Some aggrieved magistrates who were sacked from the Judiciary Service of Ondo State have petitioned the National Judicial Council (NJC) following their disengagement from the system, SaharaReporters has learned.
On September 14, 2017, the magistrates in the state were served with a suspension letter on the directive of the embattled Acting Chief Judge, Justice Oluwatoyin Akeredolu, citing some “perceived irregularities in the employment” of those affected by the decision.
Some highly placed authorities in the state, however, alleged that the suspension was merely a gimmick and that the magistrates had been completely disengaged from the state judiciary system.
Findings also revealed that the sacked magistrates were employed into the judiciary between 2011 and 2016 by the former Chief Judge of the state, Justice Olasehinde Kumuyi, during the administration of the immediate past governor, Olusegun Mimiko.
SaharaReporters exclusively obtained a copy of the petition dated October 3, 2017, in Akure and which had been forwarded to the office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for complaints over their unpaid allowance.
The affected magistrates explained in the nine-paragraph petition how they were suspended from the Ondo State Judiciary Service on the September 14, 2017, citing the purported claims of “perceived irregularities and lack of due process in their appointment as a magistrate” in the judiciary system of the state.
They stated in the copies of the petition that their suspension from the state judiciary as claimed in the disengagement letter would be determined pending plenary consideration and the review of their appointment process.
However, the magistrates added that the plenary session had held its meeting on September 22, 2017, and rather than addressing the issue of their suspension, the session came up with an advertisement announcing the vacancies of their positions.
The petition reads:
“Till date, we are yet to hear from the said plenary session as to the outcome. We neither heard nor received any other letter from the Ondo State Judicial Service Commission determining our position regarding the suspension.
“This wish is unfair and unjust, with most of us having spent over five years as a magistrate and appointments confirmed by State Government two years after their appointment. Some were even converted from staff attorneys to magistrates after plenary sessions.
“Some have taken promotional examinations and have been promoted while others are awaiting confirmation, having spent close to two years without any misconduct. Copies of appointment, conversion and promotion letters of one of the affected magistrates are hereby annexed as Annexure A.
“It is of worthy note to also draw your attention to the known fact that suspension is a disciplinary action against judicial officers for misconduct and none of us has ever, at any point in time, been alleged with any judicial misconduct to warrant any form of suspension.
“This suspension in question is being treated as a dismissal by the Ondo State Judicial Service Commission, as our names were removed from the payroll, thereby denying us our wardrobe allowances for the year 2017 and imprest for the month of August, which we are entitled to. The said allowances were paid the same day the suspended letters were served on us, which we believe was converted, having worked earnestly from the month of January 2017 till the 15th of September, 2017, when the suspension letters were served on us.
“In the light of the above, we appeal to you, sir, to use your good office to address this germane issue as the suspension and continuous suspension over what was termed ‘perceived irregularities and lack of due process’ in the light of fresh recruitment notice to the general public by the Ondo State Judicial Service Commission is unjust, absurd, unlawful and irregular.
“We urge you, sir, to prevail on the Acting Chief Judge of Ondo State, call her to order to reverse suspension and reinstate us back to our positions with adequate compensation.
“Sir, we humbly urge you to attend to this case with all urgency it deserves, as our rights and livelihoods are at stake.”
Odunbira Egbunu, Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission who signed the “suspension letter” dispatched to the magistrates, had denied that the decision was carried out to victimize those affected.
Mr. Egbunu, who had blamed the past administration in the state for employing magistrates through the back door, added that the embattled Acting Chief Judge is on a mission to correct the abnormalities in the state judiciary system.
“The previous administration must be blamed for not following the normal procedures. Things must be done properly according to the laid down rules and regulations,” he said.
An ongoing investigation by SaharaReporters into the matter has revealed that a large percent of those disengaged were employed legally, as their appointments passed through the necessary stages.
Original documents sighted and obtained by investigators working with our reporter showed that the Ondo State Acting Chief Judge erred in the sacking of the magistrates by taking the wrong advice from some disgruntled judges in the state judiciary.
One of the documents obtained is a copy of an official gazette from the Ondo State House of Assembly showing that the names of the sacked magistrates were documented officially.
The official gazette listed the names of Chief Registrars, Deputy Chief Registrars, Chief Magistrates, and Registrars with officers that were employed between 2011 and 2016 before they were booted out of the judiciary on the orders of Justice Akeredolu.
Some highly place sources in the state judiciary speaking to our correspondent revealed that some cabals who are on a mission of “political vendetta” were misleading the Acting Chief judge on her decision.
“I can tell you that the Acting Chief Judge [Justice Akeredolu] is now regretting her action because she is being used by the cabals who are only looking for her downfall,” said one of the sources who pleaded anonymity.
SaharaReporters’ investigation further revealed that money meant for the magistrates were being diverted to fund personal properties under the tutelage of the embattled Acting Chief, Justice Akeredolu.
The sacked magistrates, SaharaReporters gathered, were entitled to payments from the state government before their sudden disengagements from the judiciary, but these funds were diverted from the treasury of the Ondo State High Court to personal pockets.
It was exclusively gathered that some prominent lawyers have risen up to defend the sacked magistrates in court over the decision of the state judiciary under the control of Justice Akeredolu.