VANGUARD (Back Issue)
By Owei Lakemfa
NO two other judges in Nigeria have stood and fought jointly for justice, including taking military dictatorship head-on, like Justices Yaya Abiodun Olatunde Jinadu and Isiaka Isola Oluwa. They believed that a judge should not only be upright and fearlessly dispense justice, but should not be answerable to administrative powers more so when there is an inherent right of appeal up to the Supreme Court.
They, therefore, did not hesitate on a number of occasions to jointly take on the Chief Judge of the Lagos State when they thought he erred. Both men had been fortified for the roles they came to play. Oluwa had attended the School of Agriculture, Samaru-Zaria and lectured in the University of Ibadan in 1949, and in his alma mata as well as worked as extension manager in the Zaria Province before going to read law at Lincoln’s Inn, London. He was called to the Bar in 1957 at 39.
So his was a change of profession and must have come at great cost with his having to start from the lower rungs of law at such an age. After practising law for 17 years in his Oluwa, Kotoye and Co, he took another fundamental step by moving to the bench following his appointment into the High Court on June 1, 1974. He was then 56.
As a judge, he was firm but even-handed and would not allow himself be pushed around by his seniors on the bench. Just one year on the bench, he was assigned what turned out to be his most famous case. It was that of rich industrialist and popular Lagos socialite, Alhaji Jimoh Isola, alias Ejigbadero. A very popular juju album had been waxed in Ejigbadero’s praise and he was etched in the popular consciousness of Lagosians and people in the Western part of the country. Justice Oluwa found him guilty and sentenced him to death for the murder of a poor farmer, Raji Oba over land disputes. Ejigbadero lost at the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court and was hanged in 1979.
In the case of Justice Jinadu, his biographer, Richard Akinnola wrote in his book: A Salute to Courage: The Story of Justice Yahaya Jinadu that: “His outlook and disposition on the Bench was a direct product of his orientation and background at the Methodist Boys’ High School (Lagos) where he imbibed the philosophy of not cringing or kow-towing to anybody for any favours or out of fear…”
Justices Oluwa and Jinadu working like a tag team in the judiciary, were a dynamo and they turned out to be the most effective defence of the judiciary when the military again seized power in 1983 and began issuing decrees ousting the jurisdiction of the courts.
The case in which Justice Jinadu, backed by Oluwa, stood up against Lagos State Chief Judge Adetunji Adefarasin, Chief Justice of the Federation, George Sowemimo and the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Chike Ofodile, had its roots in the January 24, 1983 NECOM House fire incident.
By the time the legal fires simmered down the following year, Justice Jinadu had pointedly ignored a decree which ousted the jurisdiction of the courts, de-robed State Counsel, Mr Moshood Adio in open court, found then Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Mr John Kenneth Odigie Oyegun, guilty of contempt, and had the then Supreme Military Council, SMC, headed by General Muhammadu Buhari seething to remove him from the judiciary.
In my March 23, 1989 review of this saga in the Vanguard Newspapers, I had written that this shameful case was actually the story of “…how the (Nigeria) judiciary and the bar conspired to sell a Joseph into the hands of political merchants in uniform”.
In the fire incident which engulfed the 37-storey building, over 600 persons were rescued but two lives were lost. However, the authorities were not satisfied with the performance of the Fire Service. So, 21 fire fighters, including the Chief Fire Officer of the Federation, Alhaji Adamu Akokhia and the Lagos Divisional Fire Officer, Mr. Seidu Garba were arrested for alleged murder. But they sued for the enforcement of their fundamental human rights and were released.
However, 28 days later, Akokhia and Garba were interdicted by their parent Ministry of Internal Affairs. They viewed this as extrajudicial, especially when the High Court had set them free on the same matter. So they returned to court. While his case was pending before Justice Jinadu, Garba was sacked.
Justice Jinadu declared the interdiction and sack of Garba null and void and ordered his reinstatement. But the Ministry refused to obey the court leading to a contempt charge against Permanent Secretary John Oyegun who studiously refused to appear in court.
The case was on when on June 27, 1984, the Buhari regime issued Decree No. 17 of 1984 ousting the jurisdiction of the courts on matters challenging government’s actions. Mr. Adio told the court that the new decree had made its proceedings a nullity. But Justice Jinadu retorted: “If a law says nobody should bear a child, then anyone pregnant should not bear the child. Is that not absurd?”
Justice Adefarasin ordered Jinadu to return the case file. When this became public, he denied any involvement and claimed Jinadu returned the file voluntarily. At this time, the latter was on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Justice Oluwa thought it was his duty to state the truth, which was that “the file was indeed withdrawn by Justice Adefarasin”.
On September 14, 1984, the Advisory Judicial Council, headed by Chief Justice Sowemimo reprimanded Justice Jinadu for de-robing State Counsel Adio and orderd him to apologise publicly to Justice Adefarasin.
However, Justice Jinadu opted to retire, stating: “I cannot be a part of this humiliation and disgrace to the judiciary.” Despite his notice of retirement, the Buhari regime in an apparent vindictive move, ordered Justice Jinadu to be retired immediately.
With this, the military regime conquered the judiciary to the extent that under the succeeding Babangida regime, a judged declared that the military leader is a “Kabiyesi’, inferring he is a god whose acts cannot be questioned. Justice Jinadu passed away on October 9, 2019, and Justice Oluwa on May 9, 2020, They were eulogised as heroes of the judiciary and champions of justice.
As for Oyegun, he went on to become governor of Edo State and later, teamed up with retired General Buhari and other progressives to form the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, with Oyegun as Chairman and Buhari becoming President of the country. Today, after his being shoved aside as APC National Chairman in July, 2018, Oyegun is fighting for democracy in Edo State on behalf of incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki. Ultimately, history will judge everyone.