Law News
Ekiti CJ and the burden of decision

In recent times, political situations in Ekiti State, where Justice Ayodeji Daramola is the Chief Judge, have put the judiciary to task more than anywhere else in the country. Last year September, the Ekiti State High Court under Daramola’s watch came under attack by political thugs. The incident, wherein one of the high court judges, Justice John Adeyeye, was beaten up, with his suit torn into shreds and even Daramola’s record books torn by irate political thugs, forced the Ekiti CJ to shut down the courts indefinitely.

This time around, the bulk in the current political crisis rocking the Ekiti State House of Assembly and indeed the entire state, seems to have now stopped at Daramola’s table, who is expected to wade in and douse the political tension in the state, where one person has already been killed.

True to the saying that the judiciary is the stabilising force of the society, where even the politicians bring themselves after causing chaos in the polity, the Ekiti judiciary under Daramola is now being looked upon.

The CJ is currently torn between two conflicting directives emanating from the Ekiti State House of Assembly that has broken down into two antagonistic factions, each striving for recognition and claiming supremacy.

Rising from a parallel sitting held outside the legislative chambers on April 9, the All Progressives Congress faction of the House, comprising 19 lawmakers, wrote to the CJ, demanding that an investigative panel be set up to probe the Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose and his deputy, Kolapo Olusola, on alleged impeachable offences.

The following day, being April 10, 2015, in reaction to the APC lawmakers, the seven Peoples Democratic Party members of the House, at a parallel press briefing, said they had also written to the CJ asking him to ignore the directive to constitute an investigative panel to probe Fayose.

All eyes were on the CJ, who was given only seven days to make a decision.

But it’s been more than seven days and Daramola’s voice has not been heard.

One had waited to see whether the CJ would accede to the request of the 19 APC lawmakers led by the “impeached Speaker,” Adewale Omirin or listen to the seven PDP lawmakers led by Dele Olugbemi, who claimed to be the legitimate Speaker of the House?

One had waited for what the reasoning of the CJ would be regarding the validity of the April 9 sitting of the 19 APC lawmakers, held not in the hallowed chambers but at the Mary Hills Boys’ High School, Ado Ekiti, where the resolution for investigative panel was reached?

The seven days has gone but there is no indication that the APC lawmakers have jettisoned the impeachment move.

For the second time, last week Thursday, a Federal High Court in Abuja turned down an ex parte application by Fayose to stop the impeachment proceedings.

Daramola, however, may have taken a decision – not to constitute the requested panel – perhaps having gauged the pulse of the polity.

It is instructive that every attempt by the APC lawmakers to proceed with their impeachment plot against Fayose, whose victory in the June 2014 election was only last week upheld by the Supreme Court, had sparked off wide protests in the state.

Only last Friday, activities in the entire Ado Ekiti, capital of Ekiti State, were grounded by protesting labour unions in solidarity with the governor.

There have been strong voices from different quarters in the state condemning the impeachment move. Of such was the Ekiti Justice Group, which did not only petition the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, to prevail upon Daramola but also admonished the CJ “not to allow himself to be dragged into any illegality and the murky waters of politics,” by setting up the requested investigative panel.

Trouble had started on November 20, 2014, when the seven PDP members of the House held parallel proceedings and impeached Omirin and Adetunji Orisalade of the opposition APC as the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House respectively.

The Ekiti legislature had since then been presided by Olugbemi and Olayinka Abeni, who assumed the leadership of the House as Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively in the wake of Omirin and Orisalade’s purported removal.

The 26-member House of Assembly had since then carried on with only the seven PDP members, executing legislative duties, including screening three commissioners for appointment by Governor Fayose, after the APC lawmakers, alleging threat to life, fled the state.

While on exile, the APC lawmakers were before a Federal High Court in Lagos challenging the propriety or legality of Omirin and Orisalade’s impeachment by the seven PDP lawmakers.

But on April 7, the APC lawmakers, through their counsel, Mr. Norrison Quakers (SAN), filed a notice to discontinue the case.

Though, no reason was exhibited in the notice of discontinuance of the suit, the action followed argument by Fayose that Omirin and Orisalade lacked the locus standi to commence impeachment proceedings against him, since they had been impeached and were currently challenging their impeachment in court.

Saidu has reserved ruling on the application till May 7.

Peace seemed to have taken flight from Ekiti since the Independent National Electoral Commission declared the APC presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, winner of the March 28, 2015 presidential poll.

In a statement on April 1, the Ekiti APC had called on the 19 fleeing lawmakers to return to the state, saying with Buhari’s victory, sanity had returned to the state.

The statement by the APC publicity secretary in Ekiti, Taiwo Olatubosun, said, “Buhari’s victory marks the beginning of sanity in the polity wracked by lawlessness, corruption and impunity. All democratic institutions will operate unfettered within the ambit of the law.

“On this note, we urge our 19 members in the House of Assembly to return to work immediately and take control of the affairs because a new era of law and order has returned.”

