Monday, December 1 2008 will go down in memory as a momentous rekindling of hope by all those who desire justice in the management of the issues arising from the April 14 2007 Osun State gubernatorial election because it marked the inaugural sitting of a newly-constituted panel of justices charged with the hearing and determination of the interlocutory and final appeals against the decisions of the Justice Thomas Naron-led election petitions tribunal.
It will be recalled that the tribunal which heard the petition as a forum of first instance raised reasonable suspicion of bias in its rulings throughout the duration of the hearing. Chief of its many questionable rulings was its refusal to allow evidence of forensic investigation carried out by expatriate forensic expert, Adrian Forty and his team. Perhaps, the highlight of the series of incidents at that stage of hearing was the publication of a news item in a popular newsmagazine disclosing how one Otunba Kunle Kalejaiye, SAN, one of the leading counsel representing the respondents, Olagunsoye Oyinlola and others allegedly engaged in illicit and unethical telephone calls and SMS communication with one or more of the judges on the tribunal panel.
These two factors elicited uproarious condemnation from jurists, activists, pro-democracy activists and civil society groups generally. The petitioner, Engineer Rauf Aregbesola, in a swift reaction sent petitions to the National Judicial Council, (NJC), the Chief Justice of Nigeria, The President of the Court of Appeal, The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), the ICPC and other institutions, calling for an independent probe of the veracity of the story which, if is true, has far reaching implications on the probability of his obtaining a fair trial at the tribunal.
The petitioner did not stop there. Through his lawyers, he brought an application to the tribunal to excuse itself from further hearing of the matter, pending the outcome of the anticipated investigation of the issue of illicit communication between its chairman and counsel to one of the parties before it. He also applied for a subpoena duces tecum et ad testificandum to compel the telecommunications provider, MTN to come to court with its authentic call logs and give evidence. The tribunal not only threw out this application, but also went ahead and hastily delivered its judgment in the substantive petition. It is the refusal of these applications and the decision in the substantive petition that formed the basis of the appeal(s) before the Ibadan division of the Court of Appeal.
In this clime, the period it takes for a litigant to get justice is unduly long, and this quite naturally gives rise to pangs of impatience, suspicion and name-calling. The petitioner, Rauf Aregbesola, Action Congress gubernatorial candidate has, throughout the struggle to regain his mandate, demonstrated profound belief in the judicial means of getting justice. By displaying remarkable capacity to calm frayed nerves, he has been able to positively direct his supporters’ reaction and conduct in the face of undue harassment and provocation.
Coming to the delivery of justice, kudos must be given where due. At a period when the judiciary’s integrity had become threatened by incidents such as that reported by TheNEWS magazine on the clandestine calls saga, the Court of Appeal has risen up in a heroic fight like the proverbial phoenix in the Edo State appeal of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
That judgment is widely perceived as courageous, and the beginning of a redemptive process for the judiciary’s harassed image. The learned Justices of the Benin Division of the Court of Appeal demonstrated uncommon courage when they acted against the grain of controversial rulings and judgments rendered by their counterparts and junior brethren in other divisions. Indeed, the growing public cynicism which meets every mention of a judge or judicial forum since the beginning of the Election Petition cases has been arrested by that appeal decision.
The process has began, and the proceedings of the December 1 first sitting in Ibadan must be seen as a continuation of the struggle to restore the independence of the judiciary, in that the purported misconduct of one of its erring brothers constitutes one of the matters to be disposed of.
Whilst calling on the Ibadan Division to deal expeditiously with the backlog of matters before it, and to resist all pressure, overt or covert from whatever quarters, to influence it, The OSUN DEFENDER calls upon all the parties and their supporters, the aggrieved and the alleged traducers alike, to let peace reign and to exercise their faith in the capacity of the re-invigorated judiciary to dispense justice without fear or favour towards any party.