By Abdulwahab Abdulah
When he was sworn-in as a member of the Lagos State judiciary on May 24, 2001, he was not known as a fearless legal practitioner.
However, Justice Joseph Olubunmi Oyewole, who handed down a jail term Monday to top politician, Chief Olabode George and five others including the former Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Mr. Aminu Dabo, to many Nigerians has distinguished himself as a fearless and courageous judge.
For those who know him or had worked with him either as a student or as a lawyer, â€œhe is an upright person, straight-forward, strong-willed and incorruptible man.â€
Though, Chief Tunji Ayanlaja (SAN), who led other silks including aÂ former Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Dele Adesina (SAN), who represented George and his co-defendants to prove their innocence in the NPA scam case, did their best before Oyewole, he found them guilty of some of the offences, while exonerating them in others.
Justice OyewoleÂ attended the former University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State, in the early 80s. He is an indigene of Osun State.
One of those who knew him as a student of the then University of Ife is Mr. Lanre Arogundade, a frontline journalist and colleague in student activism at Ife.
Arogundade, in his testimonies about Oyewole, described him asÂ ”one of the most trusted radical student activists during his days at Ife.â€
A former editor with the Vanguard Newspapers andÂ former chairman, Lagos State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Arogundade, said: â€œI remember he ran for the presidency of the student union executive and lost. But, he was a member of the Students Representative Council (SRC).â€
Arogundade, who was president of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), in 1984, recalled that Oyewole was a dynamic member of the student union when the Buhari-Idiagbon junta in 1984 atteptedÂ to commercialise education.
He said: â€œDuring this period, Oyewole as a principal mobilising officer for NANS called on students to boycott classes.”
Shortly after he was appointed to the Bench, Oyewole was assigned to the criminal division of the Lagos State High Court where he had handled prominent cases.
He is one of the judges who handled EFCC’s cases.
Among the numerous cases Justice Oyewole has adjudicated is the EFCC versus Emmanuel Nwude and others including Mrs. Anajemba on the famous fraud on the Brazilian bank, defrauded to the tune of $264 million. He found them guilty of the offences.
Apart from sending them to jail, he ordered the forfeiture of their properties acquired illegally from the proceeds ofÂ the advance fee fraud.
Justice Oyewole also convicted the Pastor of the Christ Praying Assembly (CPA), Reverend Emeka Ezeugo, a.k.a. Rev King, for murder, sentenced him to death by hanging.
He also adjudicated on the case ofÂ attempted murder of Mr. Alex Ibru filed against Major Hamza Al-Mustapha and others. Though, he was unable to conclude the case, since one of the accused persons, retired Lieutenant-General Ishaya Bamaiyi, a former Chief of Army StaffÂ (COAS), opted for a separate trial before him.
Bamaiyi was eventually freed on technical grounds and for the failure of the state to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.
Oyewole also jailed an Ojota, Lagos-based Islamic cleric, Alfa Rasheed Yusuf and three of his accomplices â€”Morufu Olaleye, Musa Yusuf and Rafiu Ojesanmi.
They were sentenced to 120 years imprisonment each on 12-count charge bordering on conspiracy and obtaining money under false pretence.
He sentenced them to 10 years imprisonment on each count and ordered them to pay $138,495, 200 pounds and N2.714 million as restitution to the victim, one Mrs. Aderanti Kayode.
He is also presiding on cases bordering on advance fee fraud involving a Lagos lawyer, Mr. Fred Ajudua.
At present, the owner of the popular Waterparks Hotel, Opebi, Lagos, is before him answering charges of fraud and stealing of government documents, among others.
Oyewole was one of the nominees who were to be elevated to the Court of Appeal by the National Judicial Council until the exercise was put on hold by it.