However, attempt by the APC lawmakers to resume at the legislative chambers on April 7, was resisted by political thugs, who allegedly mounted roadblocks and waylaid them.

Later on April 9, the Majority Leader, Churchill Adedipe, reportedly cited the April 7 attack as the reason for the shifting of the House “special proceeding” to the Mary Hills Boys’ High School, Ado Ekiti.

The APC lawmakers had reportedly said they were empowered by Section 101 of the Constitution to regulate their sittings, including sitting in a public building within the state capital if their lives were not safe.

But Olugbemi, who the PDP lawmakers recognise as the bonafide Speaker of the House, said Omirin, who issued the directive to set up an investigative panel against the governor, was an impostor and should not be taken serious because he was already impeached.

A retired judge of the Lagos State High Court bench, (names withheld), when asked which direction he thought the Ekiti CJ would have moved, said there were yet many unanswered questions for him to be able to state the position of the law.

“I don’t think I can take a proper position on this thing because I don’t know the status quo of some of the actors in the state. The 19 lawmakers, why have they not been sitting? I don’t know. Did they withdraw voluntarily and what has happened consequently? There are too many things that I do not know,’ said the retired judge.

It was the same response that the question elicited from Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN).

While leaving the Ekiti CJ to his decision, Agbakoba, however maintained that going by several court pronouncements, no impeachment is deemed procedural unless backed by two-thirds of the House population.

Agbakoba said, “It is difficult for me to make a comment on Ekiti situation, because I cannot tell the composition and the due process issues in respect of what is happening in Ekiti. My only answer will be that whatever they are doing must be subject to the due process; and generally in Nigeria, impeachment has always been highly political.

“The common pattern is that there is a division in the House. The three examples you can point to are the (Joshua) Dariye case, who was impeached by less than two-thirds of the House; the (Rashidi) Ladoja example and the Peter Obi example.And if you remember, the court overturned all the impeachments.”

Confronted with the same question, a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Wahab Shittu, asked whether the APC lawmakers sat within the legislative chambers when they passed the resolution to the effect that the CJ should set up the investigative panel.

“What I found curious is why the lawmakers were denied access to the legislative chambers. I must say that it was an illegality when they were denied access to the House. But where did they pass the resolution authorising the Chief Judge to set up a panel? Certainly not within the legislative chambers and if it was done outside the legislative premises, that cannot be said to be compliant with the constitutional provisions under Section 188 of the Constitution. The Constitution envisages that all proceedings relating to impeachment must be carried out within the legislative chambers.

“What I see generally as regards the Ekiti State House of Assembly imbroglio is that both sides appear not to be following the Constitution in carrying out what is otherwise a constitutional matter.”

But a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who craved anonymity, thinks that answer to the question of which way the Ekiti CJ would have tilted was not far-fetched.

As far as the SAN is concerned, democracy is built on the strength of the majority and the 19 lawmakers rather than the seven should be obliged.

“The faction that the Chief Judge should listen to is the 19, because you cannot have a situation where seven would be a greater number over 19. It is mathematically incorrect. The group of 19 is the only group constitutionally empowered because if they talk of two-thirds of 26, how many would that be? They are therefore in a position to commence impeachment process against the governor and dispatch letter to the Chief Judge.”

He also argued that the sitting of the 19 lawmakers outside the hallowed chambers was valid.

He said, “If all the variables are in place, wherever they sit to carry out legislative functions, insofar as it is a public place, they are constitutionally backed to do what they have done.

“They claimed that they sat in a public place, I am not privy to that, but if they did, the court in the case of Inakoju and Adeleke has said that legislative chambers does not necessarily mean a building, it is the legislators that make up what it is. But they cannot sit, for instance, in a hotel, they cannot sit in a church; it has to be a public place,” the source argued.

He, however, added that for the sitting in the public place to be deemed valid, the mace must be present and the clerk of the House must be carried along.

For Mr. Fred Agbaje, a Lagos-based lawyer, the impeachment of Omirin and Orisalade by seven members of the House was an illegality. Agbaje said the PDP lawmakers have no legal foundation to make any decision for the majority. He described the activities of the seven PDP lawmakers as political “gangsterism.”

He said, “It is only in Nigeria’s political development that you can have the type of shenanigan that is taking place in Ekiti State. Democracy is simply about the will of the majority. It is ironical that in Nigeria, despite the achievement and success of the last 16 years, we still allow ourselves to be ruled by the minority.

“When you read so many highly thought-provoking cases bordering on impeachment proceedings starting with the (Rashidi) Ladoja’s case, where the Court of Appeal decision was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court, you will realise that the era of gangsterism under the guise of impeachment is gone. And in the other subsequent cases that followed, the appellate court has consistently decried the idea of the minority wielding their power to push the majority away because they are being supported by the executive. I have never seen a situation where the tail wags the dog; it is the dog that wags the tail.”

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