The Nigerian Bar Association has knocked Governor Ademola Adeleke of Osun State, and the State House of Assembly, over the suspension of the Chief Judge of the state, Oyebola Adepele Ojo, by the state government.
The NBA in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Akorede Lawal on Friday, condemned the government’s action, noting that Adepele Ojo’s removal was unlawful.
Lawal described the action of the governor and the state lawmakers as an unwarranted assault on the judiciary which was aimed at intimidating the arm of government in the state.
Osun House of Assembly had during its plenary on Thursday, ordered that Justice Ojo should step aside, pending the outcome of a purported investigation against her.
Approving the resolution of the assembly, the governor appointed Justice Olayinka Afolabi as the acting Chief Judge.
Meanwhile, the development was in defiance of an order of the National Industrial Court sitting in Ibadan, which restrained Adeleke from removing the CJ.
The statement reads partly: “The NBA unequivocally condemns this unlawful action by the Osun State Government. The action of the state government is an abuse of the rule of law and a desecration of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 ( as amended).
“In very vivid terms, the actions of Governor Adeleke and the Osun State House of Assembly are unwarranted assaults on the judiciary and aimed at intimidation.
“The NBA wishes to categorically state that the provisions of the 1999 Constitution are not ambiguous as to the way and manner a Chief Judge of a state could be removed from office. Certainly, a state House of Assembly resolution for a Chief Judge to ‘step aside’ is unknown to the law of our land.”
Citing the case between Nganjiwa and FRN, Lawal said a Chief Judge cannot be removed without the involvement of the National Judicial Council.
” Furthermore, the law has since been settled in Nganjiwa v FRN (2017) LPELR-43391 (CA) that any misconduct attached to the office and functions of a judicial officer must first be reported to and determined by the NJC.
“Specifically, the Supreme Court in Elelu-Habeeb & Anor v AG Federation & Ors (2012) 12 NWLR (Pt 1318) 423 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, ” the statement added.
The NBA scribe also berated the Osun government for disregarding the order of the court restraining it from removing the CJ.
“The NBA is further worried and troubled that in going about its unlawful endeavour, the Osun State Government chose to ignore the lawful order of interim injunction granted by the National Industrial Court sitting in Ibadan, which restrained the Governor of Osun State from interfering with the office of the Chief Judge of Osun State.
“This is untoward, coming from a democratically elected state government. All decisions of the court must be obeyed and complied with until they are set aside by a superior court of competent jurisdiction,” he added.
Lawal however said the NBA has resolved not to recognise Justice Afolabi as the acting CJ of the state, and vowed that the association would stop at nothing to ensure the decision of the state government does not stand.
He said: “The NBA’s position is anchored on the constitutional doctrine of separation of power and the independence of the judiciary. The tenure of a judicial officer cannot and should not be subject to the mood of politicians.
“To this extent, the NBA and its members shall not recognise Hon. Justice Olayinka Afolabi as the acting Chief Judge of Osun State, because the provisions of the law must be complied with strictly, in the removal of, and/or appointment of the Chief Judge of Osun State.
“The NBA shall take all necessary steps to ensure this impunity and brazen abuse of office does not stand!