By Gbenga Ariyibi & Dapo Akinrefon
Ado-Ekiti—The sanctity of the judicial arm of government was violated, yesterday, as political thugs invaded the Ekiti State High Court premises, beating up a high court judge and tearing his suit.
This prompted the Chief Judge, Justice A.S. Daramola to order immediate closure of all courts in Ekiti State until adequate security has been put in place. The assault was said to have taken place at the hearing of an application filed by Ekiti State wing of All Progressives Congress, APC, seeking nullification of the election that produced the governor-elect, Mr Ayo Fayose.
Chief Registrar of the court, Obafemi Fasanmi in a statement issued, yesterday, narrating what transpired in court, said even the court room of the Chief Judge was not spared in the orgy of assault and destruction by the thugs.
The statement read: “The Chief Judge of Ekiti State, Hon Justice A S Daramola has ordered the immediate closure of all state courts in Ekiti State.
“The Chief Judge has noted with increasing concern, the spate of attacks perpetrated by political thugs and their persistent presence in the premises of the High Court, Ado Ekiti in the past few days. It would be recalled that on Monday, September 22, some political thugs invaded the High Court No 6 where Hon Justice O. I. O. Ogunyemi was presiding. His sitting for that day was disrupted and aborted and the Hon Judge had to be ferried away by a detachment of police officers after he had been harassed and chased around his office by these political thugs.
“Again today, Thursday, September 25, another set of political thugs came in their hundreds and invaded the High court premises in Ado-Ekiti and in the process assaulted Hon Justice J. O .Adeyeye of the High Court No 3 in Ado-Ekiti, beating him up and tearing his suit into shreds while the police officers on guard looked unconcerned and uninterested as judges, magistrates and other members of staff had to run for their dear lives. The courts’ properties were either damaged or completely destroyed.
“The court room of the Hon Chief Judge was not spared in the orgy of assault and destruction as members of staff attached to his office were beaten up and his court record book torn into pieces by these political thugs who also invaded and disrupted proceedings at the Election Petition Tribunal within the High Court premises in Ado-Ekiti.
“A date for re-opening of the courts shall be announced as soon as adequate and effective security of our judges, magistrates, members of the bar, members of staff of the judiciary and other court users is assured and put in place”.
Why I was in court — Fayose
In his reaction to the fracas, the Governor-Elect, Mr Fayose said he was in the court premises as a respondent in a petition filed before the election petition tribunal that commenced yesterday.
He said: “I was in court before the election petition tribunal; when l arrived the court, I went straight to the venue of election petition tribunal with a sizeable number of aides. The moment I noticed that the place was becoming uncontrollable, I immediately went back to my office. I did not meet any other judge except the three Justices who are members of the tribunal.”
The Ekiti State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Wale Fapohunda in his reaction blamed the Governor-elect, Mr Ayo Fayose for the assault, saying he was accompanied to the court premises by a retinue of political thugs. The AG alleged that the thugs were very unruly in their behavior, as they assaulted one of the judges in the court.
When asked whether he saw or had been able to speak with the judge who was assaulted, Fapohunda said he neither saw not spoke with the judge, saying “a person in that type of condition would be naturally traumatized, his phone has been switched off”.
Thugs invade election tribunal
In spite of the alleged unruly behaviour displayed by the political thugs, the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sat and commenced hearing on the petition.
At yesterday’s sitting which was personally attended by the first respondent, Mr Fayose, all the parties to the suit agreed that the applications should be consolidated for hearing.
It took the security operatives led by the state police commissioner, Mr Taiwo Lakanu a hectic time to control the crowd as they made unprintable remarks against their opponents.
Lakanu also led his men to escort the judges and lawyers out of the court premises, especially where the tribunal was sitting. He said: “It is our duty to maintain law and order and I had to leave my office to ensure that this is achieved.”
Some of the political thugs and hoodlums who had found their way inside the court-room almost became violent after the tribunal had adjourned for a short period to deliver a ruling on the scheduling order of the petition.
