Barrister Abiodun Olaide is a practicing legal practitioner in Osogbo, Osun State Capital. In this interview with OSUN DEFENDER man KAZEEM MOHAMMED, he spoke extensively on the controversial proceedings of Justice Thomas Damar Naron–led Election Petitions Tribunal that sat in the state, general situation of judiciary, as well as some related issues affecting the judiciary among others. Excerpt:-
OSDF: Can we meet you sir?
Olaide: I am Barrister Biodun Olaide, I was a former magistrate in Osun State. I am currently a lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife. I am also a practicing legal practitioner having resigned from my former appointment.
Osdf: Can you tell us a little about your educational background?
Olaide: I attended St. John Primary School Oba-Ile, Aderounmu Grammar School, Oba-Ile and St. Andrews College, Oyo, I also attended Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife where I read law and I passed out in 1997. I later went to the Nigerian Law School and concluded in 1998 and I was called to bar in 1999. I have done my mastes degree in the same University (OAU) and I am currently pursuing my PhD at the same university where I am a lecturer too.
Osdf: Why did you leave the bench for the bar?
Olaide: Well, the bench is good and for those who are there, I wish them good luck. But, I read law, because of the joy of advocacy and when you go to the bench, advocacy is no more possible. Also, if you want to go to the bench and you go there at the early stage of your practice, you would not enjoy the beauty of law, because the beauty of law is in the practice.
So, I went into magistracy because of the employment then and I enjoyed it at that time, but after five years, I felt the urge to pursue further education and to be in practice for sometimes. Meanwhile, I have no quarrel with the judiciary, because it is still my workshop and I go there everyday. I left the place peacefully because I gave them 30 days notice. I left the bench to enjoy the taste of the practice and I am there now enjoying it.
Osdf: What were the challenges when you were on the bench?
Olaide: There were a lot of challenges when I was on the bench and I am still having it now. One of the challenges is that at the bench, we were being treated as a judiciary official and we are not. So to say, magistracy is like a restrictive job. You can not really do what other colleagues could do, because you are under watch of the state government. When I was a magistrate, if I have any ceremony, I don’t invite lawyers because, if they come they would give you money, while some of them have cases before you. So, I don’t take any gift from any lawyer because I know that through the gift, you may not be free to deliver your responsibility as expected.
Also, the government was there preventing you from carrying out your responsibility with fairness. In some case you may receive phone calls from different government officials showing their interest but I took some courage to do the right things at that time.
As a result of these, we were able to react and sometimes we fired petition that we would go on strike for the first time which made them to call us militant magistrates which was not really normal. This is so because, as a magistrate you can not be heard but then we made some move and we did not relent from it as we stood by our struggle. There was a time when they brought a chief registrar of the State High Court from outside, but we the magistrate kicked against it, we wrote a petition and the governor removed him about five or six month after.
So, it was not easy for us then because a lot of us who were in the forefront of the struggle were tagged rebels, but one must have courage. Just make sure that there is no skeleton in your cupboard. If you have a clean record, you have nothing to fear since you know what you are fighting and make sure that you don’t fight an unjust course.
Osdf: Justice Thomas Naron tribunal has come to Osun State and gone back, but its verdict has generated a lot of controversies. What is your appraisal of the sitting of the panel?
Olaide: I was privileged to be part of the team. Though, I was not directly involved in the governorship petition but I handled some of the house of assembly petitions. The proceedings started well and when it started, a lot of applications were presented by the petitioners and granted by the tribunal and people were happy that the tribunal was impartial because it treated each party equally then. That was what the second panel of Hamma Barka did just as he treated all parties equally, he accepted documents once it is relevant and he hardly referred to practice direction, but guided majorly by justice and relevance.
But in the Naron tribunal, suddenly we discovered that there was a change as a lot of relevant documents tendered were rejected. For instance on the issue of the overall result of the governorship that was omitted, everybody knew that it was an omission and it can happen to anybody especially when you have so many things cumbersome to attend to. So, the result can not be ordinarily omitted, because it is part of the pleading and as a result, an impartial judge will take it without problems, he may even ask for it on his own that, you have not tendered the result, go and bring it.
