The National Judicial Council has berated the Osun State Governor, Ademola Adeleke, and the state House of Assembly for removing the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Oyebola Ojo, saying they lack the power to suspend or discipline any judge.
A member of the council, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said the NJC was the only body that could investigate and recommend sanctions for judges.
The council member said, “A state government cannot discipline, sanction or sack the chief judge of a state without recourse to the NJC. This applies to judges. If they claim they’ve carried the NJC along, they should have waited for the NJC to investigate her.
“The NJC is the only body empowered by the constitution to investigate judges and recommend appropriate sanctions to the President if it is a federal court, and the governor if it is a state. State governors and Houses of Assembly members can’t remove the state Chief Judge. The NJC is the only body that can suspend judges.
“The same situation happened in Sokoto, where the House of Assembly sacked the CJ, Aisha Dahiru, and the Supreme Court nullified it. “
The spokesperson of the NJC, Adesoji Oye could not be reached for comments as calls to his line indicated it was switched off.
The spokesperson for the governor, Mallam Olawale Rasheed, had on Thursday, said Adeleke approved the removal of the CJ following a resolution of the state House of Assembly of November 16, 2023, that the Executive arm of government should be informed of the House resolution and 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 the State.
The swearing-in of Justice Afolabi as the acting CJ, however, could not as scheduled on Friday as he did not show up.
Meanwhile, efforts to get the reaction of the House Committee on Judiciary were not fruitful as at the time of filing this report.
While the Chairman of the committee, Oluwole Oke, who hails from Osun State, neither picked his calls nor respond to messages sent to him via WhatsApp; the Deputy Chairman of the committee and a member of the New Nigeria People’s Party, Mohammed Danjuma, could not be reached as his mobile phone indicated that it was switched off.
Ifedayo Adedipe, SAN,said no provision of the constitution empowered governors to remove CJs.
“I am not aware of anywhere in the constitution where governors or Houses of Assembly can remove a CJ. What happened in Osun is unconstitutional,” he said.
A senior lawyer, Chief Yomi Aliyu (SAN), said it was unconstitutional for the governor to oust the CJ and appoint another without following due process.
According to him, the embattled CJ is expected to first face a disciplinary panel that would hear the case of alleged misconduct and corruption levelled against her by Adeleke.
He said, “It is unconstitutional for the governor to make any appointment until the case had been brought before the disciplinary panel, which would hear the matter and decide whether or not the CJ was guilty.
“The law is clear on how you can remove a CJ. This has been settled in the case between Habeeb Vs Kwara State Government, where the court emphatically stated that a CJ can only be removed after the CJ has been reported to the National Judiciary Council.
“The incumbent governor of Osun, Ademola Adeleke, has an axe to grind with the CJ, saying that the CJ was too loyal to the former governor, Adegboyega Oyetola. In fact, I learnt that the governor called a meeting of all judges in the state, where he made the allegation.
“The CJ allegedly told the governor that she was neutral and only loyal to the seat. She stressed that her loyalty could not be faulted. But, it was not enough to satisfy the governor, who wanted a change.
“So, he engineered the House of Assembly to pass a resolution. Before that resolution was passed, the National Industrial Court issued an order restraining him from taking such a decision. But, the deputy and governor went on to appoint an acting CJ on their own.
“The judges in Osun State are aware of the position of the law. In Ondo State, a judge was ousted for 15 years for accepting that kind of appointment.”