October 2, 2014

Ekiti court attacks: NJC to constitute a probe panel today

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

ABUJA—Worried by the violence in Ekiti state and alleged assault on a High Court judge at the premises of Ado-Ekiti High Court, the National Judicial Council, NJC, will today, constitute a panel to investigate allegations by both the governor-elect of the state, Mr. Ayodele Fayose and the Chief Judge, Justice Ayodeji Daramola on the fracas.

File: Ekiti state Governor Elect, Mr Ayodele Fayose.

File: Ekiti state Governor Elect, Mr Ayodele Fayose.

This was even as a top source in the Council yesterday disclosed that the duo may be summoned to appear before the probe panel to substantiate their allegations against each other.

Already, the governor-elect was said to have assembled a five-man team of Senior Advocates of Nigeria to argue and persuade the NJC to disband the members of the Ekiti State Election Tribunal on the allegation that they have been compromised.

The source who pleaded anonymity, confirmed that the NJC had on Monday, received two separate petitions from the governor-elect and the state CJ, with both of them pointing accusing fingers at each other.

Besides, the source said that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, who is equally the Chairman of the NJC, was greatly disturbed by the wave of violence that led to the closure of courts in Ekiti State and has through a letter of notification that was sent to all the members of the Council, urged them to ensure their attendance at the emergency meeting scheduled for 10am today.

“What I can tell you is that the CJN is ready to use this Ekiti State matter to set an example. It was a sad commentary for this country that thugs could invade a court, beat up judges and tore their records of proceeding. Where on earth does such things happen in this modern era? Not even in a banana republic.

“The incident in Ekiti was a bad precedent and if no concrete and drastic action is taken by the NJC now to ferret and punish those that were in one way or the other connected to this defecation of the temple of justice, what will happen after the 2015 general elections would best be imagined”, the source told Vanguard.

Besides, he disclosed that today’s meeting of the NJC members would be held in camera.

Fayose denies involvement

Meanwhile, whereas Fayose, in his own petition, denied leading thugs into the Ekiti State High Court where a suit seeking to invalidate his election victory was being heard, he alleged that the outgoing governor of the state, Kayode Fayemi and his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, had already bribed all the Justices in the election petition tribunal.

He expressed doubt over their ability to remain non-partisan, insisting that it would be in the interest of justice that they were sacked and a fresh panel constituted that will hear and determine the petition against his election, within the constitutional prescribed time-frame.

Gov-elect personally led thugs — CJ

However, while justifying his decision to shut all courts in the state as a result of the “show of shame”, the state CJ, Justice Daramola, in his petition, insisted that it was indeed the governor-elect himself that personally led the thugs that besieged the High Court premises and turned it into a theatre of violence.

The CJ equally alleged police involvement, noting that some of the policemen within the court premises when the incident took place, looked on with disinterest as the marauders had a field day chasing Judges around the court.

“The police officers posted to guard and protect the integrity of the court and its personnel have failed us”, he told the NJC, adding that the judges were on that day, left “at the mercy of political hoodlums”.

In his petition entitled, ‘Ekiti State Judiciary under siege of political thugs’, the Chief Judge, told the Council that on Thursday, the 25th day of September, “Mr. Ayodele Fayose, the governor-elect, again led thousands of people and thugs into the premises of the High Court beating and maiming members of staff”.

He said: “The thugs invaded my court where I was to deliver a judgment in a land matter, tore the record books, beat court officials and vandalized the furniture in Court No. 1.

“The political thugs descended on Hon. Justice J. A Adeyeye, the presiding judge in Court No. 3 beat and dragged him on the ground. The judge’s suit was also torn into shreds. I could not gain entrance into the premises of the court and had to hurriedly turn back on being alerted that I was the prime target of the hooligans”, he added.

The CJ maintained that he was at the Supreme Court in Abuja attending a special court session to flag-off the 2014/ 2015 new legal year, an occasion that also saw the conferment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria on 17 senior lawyers, when the violence first broke out in Ekiti State on Monday, September 22.

“While I was attending the Supreme Court Special sitting in Abuja, I was called on phone that thugs loyal to Mr. Ayodele Fayose have invaded the headquarters of the judiciary of Ekiti State where Hon. Justice I.O Ogunyemi was delivering a ruling on the matter instituted against him.

“The thugs beat workers black and blue while the presiding judge and lawyers had to run for their lives. They smashed windows and furniture. Meanwhile, the policemen deployed within and without the premises in large number were looking on completely uninterested and unconcerned while these thugs were on prowl beating and maiming workers and court users.

“The thugs went on searching for the judge who ran into hiding. It took your (the Commissioner of Police) personal intervention when you were duly informed on phone to rush to the scene of the mayhem within the court premises to rescue the said judge and took him out into safety”, he added.

He insisted that the violence was pre-planned, adding that the “political hoodlums”, invaded the court in large numbers, “on the spurious ground that they came to listen to the ruling which they did not allow the presiding judge in Court No. 6 to deliver on Monday, September 22, 2014”.

NBA sends delegation

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, has already sent a high powered delegation to Ekiti State with a view to ascertaining the cause of the violence.

The National President of the legal body Mr. Augustine Alegeh, SAN, who made the disclosure in a statement he issued to the press, described the incident as unfortunate, saying it “portends grave danger to the lives of our Judges in Ekiti State”.

The NBA insisted that there is “an urgent need to protect our Judges and judiciary staff from these hoodlums whom we believe must be acting on instructions from some highly placed persons in Ekiti State to unleash mayhem on judicial officers and infrastructure.

“We condemn in very strong terms these detestable acts of brigandage intended to intimidate and infuse fear into the minds of judicial officers. Those behind these criminal acts of violence have desecrated the Courts which are our temples of justice.”

“The administration of justice can never thrive in an atmosphere where judicial officers are brazenly attacked and or intimidated in the course of carrying out their lawful duties. The administration of justice can never bow to the whims and caprices of persons who believe that judges must yield to their wishes.

“The NBA is sending a high powered fact finding team to Ekiti to investigate the facts surrounding this matter. Any person(s), no matter how highly placed, found involved in this show of shame and desecration of our Courts shall surely face the full force of the law as NBA will ensure prosecution of any such person(s). We will not allow persons who do not mean well for our society take steps capable of plunging our country into anarchy “ it stated.