The tribunal also rejected the ballot papers. There is no where you can handle the election petition matter without considering the ballot papers. Even if they don’t tender it, as a judge, you can ask for them that ‘look I want to see the ballot papers’. In Ondo State for instance, elections were recounted in the open court and the same thing also happened at the second tribunal of Barka in Osogbo here, where we recounted the votes in some of the senatorial petitions. Though we did not win the case but at least we have a good trial and we had reasonable things to work on.
At the Naron tribunal, the whole thing was so bastardized and muddled up because so many evidence were rejected. For example subpoenas were filed and when a subpoena is filed it is usually done on the order of a court. Subpoena is an application by the court and not by any of the litigants. You subpoena somebody that you can not call or that cannot voluntarily answer your call as your witness.
INEC officials are respondents in our case and there is no way we can call them personally to give evidence for us but when we discovered that there were some things for them to explain on the elections materials used for the election, we subpoenaed them to come and explain some certain issues. They did the same thing in Edo, Ondo and some other states, where INEC officials were ordered to enter into the witness box, but in Osun State here the reverse was the case.
Even in the judgment, the tribunal even referred to it that the documents we tendered were just dropped and no witness was called to interpret them, whereas it was the same tribunal that disallowed the INEC official from explaining them. Can you see the contradiction?
If there should be any witness to explain those documents it should be the INEC official because it is the INEC documents. They were tendered really, but there was nothing they could do about it without explanation. Though some documents are self-explanatory but not in an election matter, because if there is any discrepancies or omission you need to ask the officer in charge of the document. These are the way you can get to the roots of the matter.
Let me tell you, the petitioners in the governorship election matter has the best legal team in Nigeria. At least I can mention Kola Awodein, Professor Osipitan, Akeredolu, Edosonwan, Akintola and they are all SAN’s and they had won many cases. They are all very good lawyers but the case was muddled up that even there is no best lawyer that can succeed before a difficult judge. However brilliant you are, as a lawyer, you would be frustrated.
Another example is on the Adrian Forty forensic evidence. The same evidence was accepted in Ondo, Ekiti and some other states but reverse was the case before the Naron tribunal in Osun State. The same tribunal gave us the order to go and inspect but when we got to the INEC office in Osogbo, they said that we would not be allowed to scan and we got back to the court for another order and they gave us another order to scan and we did the scanning.
After the scanning and the physical inspection, it was the scanned material that was taken to UK for laboratory test because they are not doing it in Nigeria here, but only for the tribunal to reject both the forensic and physical inspection. The question is why giving the order? The maxim is that, “Equity does nothing in vain.” You can’t give order in vain. Why the order to scan and inspect? Is it for fun? These are the things that made the whole thing complicated. At this we knew that we had a problem.
So, there are so many contradictions in the rulings of the tribunal. If the respondents in that matter brings and application it would scale through but if we bring a similar application, the tribunal would have to depart from the previous ruling and that show that there are a lot of problems with that tribunal.
Osdf: There are insinuations from the respondents that the petitions were not well prepared. Assuming there is a mistake, can the tribunal makes some corrections or not, Just to ensure that justice is done?
Olaide: There was no any mistake anywhere: The petitions were prepared the way they should be prepared. Anybody who want to say that there was a mistake should go and bring Edo State petition, Ondo State petition and tell where our petition affect admission of evidence. That was the rumour they are making. How can you tell me that the lawyers did not do well when the judges of the tribunal are biased?
The judges of the tribunal said that we call party supervisors as witnesses and they are not recognized by law. What tells you that Electoral Act did not recognize supervisors? There is nothing like that, there is no provision for witnesses. Anybody who witnesses the election can come and testify, it may be a voter and those that testified for us are also voters in their units but they only said that they moved round polling units. Even if you don’t want to believe the other units, what about the units where they voted.
