We note with deep consternation and concern for the dignity and sanctity of the Judiciary, the petition recently sent by the Honourable Justice Folahanmi Oloyede to the Osun State House of Assembly, for the impeachment and removal from office, of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Governor of Osun State. We are disturbed by the source of this petition because it reveals the embarrassing and gross ignorance of the Judge regarding the process for the impeachment of Governors. We are also disturbed by this apparently reckless descent of a Judicial officer into the murky waters of partisan politics.
The process for the removal of a governor by impeachment is clearly set out in Section 188 of the Constitution. It states as follows:
“188 – (1) The Governor or Deputy Governor of a State may be removed from office in accordance with the provisions of this section.
(2)Whenever a notice of any allegation in writing signed by not less than one-third of the members of the House of Assembly-
(a)is presented to the Speaker of the House of Assembly of the State;
(b)stating that the holder of such office is guilty of gross misconduct in the performance of the functions of his office, detailed particulars of which shall be specified….”
Justice Oloyede is clearly not a member of the Osun State House of Assembly. She is not even a member of a Civil Society Organization. She is infact a member of the Judiciary, the third Arm of Government conferred with the responsibility of the interpretation of Laws, including the Constitution and the issuing of Orders, Judgments and Sentences. Indeed, it is the duty of someone in Justice Oloyede’s position to preside over a case for the determination of the issue, whether a purported removal of a Governor by impeachment is valid or not. It is therefore a cause for great embarrassment and shame that a Judge of the High Court is ignorant of the fact that she cannot initiate impeachment proceedings against the Governor. This raises a question whether she is fit to hold the office to which she has been appointed.
From what has been stated above, it is quite obvious that the Osun State House of Assembly acted in gross error in entertaining Justice Oloyede;s petition. That petition is an illegal document which should have been disregarded with contempt by the House. By setting up a Committee to investigate the allegations in the so-called petition, the House itself was displaying its ignorance of the impeachment process.
Even more fundamental is the question whether a judicial officer should be publicly engaged in a bitter public confrontation with any other Arm of Government, particularly the Executive Arm of Government headed by the target of her tirade, the Governor, who appointed her into office. Specifically, is a Judge permitted to make public political comments and engage in public diatribes against the Government and the Governor of the State in which he or she is serving?
The code of conduct for Judicial Officers is replete with provisions requiring a Judicial Officer to act with dignity, decorum and a high standard of conduct. The preamble of the code, for example, provides that a Judicial Officer should actively participate in establishing, maintaining, enforcing and himself observing a high standard of conduct so that the integrity and respect for the independence of the Judiciary may be preserved.
Again, rule 1 paragraph 2 of the Code provides that a judicial officer shall respect and comply with the laws of the land and conduct himself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary. By paragraph 1 of rule 2, a judicial officer is enjoined to be true and faithful to the Constitution and the Law, uphold the course of justice by abiding with the provisions of the Constitution and the law. He or she is enjoined to acquire and maintain professional competence.
Finally, by rule 3(b)(ii), a judge in excising his constitutional right of freedom of expression should always conduct himself in such a manner as to preserve the dignity of his office and the impartiality and independence of the Judiciary.
Now, one may ask; by issuing this angry accusation of fraud, misappropriation of funds and general denunciation of the Governor of her State to the House of Assembly, has Justice Oloyede acted with decorum? Has she conducted herself in a manner that promotes public confidence in the Judiciary? Has she acted with integrity and impartiality with regard to a possible future party in her Court? Has she been true and faithful to the Constitution? Has she conducted herself in such a manner as to preserve the dignity of her office? Should she engage in an open confrontation with her appointor and the head of the Executive Branch of Government? If the answer to all these questions is NO and if she has desecrated the temple of justice and brought down the dignity and respect for the Judiciary, what is she still doing on the Bench?
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this episode in Osun State is the apparent silence of the National Judicial Council in the face of gross breaches of Judicial Etiquette and Code of Conduct by Justice Folahanmi Oloyede. If this open display of indiscipline and crass irresponsibility by Justice Oloyede is left unpunished, the National Judicial Council will be guilty of gross dereliction of duty and the Judiciary in Nigeria will face a bleak future.
Professor Itse Sagay, SAN