Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Fighting Judge - Fit to Continue in Office?

The most sensational news last week in the Lagos State Judiciary was the physical confrontation between a Lagos High Court Judge, Titilola Ojikutu-Oshode, a sixty year old lady and Grace Ibukun Ibidapo a female Judicial assistant, who is in her early forties.

The said confrontation as correctly reported by the Squib took place at about 2.00 p.m. on Friday 26th October 2007 in the chambers of the judge.

When the news broke, it was too much for some people to believe. Such readers doubted the veracity of the story because it was simply unimaginable for these genteel folk that a judge of the high court would “for whatever reason” resort to physical altercation with her staff. Such readers believe that the story was pure fiction or a “gross exaggeration.” From such quarters, the editor-in-chief received queries of “were you there?”

To such enquirers, the Squib wishes to state emphatically that it stands by her story. In fact, contrary to assumption that “no judge will fight,” credible information to the Squib, courtesy of its surface-to-air geckos has it that the particular judge in question is prone to bouts of irritability and has a short-fuse temper as evidenced by the very high turn-over number of staff who she has had posted away from her office.

In an earlier situation with another member of her staff, the computer operator/typist, the honourable judge in a fit of temper had torn to shreds the typist’s “assessment form” given to the staff to fill by the Lagos State Judicial Service Commission.

The judge got mad with the typist because in the form the lady in the column requesting for information on challenges on her job had written innocently and sincerely that she had inadequate stationery to work with.
Upon reading this, the honourable judge, who like all her peers, receive two hundred thousand naira monthly from the National Judicial Service Commission as Court Room maintenance allowance, flared up and started shouting:

“stupid woman, do you want to implicate me?
How can you write this kind of nonsense?
So you want them to know there is no stationery here etc. etc.”
before furiously tearing the poor typist’s form to shreds. The poor intimidated little dear burst into tears at this frightening reaction from the judge.

At about 12.00p.m on Monday the 29th October 2007, the Squib saw Mrs. Grace Ibukun Ibidapo, the judicial assistant beaten up by Justice Titilola Ojikutu-Oshode in the outer office of the Chief Judge of Lagos State. Dressed in a rust gold coloured “up and down” gown, the lady, her neck wreathed with a ring of bandages, looked very inch a “Sister Lazarus.”

Though weak {ostensibly from her travails in the hands of her action-packed boss} her mission was obvious, to submit her petition against Justice Ojikutu-Oshode to Honourable Justice Adetula Alabi the Chief Judge. Eventually, when Mrs. Ibidapo gained audience with the Chief Judge, special duty geckos were also present. The geckos discovered that Ibidapo’s complaint was no longer news to the Chief Judge. This is because much earlier in the day, Justice Ojikutu-Oshode had hurried to see the Chief Judge in the office. Even at that early hour of the day {7.30a.m.-8.00a.m} when the two judges met, special duty geckos were also present and correctly reported that the Chief Judge was angry with Ojikutu-Oshode .J for getting involved in a fight with her staff. His Lordship hand bluntly told Ojikutu-Oshode .J that her ladyship’s claim that Ibidapo was the aggressor in the fight was not and could not be true.

“By your conduct, you have opened us{Lagos Judiciary} to ridicule” the disappointed and embarrassed Chief Judge told Justice Ojikutu Oshode.
Nevertheless at the end of the meeting, the Chief Judge resolved to bail his learned sister out of the embarrassing situation she had created for herself. Through tireless three-eared geckos, the Squib learnt that the first step taken by the Chief Judge was to get in contact with Honourable Justice Doris Okuwobi {who is said to be close to the assaulted judicial assistant} to prevail upon her ‘protegee’ to drop any and all her “battle plans” against Justice Ojikutu-Oshode. The second step was embarked upon when Grace Ibidapo was allowed to see the Chief Judge. After hearing out Ibidapo, the Chief Judge “passionately” appealed to her to drop all actions against Justice Ojikutu-Oshode especially petitions to the Lagos State Attorney-General and the National Judicial Commission and “allow me to deal with the matter.”

As at press time it would appear that the efforts of the Honourable Chief Judge had started yielding results. The ‘complainant’ to wit Grace Ibukun Ibidapo has not only refrained from sending any petitions to authorities outside the Lagos State Judiciary but has actually reached out to the Squib Magazine to ensure that no further publication on the scandal is made.

In appealing to the Squib, Ibidapo told a particular gecko that “Although I am grateful that the Squib publicised the story without being told by me but I don’t want any further publication on the matter because I am adopting a wait and see attitude. why I am adopting a wait- and -see attitude is because the Chief Judge has begged me passionately over the matter.”

The comfortability of Grace Ibidapo with the “let’s-settle-it-within-the-family” approach of the Chief Judge on her assault does not surprise some observers who know the woman.
When the news of the assault broke out, Barrister Dare Akande, a chieftain of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja branch and the national leader of the Progressive Bar Forum and who is the immediate past secretary of the Disciplinary Committee of the Ikeja Bar doubted whether Ibidapo would have the liver to see the matter through against her boss Ojikutu-Oshode .J Said Akande;

“Is this the first time that woman {Ibidapo} will be beaten up? When she was in private practice, she wrote a petition to us {the Disciplinary Committee} about her employer then, a male lawyer alleging assault. But you know she became so lukewarm about the whole complaint that it began to appear as if it was me, the Committee’s Secretary was the aggrieved and not Ibidapo, I won’t be surprised if she later denies ever being assaulted by the judge.”

However, it is the opinion in many quarters that the issue goes beyond the person of Grace Ibidapo. In such concerned quarters the two main questions are:

{a} Is it proper for a judicial officer to get involved in a physical fight, with his staff?
{b} Should any judge who has so engaged himself or herself in a brawl or fight be allowed to keep her appointment as a judge?

Reacting to the incident, a professor of Law, told the Squib that a judge who gets involved in physical fights is not fit to remain on the bench. Said the learned professor
“You see the cause of the fight between the judge and the judicial assistant is not important. And I don’t agree that a judge is wrong in asking her judicial assistant to write a judgment for her. It is done everywhere. Even in the United States, judicial assistants make out draft copies of judgment for their judges. What I am concerned about is that a judge actually physically fought. No matter the provocation a judge must never bring himself to such a debased level. If a judge does, he should be relieved of his post. He is not fit for a position as honourable as that of a judge.”

However, it is the common belief in the Lagos Judiciary that the case of the fighting judge will be swept under the carpet by the chief Judge, Alabi J, who is well known to be quite protective of his judges and magistrates no matter the severity of allegation of misconduct made against them.

Whether public opinion will be proved right in this case is a matter of time.

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