They did not spare the legal practitioners who had represented various parties at the tribunal as they shouted them down at intervals.
Members of the tribunal, who had scheduled 12 noon for the ruling, rescheduled the ruling and took their seats at 11:15, when the police began to chase away the thugs using tear gas.
When the court premises became charged, the Governor-elect, Mr Fayose decided to leave, while some of his supporters stayed behind.
Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, representing Governor Kayode Fayemi had complained that his team was having challenges at the inspection of electoral materials. He said he never expected the third respondent in the matter, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to be strict with the number of experts to be used for the inspection, saying “the tribunal’s order is “go and inspect” and the number of experts we bring to do this doesn’t matter.”
However, INEC through its lawyer, Mr. S. A. Awomolo, argued that it was agreed that there should be four experts on each side but that the petitioners were bringing 14 experts.
INEC said there were six parties and if all the parties brought 14 experts each for the inspection, and with the number added to the security agents, there would be too much trouble controlling the crowd.
Olusola Oke, who represented the Inspector-General of Police, the fifth respondent, argued that the matter was administrative and that other parties should not be dragged into the administrative issue involving INEC, saying if the petitioners wanted to spend the entire lifetime prescribed for the tribunal doing inspection, that was their problem.
Chairman of the three-member tribunal, Justice Mohammed Sirajo ruled on the matter and said it was the duty of INEC who ensured security at the election to also ensure security at the inspection.
He, however, said the commission could not restrict the number of experts, and noted that if the petitioners liked, they could be on the inspection till the expiration of the time of the tribunal.
The tribunal finally adjourned till October 14, 24 hours to the inauguration of governor-elect, Mr Fayose for the hearing.
Reactions have, however, trailed the assault on the Judge of Ekiti High Court.
It’s condemnable —APC
In its response, the Ekiti State chapter of the APC, condemned the action but added that the culprit should undergo a psychiatric test. Its state chairman, Chief Jide Awe, who spoke with Vanguard said: “We were not at the scene but we heard of it. If this is happening, this is the second time in a week that the state judiciary is being invaded. I believe it is not healthy at all not only for a state like Ekiti but anywhere in Nigeria. If this is happening to the judiciary, nobody is safe in the country. It is condemnable anyway and all right thinking people should condemn it. The judiciary, as we say, is the last hope for everybody. I think it is not ordinary and I think whoever must have done that, should be examined clinically to satisfy the level of sanity of that person.”
Allegation not true —Ekiti PDP
In its defence, the Peoples Democratic Party in Ekiti State absolved the governor-elect of any involvement in the fracas. Speaking with Vanguard, the state secretary, Dr Tope Aluko denied knowlegde that Mr Fayose assaulted the trial judge.
Aluko said: “I was at the tribunal representing my party (PDP) and in fact His Excellency (Fayose) got down from his vehicle and walked directly into the tribunal. He came like five minutes late and he sat right beside me on the second to the last bench with the three judges in front. There was no rancour in the court room. I do not know where this is coming from.”
Ekiti State Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Babayede said, “The court sat, the proceedings went on smoothly, the matter was adjoined till sometime in October this year. The Governor elect, Fayose came with his supporters, some of them were at the court as early as 7am, they followed him into the court premises. Nobody was molested, nobody was beating up. Police was able to contain the large crowd. That is all I can say.”
NBA condemns act
The Nigerian Bar Association, in a statement signed by its National President, Augustine Alegeh, SAN, said it “strongly condemns the brazen and dastardly acts of violence by thugs and hoodlums who attacked the high court of justice complex in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State on Monday September 22, 2014 and followed same up with more acts of violence and brigandage by tearing judicial record books and attacking Judges at the Ekiti State High Court Complex which is also the venue of sitting of the Ekiti State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal on September 25, 2014.
“The life of our Judges in Ekiti is in grave danger. We must act to protect them from highly placed persons in our society who abuse their positions and privileges to unleash mayhem on Judicial Officers and infrastructure.”