Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State is on the cusp of swearing in a new acting Chief Judge for the state despite intense pressure for the appointment of a “substantive Chief Judge”, SaharaReporters has exclusively learned.
The appointment of the new acting Chief Judge is coming after the long expiration of the tenure of the embattled acting Justice Temitayo Osoba. Justice Osoba held on to the office in spite calls for her resignation.
Justice Osoba has been mired in a scandal over forgery of her academic records and falsification of her age in order to retain the acting position of the Chief Judge of the state.
A highly placed source in the state government confirmed the latest development in a conversation on Friday. He added that the new acting Chief Judge had been contacted to take up the new position from Ms. Osoba.
The source revealed that the new acting Chief Judge also hails from the same local government area as Governor Akeredolu. According to the source, the acting CJ is the state's most senior justice and next in rank to Justice Osoba.
“The name of the new acting Chief Judge is Justice Olarenwaju Oluwatoyin Akeredolu and she is also from the same Owo Local Government Area as the Governor," our source said.
He added: "Justice Akeredolu is the second most senior after Justice Temitayo Osoba whose academic record is currently being challenged at the High Court because of her alleged age falsification.
“Justice Akeredolu is also regarded as having a clean academic record." The new choice for acting CJ is currently at the Ondo State High Court in Akure.
Our source said the state governor would most likely swear in Justice Akeredolu on Monday.
The position of a substantial Chief Judge of the state has been the source of controversy and dispute between senior judges of the state, with the President of the State Customary Court of Appeal, Folasade Aguda Taiwo, even showing interest in the office.
An authoritative source claimed that the planned swearing in of Justice Akeredolu was a way to ease out Justice Temitayo Osoba.
SaharaReporters learned that Ms. Osoba, who was appointed in acting capacity by ex-Governor Olusegun Mimiko, had made several moves to extend her tenure as the state's acting Chief Judge.
A case instituted to challenge Justice Osoba’s continued stay in office and alleged age falsification is still been heard at the Ondo State High Court in Akure.
SaharaReporters learned that Governor Akeredolu had already written Justice Osoba to urge her to prepare her “handing notes” before next week and in preparation for her exit from the office for the new acting chief judge of the state.
Several sources at the state Ministry of Justice revealed that Ms. Osoba has been incommunicado since getting wind of her removal last week.
“She has not come to the office since last week, not even to perform her official duties. And we noticed that her line has been off since Monday," a source in the state judiciary said.
A document obtained by SaharaReporters and dated June 20, 2017 showed that the National Judicial Commission (NJC) had directed the state to commence the process that would lead to the appointment of a substantive Chief Judge.
Signed by E.I Odukwu the NJC's director of Administration, the document specifically stated that Justice Aguda of the Customary Court should be allowed to participate in the running for a Chief Judge for the state.
Meanwhile, a source at the Ministry of Justice confirmed to our correspondent that Governor Akeredolu had not reconstituted the Ondo State Judicial Service Commission.
“And this is one of the reasons for the delay in the appointment of a substantive Chief Judge for the state. And now another acting Chief Judge is about to be appointed," said the source.
Last week, Femi Emmanuel Emodamori, a human rights lawyer based in Akure, the Ondo State capital, joined a chorus of people who have urged the governor to reconstitute the Ondo State Judicial Service Commission.
In an interview, he said constituting the commission was imperative in order to commence a selection process for the appointment of a substantive Chief Judge for Ondo state in line with section 197 of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution.
“The State Judicial Service Commission is established by Section 197 (1) (c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and its composition is set out in Part 2 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution to include 'the Chief Judge of the State who shall be the Chairman; the Attorney-General of the State; the Grand Kadi of the Sharia Court of Appeal of the State, if any; the President of the Customary Court of Appeal of the State, if any; two members who are legal practitioners, and who have been qualified to practice in Nigeria for not less than 10 years; and two other persons, not being legal practitioners, who in the opinion of the Governor are of unquestionable integrity.
“The powers of the State Judicial Service Commission, according to paragraph 6 of Part 2 of the Third Schedule, include advising the NJC on suitable persons for nomination to the office of the Chief Judge of the State.
“It is therefore imperative to reconstitute the Ondo State Judicial Service Commission immediately and appoint an Attorney-General who is a statutory member of the Commission to avoid a constitutional anomaly in Ondo State Judiciary," he said.
He added that the governor could appoint another acting Chief Judge for the state to avoid facing consequences from the National Judicial Commission, which directed that a meeting of the state Judicial Commission be convened to begin the process of a substantive Chief Judge.