By Tonnie Iredia

About a year ago, the learned K. S. Okeaya Inneh, a renowned Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and leader of the Bar in the South-South had declared that he had in his privileged position recommended Justice Gladys Olotu of the Federal High Court to be elevated to the Court of Appeal.

The recommendation according to the learned SAN was informed by what he described as the “outstanding judicial qualities” of the lady. However, the SAN had to change his mind when he read a newspaper report that the lady had degenerated into gross financial corruption. Like Okeaya Inneh, this writer who has known the judge from when she was a young school girl and had also held the judge in high esteem has had to keep his distance from her.

It would be recalled that Justice Olotu had among other top offices, served as Solicitor General in our State – Edo. Why would such a beacon of hope of our people engage in self-destruction just for materialism? I gave up on her when after reading several reports of how she was allegedly among some corrupt judges being investigated; I got to hear of her premature retirement. With a curious mind I still reached out in search of the official reason for her sack.

What I found was that her sack was due to her failure to deliver judgment in a particular case at the appropriate time. According to media reports, the National Judicial Council (NJC) was dissatisfied with her lateness to deliver the said judgment for as long as 18months contrary to the constitutional provision that judgment should be delivered within a period of 90 days from the close of final addresses. Did it therefore mean that Olotu’s retirement did not concern her much publicized illegally acquired stupendous wealth?

Perhaps some people imagined that her retirement was an undeserved soft-landing gift from the judiciary because many people were convinced until about a month ago that the many houses the media said she owned had in several places as well as huge cash amounts in different currencies must have been her undoing. Alas, last Sunday, we read the published judgment of the libel case she instituted against one newspaper in respect of the subject. The judgment which was in favour of the embattled judge had 3 main issues.

First, Olotu was awarded the sum of one hundred million naira (N100, 000,000) being damages for the libelous publication. Second, the offending newspaper was directed to appease the lady by publishing in full, an unqualified apology. For effect, the said apology was also to be published in 6 other widely read newspapers as well as the internet. Third, a perpetual injunction was made restraining the newspaper from further publishing defamatory or libelous materials about Olotu

What this case suggests from our basic knowledge of the law of defamation is that the attack on the reputation of Justice Olotu was hateful. In which case, those of us to whom her reputation was unduly lowered should neither agree to shun nor avoid her and that we should ignore the deliberate attempt to expose her to hatred, contempt or ridicule as there is no basis to disparage such a reputed and honourable judge.

This position is further enhanced by the fact that the retirement of Olotu by the NJC was reportedly based on a different reason. Could it be that no one in the NJC read about those weighty allegations? If so what could they have gathered about a judge being investigated? Could it be that the allegations were investigated but she was not found guilty of any of them? Thus, anyone who is unsure of the real offence of the lady has a point. Under the circumstance, what she deserves is our pity and not anger.

At the same time, we cannot afford to dismiss the revelation that Justice Olotu unduly delayed judgment in a case as being insufficient to annoy the NJC. On that score it may not be rational to plead for pardon for her considering that delayed justice has been part of the culture of our justice system for too long. To start with, whereas delayed justice in Nigeria occasioned by unnecessary adjournments is often caused by several factors, the failure to deliver a ‘ready’ judgment is the fault of the judge concerned.

To that extent, NJC’s anger with Olotu may be justified. The Council is indeed free to assume that the delay was commercially influenced and proceed to sanction the offender but should it attract complete retirement from service? Again, should the NJC deal with just one or two culprits? We submit that all judges that are often personally responsible for ‘purchased’ delays or in fact purchased judgments should be similarly retired. Unfortunately, that might leave us with no judge!

If the NJC is courageous enough to set up a panel to examine valedictory speeches of retiring judges, it would find documentary evidence that many judges engage in unethical practices at the instance of the higher courts. Again I agree with those who believed that the delay by the Court of Appeal to deal with the Appeal instituted with respect to the Adamawa election petition of 2012 was a premeditated delayed judgment. In that case, the Court of Appeal was fully aware of Section 285 of our Constitution which states that an appeal from an election tribunal must be heard and disposed of within 60 days, yet the court waited till 72 hours to the deadline when it was cajoled to act by the Chief Justice of Nigeria before hastily ‘considering’ and delivering a ‘fait accompli’ judgment. But then nothing was done to those responsible for the delay. The plaintiffs were only made to accept that the time was up – what took the time?

While waiting for an answer, we need to attack other unethical practices in our justice delivery system; otherwise the retirement of Justice Olotu could confirm the impression in some quarters that justice has a geo-political coloration in our clime.

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