Many legal battles of Kwara CJ

Date: 2012-03-01

The Chief Judge of Kwara state, Justice Raliat Habeeb-Elelu, who secured her much desired Supreme Court judgment last Friday can safely be referred to as a cat with nine lives. As it were, the Chief judge who rose through the ranks to the pinnacle of her career, from her pedigree is not entirely new to controversy since her assumption of  office about three years ago when she was removed.

At various times, unhesitatingly, she reportedly had brawls with nearly all the stakeholders within the system. Around May in 2009, Lawyers in Ilorin commenced a full scale war against her following the expiration of the three -day ultimatum given to her, to redress what they described as her administrative high handedness over the assault on one of them by the police team.

Justice  Habeeb Elelu was accused of colluding with the police to cause a travesty of justice by ensuring that the  policemen  were not only prosecuted but also transferred the magistrate handling the case to the far outskirt of the state in  Share and later Jebba for daring to issue a bench warrant against the police for not appearing before the Magistrate.

It  all started  in march 2009, when one Mr. Zakareh Ibrahim, a lawyer was driving into his residence around Asa Dam area of Ilorin at about 8pm, he was accosted at the gate by some  mobile policemen led by one ASP Kofo.  Before he knew what was happening they pounced on him and beat him black and blue.

Expectedly,  the following day after receiving medical treatment, the lawyer wasted no time seeking a remedy and filed  complain  against the police men and they were later arraigned before Mr. E.O.Ibitoye, a chief magistrate.

According to the then chairman of NBA,Ilorin branch, Dr Mohammed Akanbi at a press conference, the matter came up for mention in court, the police officers were present and they were made to sign undertaking to attend court on subsequent dates.  However, they failed to appear in court. Angered by the development , counsel to the complainant applied for a bench warrant against them and was granted by the court.

The NBA chairman noted instead of the police retrace their step, the police castigated the magistrate in the open court for daring to issue a bench warrant against them.

However, instead of the Chief Judge stepping into the matter and find out about castigating the Magistrate, she issued query to the Magistrate for entertaining a direct complain action against the police and for granting the order of arrest. Not done with this, it was said, the CJ then effected his immediate transfer from Oloje division to Kaiama and later to Jebba and Share divisions of the state judiciary. This steps infuriated the State NBA.

NBA chief observed that though,  the NBA cannot question the right of the Chief Judge over her administrative duties, but said the Bar cannot fold its arms and look the other way when such administrative powers are being wielded in bad faith.

Response to the petition

All efforts by the CJ to rescind her decision for taking harsh action against the Magistrate were rebuffed which made the body petitioned the National Judicial council, NJC over the matter.

However, the CJ in her response to the petition said she was surprised on why the NBA was trying to interfere in her administrative functions as the chief judge of Kwara State.

While members of the NBA were carrying out their threats to boycott court proceedings,  former governor, Dr Bukola Saraki, wrote  a letter to the state House of Assembly seeking  the removal of Justice Elelu- Habeeb  from office alleging that the CJ engaged in series of acts that were  in contravention of the 1999 Constitution, adding that the CJ failed to return the unspent money approved  for the 23rd Biennial Congress in Ukraine to the coffer of the government after the event was postponed.

The governor also accused the CJ of unilaterally employing staff into the service of the judiciary in contravention of 3rd schedule, Part 11, paragraph 6 (c) of the constitution therefore empowers the Judicial Service Commission on matters relating to appointment, dismissal and exercise of disciplinary action over staff.

The  state House of Assembly on receiving the letter consented to the request by Governor  Saraki and  the embattled Chief Judge was removed after she failed to appear before the House to defend herself. All the 21 lawmakers present acceded to the request, which made the CJ  headed to the Federal High  court to seek redress and got judgment in her favour.

Armed with the judgment, Justice Helelu-Habeeb  appeared with her orderly in her former office while the Acting Chief Judge, Justice Olatunji Bamgbola was said to be on official duty in one of the adjoining offices. However, member of staff who were  present booed her and she quickly drove away  in her Peugeot 607 car.

Dissatisfied with the judgment, The Kwara state government filed an  appeal at the Court of Appeal which set aside the Federal High Court Judgment. Determined to pursue the matter to its logical conclusion,Justice Elelu Habeeb headed  to the  Supreme Court  which reinstated her  as the Kwara State Chief judge  after three years of  legal tussle.




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