11 November 2012

Nigeria: CJN Moves to Impose Chief Judge on Osun

The National Judicial Council (NJC) is enmeshed in another controversy: the propriety of its imposition of Justice Bola Ojo as the chief judge-designate of Osun State.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Aloma Mukhtar-led NJC is yet to resolve ongoing controversy over the CJN's refusal to swear in Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo as a justice of the Court of Appeal (JCA) on the grounds of alleged mix-up in her state of origin status, despite the approval granted by President Goodluck Jonathan and the resolution of the Senate.

But the NJC's decision to impose a CJ on Osun State is causing ripples in the state as its recommendation is contrary to the advice of the State Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on the matter.

The state JSC had, by virtue of Part 11 section 6 (a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), recommended two judges for the post of CJ -justices Joseph Oyewole and Bola Ojo -- following the retirement of the former occupier of the post, Justice Olaniyi Ojo, on Wednesday, November 7, 2012. At present, the state does not have any CJ or acting CJ.

Though the former CJ retired on Wednesday without any fanfare, he did not hand over to any successor while Governor Rauf Aregbesola was yet to make any pronouncement on the issue.

Part 11 Section 6(a) of the constitution states, "The State Judicial Service Commission shall have the power to advise the NJC on suitable persons for nomination to the office of the CJ of the state".

Justice Ojo was the number-two judge to the outgone CJ while Justice Oyewole, an indigene of the state, is a judge of the Lagos High Court in Ikeja.

In the exercise of this power, the state JSC had, in its 52-page memo to the NJC on the matter, written "recommended" for Justice Oyewole and "recommendable" for Justice Ojo.

The state JSC had claimed that its recommendation was based on indigene, merit and without any scandal, saying that it also consulted prominent senior advocates of Nigeria (SANs) including Chief Afe Babalola, Chief Wole Olanipekun, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, Chief Akin Olujimi, and Mr. Dele Adesina who endorsed Oyewole.

The NJC had, however, in its last meeting on October 17 and 18, rejected the list of the CJ nominees for Osun State alongside that of Adamawa and Kwara states and asked the concerned states to submit another list on seniority basis.

But in a curious twist and without the advice of Osun State JSC , the NJC had, in a letter received on November 1 and signed by the CJN, decided to recommend Justice Ojo as the CJ for Osun State. The letter was addressed to Governor Rauf Aregbesola who subsequently forwarded it to the state House of Assembly for its necessary consideration.

LEADERSHIP further gathered that the CJN had also, in the letter under reference, directed Justice Oyewole to transfer his service from Lagos State to Osun and subsequently queued before the last judge in the state in order to attain seniority status.

Incidentally, the CJN's directive on this seniority issue is contrary to section 24 of the State High Court Law which states that the order of precedence on seniority shall be determined by the state governor on the advice of the state JSC. The directive is also contrary to section 81 (3) and 291 of the 1999 Constitution.

It was further gathered that Justice Ojo and 12 other judges in the state had, before the state JSC forwarded its recommendation to the NJC, sent a petition to the CJN, alleging that Justice Oyewole should be advised to take a queue behind the last judge before he could be considered.

The effect of the development is that Justice Oyewole will lose 11 years seniority having been appointed as a judge in 2011 and called to the Bar in 1986.

The state Assembly is expected to meet on the recommendation on Tuesday.

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