And if you supervise, you can gather information, you can testify and you can tender documents and that does not amount to hearsay. Hearsay is when you are giving evidence on what you don’t know, but in this situation the witnesses were on the field and they witnessed what happened.
Also, oral evidence can not treat the election matter alone, but why was the tribunal now hammering on the oral evidence alone? If the tribunal had accepted all our evidence including the security report, they would not be saying that the petitions were not well prepared. They said that the police report, which is so damaging to the respondents is not a public document because it is marked ‘secret’, whereas whatever report that comes from police is a public document once it is received officially. If it is not a public document the police would not release the Certified True Copy (CTC) to us.
It is because the police report is damnable, it affects all the areas that we are contesting as if they knew where we are going, but the tribunal said that it is marked secret. There is no law that says that. The issue is that the tribunal had made up its mind. You can see that out of about 34 petitions filed in Osun State, no one scaled through.
There is no where it happened across the country where so many petitions were filed including House of Assembly, House of Representatives and no one scaled through.
Osdf: Are you saying that the tribunal was bias?
Olaide: Yes, the Osun tribunal was biased. Towards the end of the proceedings, the final outcry and the revelation of The News magazine confirmed the fear that there must be some thing gone wrong in the middle of the way.
The tribunal decided to play a dirty role by doing the whole work for the respondents. You can even see it in their faces that everything that the respondents’ lawyers say would be answer.
Osdf: What do you think could be the consequences of the verdict of the tribunal especially on governorship matter?
Olaide: I can tell you with all sense of responsibility that that case would be retried. Note that, the case would be retried. We can not fight it on merit. Although we know that the Appeal Court will cancel the judgment, but they can not do it without calling witnesses that have been disallowed by the tribunal. That is our first prayer at the court of appeal that the case should be remitted back for retrial before a fresh panel that would be set up by the President, Court of Appeal. That is the only way the matter could be handled.
Osdf: But there was this belief from the government corners in the state that the case can not be re-opened. What do you see to that?
Olaide: It is not so, in fact this is not a matter of re-opening but for the appeal court to remit it back for retrial. If it is only on documentary evidence like the report of Adrian Forty, the appeal can even admit them. Appeal Court can admit document that are illegally rejected but the witnesses like INEC officials that we want to call are vital. We want them to come in and talk, but if the appeal court sees that they can look at the documents and do justice, they may act on it. They can admit documents that are unlawfully rejected by the lower court.
Osdf: Is it true that each counsel would address the appeal court for just 30 minutes?
Olaide: Yes, that is rule. Normally in the appeal, you don’t talk too much but you file your brief and we call it brief of argument which is even better. In your chamber, you compile all the exhibits and every other thing. All you need to do before the appeal is just to summarize your brief that had already been compiled and the court would just adjourn for judgment.
Osdf: What is your comment on the allegation of telephone conversation between Justice Naron and Otunba Kunle Kalejaiye (SAN), counsel to Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola?
Olaide: Well, my comment may be very scanty now, because the matter is still under investigation and there is need to verify the veracity of the report on the alleged secret conversation, because the suspects are also claiming that the allegation was not true.
Although they said that the call log was obtained illegally, but that is not the issue because the illegally obtained evidence is admissible. If you go to the police custody and steal a document, they may charge you for stealing or whatever later, but court will admit it once it is relevant to the matter at hand. If eventually it is confirmed that the judges and the lawyer involved did what they were alleged of, it is a terrible thing.
So, we are still waiting for the confirmation from the MTN and MTN would have to release the call logs of those involved officially.
Meanwhile, as young as I am in the bar, if such a thing happened and I knew that it was a lie, I would have taken the matter to the court in the following day, but for SAN who has lawyers in his chamber to have kept quiet on such a sensitive issue, it shows that the allegations may be true. So, he should have gone to court, but if eventually he goes to the court and the allegation eventually turned to be the true story of what happened, he may be in trouble. I think that is the fear of the senior lawyer.
