5th March, 2008 is not a day Honourable Justice Benedicta Oluranti Shitta-Bey of the Lagos High Court can easily forget. It was a rather unusual day for the honourable judge as there was a serious attempt at ruffling the dignified feathers of the lord temporal, this, in his lordship’s very court.
One of the cases before the honourable judge on the 5th March was Charge No. LCD/133/02 State Vs Haruna Muraino and Ors. The matter was for continuation of trial of the accused persons to wit: Haruna Muraino, Femi Omolewa, Habeeb Fasasi and Saidi Oyelekan on a charge of armed robbery.
As at 5th March, 2008, the prosecution had long closed their case and the accused were in the middle of their defence. When the 1st accused person was called upon to make his defence, there was no problem, he did. But when it came to the turn of the 2nd accused person, progress in the case halted as the 2nd accused started manifesting signs of lunacy.
Keen followers of the case claim that it was sometimes early 2007 that Femi Omolewa the 2nd accused person started to show signs that his mental health was deteriorating.
By November, 2007, the only tangible progress that could be said to have been made in the case was the production of a medical report that stated that though the 2nd accused, Femi Omolewa talks coherently occasionally his case disclosed that he suffers from “acute mania and psychosis.” The report was signed by one Doctor Nebo K. G, Superintendent of Prisons. Consequent upon the report, Omolewa’s lawyer prepared an application for his bail and for the 3rd and 4th accused persons as well. The first accused was not included in the application, he having already being released from custody by the Chief Judge of Lagos State during a prison visit by His Lordship.
The defence counsel, who had prepared himself ready for the moving of the bail application had his work made easier by the dramatic, if scary actions of the 2nd accused person in court.
Suddenly in the solemn and mellow environment of the court was heard, a loud, bellowing sound. It came from Femi Omolewa, startling everything including the judge and some geckos on their invisible perch. But more vigorous drama was on the way. When Omolewa’s case was called, he and the other accused persons stood up and left their place for the dock. But instead of walking into dock as usual, Omolewa, charged towards a much bewildered Justice Shitta-Bey, excitedly at the honourable judge while shouting:
“You want to suck my blood!
You want to suck my blood!
Immediately, commotion overtook the whole court as the judge hurriedly called upon his orderly for protection and for the timely restraint of the accused person, who was promptly taken out of the court room. Moments after being taken out of the court room, Omolewa was seen half naked (only his trousers was on) lustily smoking a stick of cigarette. While Omolewa was “cooling down” outside the court room, his lawyer successfully moved the application for the bail of all the accused persons. The application was quickly and comprehensively granted, despite the opposition of the prosecution to the grant of bail to the 3rd and 4th accused who have no mental health challenge.
From all indications, Omolewa’s mental health might have become impaired due to long incarceration in prison. Arrested in June 2001 with all the other accused persons, it was only in March 2004 that the accused persons were arraigned before Honourable Justice Shitta-Bey. Unfortunately, it has become a strong tradition in the Lagos State judiciary for criminal cases especially of ordinary and common folks not to be determined quickly. A major cause of this sad situation is the attitude of judges of the Criminal Division to continue granting adjournments of trial at the instance of prosecution, even in the most glaring instances of lack of prosecution witnesses. To compliment this judicial attitude of “accused-persons-are-presumed-guilty-until the-contrary-is proved” only a few accused persons standing trial for crimes of armed robbery, robbery and murder in Lagos State are lucky to get bail even where prosecution has stalled trial for several months, even years, for lack of witnesses.In one word, administration of criminal justice in Lagos State is invariably slow, sometimes maddeningly too slow, for the victims of this ‘slow-coach judicial system – to bear with equanimity, leading to incidences like the ugly show of Femi Omolewa in Justice Shitta-Bey’s court on the 5th of March 2008.
JUDGE CHEATS CAESAR
Give unto Caesar
What is Caesar’s
And unto God
What is God’s
This admonition of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the scriptures is well known and not only among adherents of the Christian religion. Ironically, this admonition given by the founder
of the Christian faith, to correct those who wanted to escape their civic responsibility, hiding under the cloak of religiousity or piety, was brazenly rejected and thrown to the dogs on Wednesday 12th March, 2008 by no less a person than a High Court Judge - honourable Justice Oyindamola Deborah Oluwayemi of the Lagos High Court.
How did it happen? On the said 12th March, 2008, no less than about forty people turned up in the honourable Judge’s court. They were made up of lawyers, accused persons, warders all ready for the business of the day. The cause list of the day showed that the court had about thirteen cases to attend to. Unfortunately, no business took place in the court that day, yet all the officials of the court came to work, at least ostensibly so.
At first, those in the court room did not know it was going to be a long, wasted day for them. Even when it was 10.00a.m., it never occurred to them that, they would achieve nothing. At about 10.30a.m, the court crowd, which had became worried a bit, became more perplexed when loud sounds clearly indicating that a fervent full-blown Christian Pentecostal worship had commenced inside the chambers of the honourable presiding judge,floated into the court room. As usual with christian pentecostal services, the session was loud and vigorous. Prayers of deliverance, of intercession of intervention were freely offered, invocations followed exhortations amidst emphatic assertions and declarations of halleluyahs and amens! That the honourable judge was in attendance was not in doubt, her ladyship’s mellifluous voice carried out from her chambers chapel to the court room. As the service progressed, even resident geckos, mercifully invisible in their perches, in nooks and crannies of Justice Oluwayemi’s court, became groggy with the fumes of the fervent prayers. At a point, so said the geckos, the atmosphere appeared thick with the “spirit” and some of the accused persons were seen looking hopefully towards the direction of the prayer-house thinking that perhaps their hour of deliverance had come.
