OPINION: Aregbesola’s Giant Stride In The Judicial Sector

aregbe2By now, very few people, except of course malicious political opponents, would refuse to acknowledge that the incumbent governor of the State of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola is a man imbued with a class when it comes to the issue of leadership. However, I will leave his accomplishments for the state in general terms for the chroniclers of history, having decided to limit myself for what he has impacted on the administration of justice since he ascended to office three years ago.

To impugn the insinuation that this is just a routine hagiography of a popular public office holder, I would also refrain from making direct, positive evaluative remarks but would leave it to the readers to draw their own conclusions from the factual and well-documented performances of the Oranmiyan.

My real intention for writing this piece is to show how a ruler, convinced on his ideology and principled enough to make sacrifices for their actualisation, can bring about far-reaching changes.

I am a lawyer and being well-schooled in the philosophy that law is an instrument for positive social changes, I am always delighted whenever I perceive that any person, body or institution is making worthwhile contribution to help the cause of justice administration.  Accordingly, I want to place it on record that I have been so excited about the remarkable landmark achievements that Ogbeni Aregbesola has made to overhaul justice administration in the state. The governor had earlier promised that the revival of the justice sector would be a subset of his administration’s larger Osun Rebirth Project. He made this vow in his campaign brochure published as the Green Book- My pact with the people of Osun State, stating solemnly as follows: “My government will ensure speedy access to justice by all individuals in Osun State, by reforming the courts system and procedural rules, introducing alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms and free legal services.”

That vow now seems to have turned prophetic!  While space may not permit wholesome recitation of the governor’s endeavours in this context, I would briefly mention those that I regard most remarkable.

Now, let us move down to the facts and figures. Prior to his ascension to office, there were only 18 magistrates holding sway throughout the expansive Osun state. Since the majority of the cases are invariably handled by magistrates, Aregbesola felt the inadequacy this limited number of judicial officers foisted on the Judiciary and its concomitant negative impact on efficient administration of justice, he therefore, appointed additional 19 magistrates to bring to 37 the number of this cadre of judicial officers.

The governor also appointed 18 more state counsel to boost the efficiency of service delivery at the state’s Ministry of Justice. He established the state’s Citizen’s Mediation Centre to settle disputes between citizens without the need to resort to litigation and thereby decongest the courts. He did not stop there; he appointed 309 presidents and members of the customary courts in the state to revive the court, which had become remarkably in-operational because of lack of quorum and failing to meet the objectives for which it was established.

Furthermore, to ensure that only quality persons are appointed into the judicial service, the governor tinkered with the body charged with the issue of appointment of judicial officers, the Judicial Service Commission. On June 9, last year, he appointed competent, fit and proper persons into Osun State Judicial Service Commission.

After the efforts to appoint a very brilliant and erudite judge of Osun State extraction, Justice Joseph Olubunmi Oyewole, proved abortive, Aregbesola adhered strictly to the recommendations of the National Judicial Council (NJC), which culminated in the appointment of the unassuming and generally acceptable first female Chief Judge for the state.

To consolidate on all these appointments, the governor also made a lot of investment on human capacity building of judicial officers. For example, all legal practitioners in the government of the state and magistrates (which have become enlarged in size as noted above) were sponsored to this year’s Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association in Calabar. They were also sponsored to this year’s International Bar Association Conference, which held in Boston, United States. All magistrates in the state were also sponsored to Magistrates’ Association of Nigeria Annual Conference, which held in Lagos earlier this year, with the state recording the largest number of contingent at the conference among the 36 states.

Besides, judges of superior court are sponsored to overseas training periodically to sharpen their skills and equip them with modern ideas on justice delivery.

Aregbesola’s relationship with the bar has been excellent. All the five branches of the NBA in the state, namely Osogbo, Ikirun, Iwo, Ilesa and Ife, have, at one time or the other, become beneficiaries of the state governor’s largesse. For example, At the annual Sapara Williams Law week of the NBA Ilesa which held on November 26. Ogbeni announced the donation of three buses to the Ilesa, Ife and Iwo branches of NBA, which did not have buses of their own, unlike the remaining two other branches of Osogbo and Ikirin that have.