As at now, the SAN is not sueing and the judges are not talking, but if it is eventually confirmed, it is an aberration and a damnable happening, because it will affect the law profession and the SAN himself which may even relief him of his SANship.
So, since the matter is before the National Judicial Council (NJC), after the investigation when MTN may have released all the necessary documents, we may now talk more on the issue.
Osdf: There was rumour milling the rounds and it was even sponsored on the state radio that the NBA has discountenanced the complaints from different angles on the matter at its national meeting in Onitsha recently. How true is the rumour?
Olaide: I was at Onitsha, I was even present at the meeting and nothing of such ever happened there. For such misinformation sponsored on the radio, I have written a letter to the management of OSBC to retract the said information. The mischievous information was actually sponsored on the Osun radio (OSBC) it was paid for and I learnt that the wrong information was sponsored by Gani Ola-oluwa, the chairman of Olorunda Local Government.
Neither Ola-oluwa nor OSBC is a lawyer and even if they are, they were not at the meeting in Onitsha. I was at Onitsha and I can say it anywhere that nothing like discountenance was discussed. It was true that when we were discussing corruption on the bench generally, one of the senior lawyers from Lagos raised the issue on Osun State tribunal and he said that the gathering must take some positions on it, but the National President, Olisah Agbakoba said that they should keep the matter for now, because it is already before the NJC. Since we can not try judges but we can try our lawyers and the matter is already before NJC, the result of the NJC trial will determine our own action and that was all.
In fact there was no any Osun lawyer that talks at that meeting throughout and anybody can come and confront me on that. So, I don’t see any reason why anybody could have sponsored such misinformation on the radio just to drag the NBA Osogbo into politics, as if we were fighting with Lagos NBA and whoever that sponsored it has sponsored falsehood.
On behalf of myself, I wrote to the radio station to retract the wrong information. At our last meeting of Osogbo NBA on the 5th of August, I raised the issue that we should write a rejoinder, but it is as if some people at that meeting are serving a particular interest and they did not allow the issue to reign. But as a vice-chairman of the Osogbo NBA, I wrote a letter to OSBC on my behalf and not on behalf of NBA to correct the information. I wrote them to retract the information or else, I will sue both the radio and the sponsor of the mischievous information.
Osdf: What is your comment on Osun Judiciary generally?
Olaide: I would not want to talk too much on that and in another word it is my former constituency and I have to say one or two things.
The judiciary in Osun is okay. We have some judges who are above board and you can be proud of them anywhere in the world. Some of our judges went for election petitions matters in another states and they did very well. Some of the judges in Osun are worst and in Osun judiciary there are some happenings that should not happen in a normal setting.
For instance, a chief magistrate of Ilesa district was arrested and detained and nobody uttered a single statement including the NBA which I am a member, either to condemn or to ask any question on why such a thing happened.
In a normal setting, it should be an internal issue that should be settled administratively before embarrassing the man openly. It is the first time in the history of Osun State that a chief magistrate was detained over an issue that has no stand. The most baffling thing was that he was arraigned before a junior magistrate, which is very wrong as far as that position is concerned. On that same issue up till now nothing was raised to confirm that the man did what he was detained for. These are some of the things that should not be allowed, but already we are in the system and we need to endure, meanwhile, I am not comfortable with such things.
Also, a lawyer, Gbenga Akano was arrested and detained on the same issue of bomb blast and up till now there is no further information on the matter, which is very unfair.
Osdf: There was a case involving one Prince Sunday Laoye on the same bomb blast issue of which you were a counsel. The man rejected to be tried at the magistrate court of Olapoju Akintayo but at the High Court and his case was adjourned sinedi, only for him to be bungled back to that same court from where he was sent to prison. Looking at that procedure, is it an appropriate thing to do?
Olaide: I was in the court throughout the day of his first arraignment and I appeared in the case. On the day he was re-arraigned illegally and I can say it boldly that he was arraigned illegally, I told the magistrate that the arraignment was illegal. The man had pleaded not to be tried at that court but at the High Court. Even at the high court since then up till date, there is no case against the man and despite the fact that the man pleaded not to be tried at the magistrate court, he was re-arraigned illegally.
