In Defence Of Justice Oloyede Folahanmi

In a clime where uprightness and forthrightness are acceptable as ingredients for entrenching a virile system, the Osun State High Court judge, Honourable Justice Olamide Oloyede Folahanmi,who dared to challenge the abnormality and status quo inOsun State, ought to have been eulogised and rewarded with a medal for her courage to speak truth to the authorities at the expense of her losing her source of livelihood.

To be sure, a 39-page petition was written by Honourable Justice Oloyede against Governor Rauf Aregbesola and his deputy sometimes in June this year detailing how the duo allegedlymismanaged the resources of the state which has brought it to itsbankruptcy state. The judge accused the governor and hisdeputy of being insensitive to the plight of the people of the state, especially the civil servants and pensioneers.

She was of the strongview thatcertainly something must have gone awry in a state once taunted as one of the best performing states in the country to suddenly become an object of caricature and battling to meet up its fiscal responsibility. Consequently, the judge urged the state House of Assembly to investigate thepetitionwith the aim of removing the governor and his deputy from office if found wanting.

Justice Oloyede had anchored her action on the following lines in the controversial petition ;

"I am propelled by the desire to see the pains of my fellow human beings ameliorated and to possibly, help take away the reproach of our state as ‘A bankrupt’ and ‘A failed state’ and the desire to join hands with other like minds to help salvage the sinking ship of Osun State.

"This petition is presented with a deep sense of responsibility and sincerity of purpose, due to my conviction in the sanctity of ‘truth’ and in ‘the Rule of Law” as the bases for promoting the ideals and the attainment of “good governance and the welfare of all persons in our country, on the principles of freedom, equality and justice as enunciated at the Stockholm Conference (1942), a principle which finds expression in the preamble to our Constitution, and which I believe is a fundamental pre-condition to the establishment and sustenance of our collective dream of an “egalitarian society” as promised by Osun State’s anthem, as well as the basis for harmony, universal brotherhood and world peace."

Quite expectedly, the judge has been receiving bashes and all manner of tantrums from the members of the public, particularly thelegal practitioners, who are ofthe view that the judge went beyond her professional boundaries. Following inthe trend, is the state House of Assembly which hassince dismissed the petition in a manner typical of rubber stamp of the Nigerian stateexecutive arm, called state Houses of Assembly. Instead, it recommended the discipline of the embattled judge.

Similarly, two learned and respected lawyers, ChiefFolake Solanke (SAN) and Prof Itse Sagay (SAN),have joined thecall for the sanction of the judge for what they describedthejudge's "open display of indiscipline and crass irresponsibility". It is very unfortunate that this judicialamazon has been demonized and disparaged in this manner.

It is instructive that her critics have chosen to blind their eyes to the substance of the allegations. Clearly,from the barrage ofcriticisms trailing the petition, one thing stands out : Justice Oloyede's only 'sin' is not becausethe contents of her petitionare not meritorious or without substance, but simply because she is a judge who is supposed to be "seen and not heard ''. Nothing could be more preposterous than this. Unfortunately, Justice Oloyede's critics have failed or deliberately refused to realise that the situation in Osun State at material time was abnormal and requiredsimilar approach to address it.

Pray, how doesone explaina situation where the state was shut down for months over the non payment of workers and pensioners in the state for close to a year, without the governor and the members of the House of Assembly budging an eye lid? Put in another perspective, which is better ; to play an ostrich and pretend that all is well with the embattled state becausethere isa code of etiquette somewhere that prohibits a judge from speaking in public or to speak out against the abnormality and save thestate from precipice?

Again, the argument that the judge ought not to havedabbled into the matter because of the nature of her job is feeble and does not fly. While it can easily be conceded that the code of conduct for judicial officers in Nigeria forbids a judge from making political comments or taking position in public discourse while still serving asa judge, it must be stated that the same code cannot diminish a judge right to freedom of speech and expression as a citizen of the Nigeria. Justice Oloyede's action finds itssemblance in thefamousexpression by one of the greatest jurists ever lived in this planet, Lord Denning, who, when faced with almost a similar circumstance, posited thus;

"Unlike my brother judge here, who is concerned with law, I am concerned with justice. What is the argument on the other side? Only this, that no case has been found in which it has been done before. That argument does not appeal to me in the least.

If we never do anything which has not been done before, we shall never get anywhere. The law will stand still while the rest of the world goes on, and that will be bad for both".

Like Lord Denning, I'm also of unequivocal view that we cannot continue to fold our hands in helplessness over situations that require ourintervention simply on the ground that such step had neverbeen taken in the past. Attitude such as this will continue to confine us and our system into a perpetuity of slavery and underdevelopment. Laws and rules are made for man and not the other way round. We cannot crucify Justice Oloyede for choosing to disentangle herself and Osun State from the web of inhumane rules and falsehood that have brought the system to its kneels. To do otherwise is to return back to the era of impunity andunpleasant status quo, which the "change"mantra being intiatedby the new government promises to depart.

Truth is; the system needs more of Justice Oloyede who will speak bleeding truth to the authorities regardless of any personal gain or consequence. We cannot continue to dwell in sophistry and psycphancywhile our system continuesto rot away. Osun State needs more of Justice Oloyede Folahanmito redeem it from further drift. Other judicial officers and publicservants should borrow a leaf from this 'judicial activist'.

Without doubt, Justice Oloyede has put her job on the line by this action. However, it should be stated that her actionshall remain indelible in our archive and memories. And, perhaps, whenever the story of Nigeria'sjudicial activism and fight for what is just arerecounted, Justice Oloyede's name will sure take a centre spotin the book.

Okoro Gabriel, Esq writes from Lagos.

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Articles by Okoro Gabriel Bryne