Under the vibrant leadership of Ogbeni, the state’s legislature has been proactive by passing many laws.  These include Osun State Agency For the Control of HIV/AIDS (O-SACA) Law, 2011; State of Osun Security Trust Fund Law, 2012; State of Osun Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (Amendment) Law, 2012; State of Osun Legitimacy (Repeal) Law, 2012; State of Osun Anthem, Crest and Flag Law, 2012; State Of Osun Debt Management Office Law, 2012 and The Osun Protection Against Domestic Violence Law, 2012.

In addition to these laws, there are also many bills at different stages of passage at the state’s legislature; these include justice-sector bills, such as the State of Osun Special Offences Court Bill, 2013.

In short, the legal/policy reform initiatives of Aregbesola’s administration cut across nine major sectoral areas. These include  (a) Public Finance Management; (b)Revenue Generation; (c)Education and Human Capacity Development; (d) Urban Renewal and Environment; (e)Governance and Security; (f) Judicial Sector Reform; (g) Health and Safety; (h) Agriculture and Food Security and (i) Institutionalisation of Social Welfare Schemes.

An objective reader may ponder on why a governor who is not himself a lawyer may embark on revolutionising the justice sector on such an expansive and ambitious scale. But, I am not surprised; having known that the governor is a beneficiary of a courageous and uncompromising judiciary, he will strive to fulfill on his promise to make the society better that he met it.

Though he is an engineer, Aregbesola somehow understands the great importance a good administration of justice system implies for harmonious co-existence, progress and sustainable development. This is easily shown in the way he handled the matter of his governorship election debacle in his state.

Having been cheated of his mandate through massive election rigging in the last governorship election in the state, the governor urged all his followers and supporters not to take law into their hands through violence. He assured them he would follow the unpredictable and expensive procedure of litigation. What a torturous path that proved to be!

For whopping three years, he fought a relentless legal battle, which would have exhausted the patience of men of lesser steely constitution. To claim back his stolen mandate, he called more than 100 witnesses and tendered 168 exhibits in his petition before the Election Petitions Tribunal, to prove the allegation of mass rigging of the election. Eventually, the judgment came on November 26, 2011, when the Court of Appeal declared Aregbesola the winner of the election and ordered he should be sworn-in the following day.

Furthermore, it is remarkable that all the above quoted achievements of Ogbeni were done for the Judiciary alone despite the fact that Osun State is the smallest economy in Nigeria. To make this objective and the larger dream realisable of Osun Rebirth Project, the governor embarked on major drive to increase phenomenally the internally generated revenues of the state. It is noteworthy that as at 2009, Osun  had a  meagre Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of N110 billion ($963 million) and internally generated revenue (IGR) of  N320million monthly,  but as of today, the state has an IGR of about N1.4 billion per month, also, the state’s  GDP is about N738 billion.

Commenting on the performance of Aregbesola after three years in office at the Ilesa Bar- organised Law week in honour of Christopher Alexander Sapara-Williams show case session, the guest speaker and Commissioner for Regional Integration and Special Duties, Mr. Ajibola Bashiru, gave an overview of the governor’s justice sector initiatives as follows: “Aregbesola has led an administration  to modernise governance; institutionalise good governance practices; facilitate and support investment; improve security and social welfare; promote public good and realise the Six-point Integral Action Plan of the Administration.

“Governmental institutions and policies become more meaningful, achievable and sustainable when they are entrenched in the legal framework of society. The immense development being witnessed in various facets of life in the State of Osun is functions of not only purposeful leadership, but clear re-engineering of different aspects of the society including financial, legal, judicial and social sectors.”

In conclusion, I would like to state that the governor has erected a great foundation for dynamic and efficient justice administration which is solid enough to carry the weight of subsequent superstructure of legal reforms. This exemplary legacy would surely give him a place in history.

Abdul-Rasheed is a former National Publicity Secretary, Nigerian Bar Association