo “to step aside pending investigation of allegations” against her, in line with the House of Assembly’s resolution.
The statement also quoted part of the resolution of the House of Assembly, explaining 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 also asked the committee to invite the chief judge and report to the House “within seven days from today (Thursday, 16 November).
Nominee rejected governor’s single-handed appointment
But PREMIUM TIMES reported how Governor Adeleke, after suspending Mrs Ojo from office, named David Afolabi as the acting chief judge of the state and how the nominee rejected the appointment.
Mr Afolabi’s grouse about his appointment as the acting Chief Judge was that it was done by the governor without NJC’s input as prescribed in the Nigerian constitution and judicial precedents.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) condemned the governor’s action which, it said, violated the principle of separation of powers enshrined in the Nigerian constitution.
As a result of this, the NBA said it would not recognise the suspension of Mrs Ojo or anyone who was sworn in to replace her, with critics also saying the governor’s action violated established judicial precedents.
According to the NBA and other critics, the Supreme Court had already ruled that a state governor or state’s House of Assembly cannot remove a judge from office under any guise without the input of the NJC.
Following the criticisms, the Osun State government subsequently approached the NJC to seek the body’s validation of the governor’s decision to suspend Mrs Ojo and its move to the second most senior judge of the state High Court to be sworn in as the acting chief judge.
The move was rejected by the NJC on Thursday, signalling the continuation of the impasse that has practically led to the Osun State not having a Chief Judge since mid-November.
Other decisions of NJC
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the NJC also recommended the compulsory retirement of Sakariyah Falola, a judge of the Osun State High Court, from the bench, among other decisions it took during its two-day meeting on Wednesday and Thursday.
The statement said the recommendation followed an investigation committee’s findings in a petition written by Dapo Kolapo Olowo and Polaris Bank against the judge.
The committee found that Mr Falola had granted a garnishee order absolute against the bank for the sum of N283,174,000 questionably and strangely.
The committee also found the conduct of Mr Falola travelling to Lagos to visit the counsel for the bank in his chambers on the issue of garnishee proceedings unbecoming of the standard expected of a judicial officer.
“Therefore, the NJC in the exercise of its disciplinary powers under the Constitution has suspended Justice Falola from office pending the approval of the recommendation of his compulsory retirement by Governor Adeleke,” the statement said.