OPINION: Of NJC, JUSUN And Osun Chief Judge | By Israel Erasmus

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Impartial watchers of Osun judicial space must be having an interesting manifestation of facts and reality of recent controversies. The public now knows the real issue. The masquerade is unveiled. The real actors now are the judicial workers who petitioned the Chief Judge before the ubiquitous National Judicial Council.

Those initial figures and institutions such as the State Governor, Ademola Adeleke and the State House of Assembly are now out of the picture. Beyond exposing corruption , the House of Assembly has stepped aside. The Governor beside forwarding the House resolution to the NJC has taken the back seat. Those fringe actors have left the limelight for the real dramatis personae.

The nation now focuses on the petitioners , the Judicial Workers Union, which listed several grievous violations and infractions against the Chief judge. The workers picketed the Chief Judge’s office, setting off a chain reaction. According to Gbenga Eludire, chairman of the union, the protest was to express dissatisfaction with Oyebola Ojo, the Chief Judge, and how the judicial affairs in the state are being handled.

The protesters raised placards with inscriptions such as “judiciary staff deserves better”, “we are tired of oppression and stagnation”, “unlawful suspension of judiciary staff without recourse to Judicial Service Commission is barbaric”, among others.

Speaking with journalists, Eludire accused Ojo of suspending workers without following due process, owing allowances and refusing to send workers for statutory training. “Before now, we have adopted several approaches to at least mend the situation for the chief judge to do the needful. But we are left with no other option than to picket her office so that we can amplify our voices for the world to hear about what we are going through as workers in the temple of justice.

One of the reasons why we are here today to picket the office of the CJ is that some of our members have been suspended for more than three years, running to about 59 months now. Why should that be? Even without any recourse to the Judicial Service Commission. Ordinarily, the rule says that for any senior officer to be sanctioned or to be punished, such an officer must pass through an investigation by the Judicial Service Commission. But in our own case, it was a unilateral decision of the CJ and it is against the ethics of our job and it is even against the employer and employee bargaining system.

“Many of these people were arraigned before the chief magistrate court and they were vindicated, but I must tell you even after that, the CJ insisted that her will must be done and we don’t know to what extent. Judiciary staff are not slaves, we are even called the engine room of the court. How practicable is this? We need to check the excesses of our honourable CJ and that is why we have come out.

“Besides that, we realise there are some other benefits that were to be accorded to judiciary workers but up till now we have not seen anything. We have consulted and we have even approached our CJ on several occasions to plead on behalf of our members because it is our duty to safeguard and protect the interests of all our members. They are all financial members and we must have their interest. We have done this on several occasions discussing with our CJ but it appeared she is not ready to recognise or even reckon with what we are demanding from her”, the Union leader narrated

Much more serious is the resolution of the assembly on the report of its judicial committee. It was quite damning on the person of the Chief Judge: “That the Executive Governor of Our State being the Chief Executive and the father of all should with immediate effect ensure that the perpetual economic torture being experienced by the said five staff of High Court be brought to an end now. Thus, as a measure to rehabilitate them economically, the Governor is to ensure that each and every one of them begins to receive his or her salary as from this November, 2023 even if it requires that the State Government will immediately transfer their services from High Court to Customary Court of Appeal or any other Agency of the Government in order to bring this economic torture to an immediate end.

“In addition to above and in view of the fact that the salaries of three out of the five staff have been diverted for 57 months and the remaining two staff for 46 months at the instance of the Hon. Chief Judge, the House urges the Governor with immediate effect to assist these five staff by directing the payment of all or part of their salaries for the concerned months, pending the conclusion of the investigation of the NJC; that this House which uncovered all these facts should equally cause the Honourable Speaker to write a Petition to NJC on all the misconducts of the Honourable Chief Judge.

“That in view of the facts that some Associations and purported Civil Organisations are deliberately playing politics with this grave matter; this Honourable House has specifically resolved that any Organisation that is interested in having its findings, reports and the said petitions is free to apply for certified true copies of the reports including all the documents obtained in the course of the Committee’s sittings;  that the State Government should with immediate effect stop the consultant in charge of e-affidavit at the State High Court, and take further steps to see that all revenues being generated in respect of e-affidavit go directly to the account of the State Government.

“That in view of the fact that an effective Library is vital to effective administration of justice and in view of the fact that Honourable Chief Judge has abandoned purchase of law reports/books (except newspapers) into the Library since 2015 notwithstanding that the State Government is making available the sum of N1 million for  the purchase of books in the High Court monthly running cost, the State Government is hereby advised to immediately take steps to stock the Library and upgrade its facilities pending the investigation, by the National Judicial Council, of the allegation of diversion of Library funds by the Honourable Chief Judge.

“That in view of the finding of fact that the Honourable Chief Judge is not expending the four million naira monthly security cost being provided by the State Government on the security of the High court, the House advised that the State Government should suspend forthwith the payment of the said sum of #4m as monthly security cost to the High Court pending the conclusion of investigation by the National Judicial Council. However, the State Government shall do everything within its powers to provide adequate security for the High Court in the State.

“That the sum of #3.6m monthly which the High Court of Justice under the watch of the Chief Judge is collecting for uniforms and clothing is obviously not being expended on any uniforms and clothing, hence, the State Government is hereby advised to suspend it forthwith pending the conclusion of investigation by the National Judicial Council”, the report concluded.

At a time the House was submitting its report to the Governor, the national body of judicial workers entered the fray, chiding its state chapter for protesting against the Chief Judge, assuming the labour action was politically motivated. On visiting Osun, the national body was rattled with the weight of evidence submitted by its members against the Chief Judge. At the end of a 48 hour visitation, the national body sustained the action of the state chapter, backing the union demands. JUSUN national body even extended the tenure of the local exco to pursue industrial action.

The lone body external to all these rigmarole is the National Judicial Council, the only body with constitutional mandate to try a top judicial officer. The NJC has a tough case at hand. Stripped of any political colouration, there are petitions from judicial workers against a Chief Judge they accused of maltreating and economically strangulating them. This is a rare form of petition -it is judicial versus judicial team.

The NJC is thus likely to be in a tight corner. The petitions cannot be thrown away or ignored on whatever ground. The reason-the petitions had to do with the engine room of the judiciary, the judicial workers. Secondly, the evidence is too weighty and documented to be ignored. Inaction on the petitions by the NJC may actually imply permanent shut down of judiciary in the state considering the depth of the alleged rot and complete lack of support for the CJ within the rank and file of the state judiciary.

● Israel Erasmus writes from Gwarinpa Abuja

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