The issue was that the magistrate adjourned ‘sinedi’ which means indefinitely and you can recall the same matter pending the arraignment of that person at a proper court. The only thing you can do is to write a letter to that effect that you want to try him again and then you can summon him, but anything outside that is illegal. What we saw was that the man was just summoned and I know that some people must have done that behind the door. In fact all the lawyers in that court on that day seriously condemned it, even those who were not involved in the case said that it is not proper and it is illegal, since the case has been adjourned ‘sinedi’.
Probably they thought that the man would be killed at the SARS office but reverse was the case which must have been the basis for the illegal summon by the magistrate. It is quite pathetic, because it is still on that same issue of bomb blast and up till today nothing has been filed in that case against the man because there is no any evidence.
What we should know is that this state is for all of us and record is there for whatever we do. When eventually you see your record and you now begin to say that I am sorry, my hands are tight, it would be embarrassing.
The issue is that there some courts in Osun State that even if the offence is just N1 fine, they would not give you bail on the same day once they know that you belong to the opposition simply because they are acting a prepared script. That is the instructions given to them. It is not because they want peace but just because there is an outstanding instruction.
Osdf: There is a rumour miling the rounds that the Osogbo NBA has been bought over by Oyinlola. What do you see to that?
Olaide: If they say that Osogbo NBA has been bought over I don’t know about that, but all I know is that if you are talking about the bus given to us by the governor recently with the inscription ‘Oyin ni o’ boldly written on it, that is one of the things that made me to write a letter on the falsehood sponsored on OSBC, because I see it as one of the things they want to use to say that we have been bought over which is not so. Though we have politicians among us and at our last meeting, one of them said that PDP is in his blood but that is personal to him and he even condemned the issue of writing ‘Oyin ni o’ on the bus.
I have even made up my mind that I will never enter into that bus again not until they remove the inscription and not because I hated anybody.
So, they can’t buy NBA, but the problem we have now is that the current chairman is a government staff and that is why they are saying that we have been bought over. That is also one of the reasons you don’t see NBA coming out with a single statement, either to condemn or commend, but no matter what the government may give us, we will still not compromise because one of our duty is to checkmate. If they give us anything we will take it because it is our money and not their money but we will still checkmate the government.
Osdf: It is observed that throughout Osun State, there is no a single SAN residing in the state. What could have caused it?
Olaide: There are conditions before you can become a SAN. Firstly you must be ten years at the bar and we have many lawyers that can fulfill that in Osun, but you must have a standard chamber of at least a duplex with about four or five junior lawyers working in that chamber. If you go round the length and breadth of Osun the highest is a rented room and parlour apartment which is not enough for a standard chamber. The cost of standard chamber is very high and there is no enough money in this state, meanwhile, if you don’t have enough money you can not be given a SANship.
There are lawyers that can do better in Osun but because people’s beliefs in outsiders is the problem. There are some of them that have cases at the appeal and Supreme Court and they have won. Some of them have tackled SANs and defeated them.
Also before you could be given a SANship, you must have a standard library with enough books. So, these are some of the criteria. Politics is also there too.
Osdf: What is your advice to the Government, other lawyers and the people of Osun State in general?
Olaide: My advice is that government should play the game in accordance with the rule of law. They should know that people have right to comment on government activities or programmes and any government that does not allow that is a psychopath. Government goes government comes, but when you leave, what will be in record is what matters most. The government should leave room for criticism, condemnations and commendations.
Also, rule of law should be allowed to prevail, don’t push people to the wall so that they would not turn back and result to self-help.
To the lawyers, our work is not just to advocate and make money alone, but we should also put the government to order. Though we need money, but if you have good name, you will have money. If you see a judge that is corrupt, we should fight him to a stand-still. Lawyers should play by the rules and make sure that government is cautioned.
To the people of Osun State, they should keep calm, better life would soon come and they will all enjoy the dividends of democracy.