Alas, it was a vain hope. Equally vain was the hope that the court would sit that day. Around 12.30p.m., it appeared that the worship session was rounding up. By that time, the lawyers present in court were clearly fed up, particularly so because, up till that time, there was no registrar or any other official of the court that came round to pass any information. They and their various clients were held down in the court, completely bereft of information about the direction of the court. At about 12.45p.m., tight lipped registrars came into the court with the curt news that the court “will still sit.”
As if to confirm the information, the registrars brought in case files. This act encouraged counsel and their clients, some of them who had been in prison custody for years to believe that some progress would still be made in their respective matters on that day.
However, when it was 2.00p.m., the registrars, without ceremony, though looking a bit shame-faced, started giving new hearing dates to the various cases.
One by one as the disappointed crowd of justice seekers walked forlornly out of the courtroom, a gecko who was sent to monitor their exit and record how many of them left with any gladness of heart or prayers for the court, was almost roasted with the intense heat emanating from the people especially the accused persons.
Instead of prayers, what the gecko heard was curses and imprecations. Nobody laughed or smiled, it was moans and hisses galore. And the geckos could not blame them because the time the presiding judge should have used to mete out justice to the poor souls had been used by the honourable judge to serve her own God on prayers and supplications!
BAR AND BENCH NEWS
GHOST PETITIONER SENDS JUDICIARY STAFF PACKING
The following Lagos State Judiciary workers Yinka Idowu (Judicial Assistant), Ade Falade (Court Recorder), Lanre Okunnu (Senior Registrar), Faleti Adeyemi (Assistant Registrar), Remi Ige (Typist), Christy Ololo (Secretary) and Shehu Iginla (Computer Operator) have, or had one thing in common - all of them up till the 12th March, 2008 were the supporting staff of Honourable Justice Iyabo Kasali of the Lagos High Court.
Another fact bind them together, that is their ‘joint and several” suspension from duty for two weeks without pay, effective from 13th of March, 2008. The travails of the workers was triggered off by a petition directed to the honourable judge I. O Kasali, dated 7/03/2008 and signed by one Dele Ajewole Esq. of the Dele Ajewole & Co Chambers with office said to be at Plot 114, Adetokunbo Ademola Street, Victoria Island, Lagos. In the said petition, the petitioner alleged that the registrars of the court were fond of demanding various sums of money ranging from N5,000 - N15,000.00 for processing applications asking for rulings, orders and judgements of the court. See Bar and Bench News Exhibit I. From all indications, honourable Justice Kasali did not waste much time in passing the petition to higher authorities, this after a small meeting with all her staff members where Her ladyship showed the petition to them.
On Wednesday the 12th March, 2008, the staff members of Justice Kasali’s court received two letters from the authorities at the same time. One was a letter of Query, with a copy of the petition as an attachment. The other was a letter of suspension from duty without pay for two weeks. See Bar and Bench News Exhibit 2.
According to the letter of suspension, the affected workers earned the punishment because “there had been several complaints against you regarding your conduct in the discharge of your official duties and that your performance has been grossly inadequate……. and there has been no improvement.” See Bar and Bench News Exhibit 3.
Squib investigations indicate that there may be more to this development than meets the eye. While it is known that corruption in the form of demand for bribery and sometimes outright extortion is rife among various layers of judiciary staff, it appears that the suspended workers may be targets of high level victimisation, and for some of them, outright objects of the application of instituted administrative policy of ‘scapegoatism.’
For one, the letter of query on the staff members strongly suggest that the administration, even as early as it is, and with no or scant investigation has already adjudged the workers guilty of the allegations contained in Dele Ajewole’s letter. See paragraph 2 of the query.
Another issue is that the letter of suspension of the staff looks too coincidental with the arrival of the letter of query to be innocent.
When the Squib got wind of this story, it decided to reach the petitioner to have a fuller picture of his allegations which were rather vague and generalised in his petition.
Unfortunately, all efforts to trace Dele Ajewole Esq. proved abortive. First, the GSM phone number left - 08030506999, despite several calls day and night never went through. Secondly, the address of the petitioner, to wit: Plot 114, Adetokunbo Ademola Street, Victoria Island is non-existent, except on the face of the petition.
For two hours on Thursday the 14th March, 2008 Squib Land Trackers even with the aid of “Okada” riders and Squib intergalactic radar beam simply could not locate the address for the simple reason that it never existed.
Much more worrisome is the discovery by the Squib via internet service that there is no Nigerian lawyer known and called Dele Ajewole. A diligent search of the website of the Nigerian Bar Association which listed lawyers from 1887 till 2007 indicated only the following Ajewoles as lawyers:
S.C.N NO. PRACTITONER NAME YEAR OF CALL
034486 AJEWOLE, ADEBAYO 1974
0367751 AJEWOLE, JOHN OLORUNDARE 1983
023842 AJEWOLE, SULAIMON AJENIYI 1989
023175 AJEWOLE, JOHN OLORUNDARE 1990
0404338 AJEWOLE, OYEWOLE 2004
050975 AJEWOLE, EZEKIEL OLANREWAJU 2006
….. AJEWOLE, GABRIEL OLUSAYO 2007
In the light of these findings, this magazine wonders at the credibility or merit of the petition against the affected workers! And if there is no real or actual accuser against an accused person, how will the accusation be proved? By proxy? By mere suspicion? By rumour mongering? The ball is in the court of the Lagos State Judiciary to do what is right and just in this case.