The Late Hon. Justice Yaya Jinadu:
This is the story of how a judge fought the duo of Gen Muhammadu Buhari and Odigie Oyegun in 1984 and sacrificed his job to save the integrity of the judiciary against the Military junta’s disobedience of court orders. Excerpts:
It was supposed to be a simple case of enforcement of human rights, and one of the several cases that he had to attend to in the normal course of his work. But it was the case that set Justice Yahaya Jinadu of the High Court of Lagos State and the Supreme Military Council under the leadership of General Muhammadu Buhari on collision, and which the judge, rather than compromise the integrity and independence of the judiciary, offered himself as a sacrificial lamb, and ended his carrier as a judge.
It all started on January 24, 1983, when Lagosians and entire Nigeria woke up to the sad news that the NET Building was up in flames. The popular 37 storey- building was the tallest building and the pride of the nation. It was the building that belonged to Nigerian External Communications, an agency of government. The men of the fire fighters were immediately contacted and they rose up to the occasion.
At the helm of affairs of the Fire department was Alhaji Adamu Akokhia who was the Chief Fire Officer of the Federation. He immediately got his men under the Divisional Fire Officer in charge of Lagos, Mr Seidu Garba and other men together and they confronted the inferno. Although they could not save the building, that saved more than 600 men from roasting while they lost two persons to death.
Despite their valour, Akokhia, Garba, and 19 fire fighters were arrested by the police and charged before Chief Magistrate A. Atiba at the Tinubu Magistrate Court, Lagos, for the murder of the two persons that died in the NET Building fire. Two weeks after being in detention for murder, they contacted their lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi to defend them. On February 16, 1983, Chief Fawehinmi filed an application for the enforcement of their fundamental human rights before Justice Charles Bada of the Lagos High Court. On the same date, Justice Bada, after hearing the application granted the release of all the accused persons.
They all happily went back to their homes and resumed back to work. However, 28 days after their release, both Akokhia and Garba again received a letter from the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs, placing them on interdiction for the offence of murder which a court of competentent jurisdiction quashed 28 days earlier. The letter was signed Mr R.A Akanni, on behalf of the Permanent Secretary, Mr John Oyegun (former APC Chairman).
The two approached Chief Fawehinmi again. Two days later, Chief Fawehinmi filed a Writ of Summons and Statement of Claims before Justice Yahaya Jinadu, seeking to quash the interdiction of the two civil servants. The cases were filed separately namely Suit No LD/578/83 and Suit No LD/579/83 respectively. At the hearing of the first case (Akokhia), Chief Fawehinmi and the State Counsel representing the defendants, Mr Moshood Adio agreed before the court that since the two cases were similar, the outcome of the first should determine the second one.
On February 20, 1984, Justice Jinadu ordered the reinstatement of Akokhia. However, when it got to the case of Garba, the defendant’s counsel, Adio reneged on his agreement and opted to contest the case. In the course of the trial, on April 11, 1984, Garba received another letter from Mr Oyegun that he had been dismissed. An alarmed Fawehinmi immediately filed a contempt of court application, seeking the court to commit Oyegun to jail. In the application, Chief Fawehinmi said that it was wrong to terminate the employment of his client while he was still challenging his suspension in court. “it amounts to an undue interference with the administration of justice and violent encroachment on the constitutional rights of this court and the applicant”, he argued.
He then continued: “Any attempt by any litigant in any action, either overtly or covertly to prevent any other person, be he litigant, or not, to exercise or continue to exercise his vested constitutional right of resorting to a court of law for adjudication of grievances amounts to contempt of court”.
On April 24, 2004, Justice Jinadu ordered the plaintiff to serve Mr Oyegun the contempt application against him so as to avail him the right to defend himself. On May 9, 2004, the matter came up again and the defendant’s counsel asked for more time to file a defence. Although Chief Fawehinmi objected to further adjournment, the judge granted the application till May 16.
It was in the course of these adjournments that the military government came up with Decree No 17 of 1984 on June 27, 1984 and backdated it to December 31, 1983. The decree made it practically impossible for any sacked public officer to challenge his sack in a court of law. Section 3(3) of the decree stated thus: “No civil proceedings shall lie or be instituted in any court for or on account of or in respect of any act, matter or thing done or purported to be done by any person under this decree and if any such proceedings have been or are instituted before o or after making this decree, the proceedings shall abate, be discharged and made void”.
Despite this decree however, the case continued in court. On July 16, Mr Oyegun again refused to appear before the court. Justice Jinadu therefore found him guilty of contempt of court but cautioned and discharged him on condition that he withdrew the sack letter issued to Seidu Garba not later than 1.00pm on July 18.
The case came up again on July 23 and again, Mr Oyegun had not complied with the order of court. Mr Dele Awokoya who stood in for Chief Fewhinmi urged the court to deliver its judgement on the substantive case. However, the lawyer to the defendants, Mr Adio stood up and informed the court of an appeal he filed on July 19 before the appellate court, seeking to dismiss the case in view of the new Decree 17. The trial judge asked Adio if the order of the court have been complied with.
Justice Jinadu further asked whether the contemnor was in court to which Adio’s reply was in the negative. The judge thereafter adjourned the matter till 12 noon for his order to be complied with. He said he would hear the application by 1.00 pm. Oyegun, the contemnor neither complied with the order nor appeared in court. He adjourned till the following day. Even at that, Oyegun refused to appear in the court. The judge again asked Mr Adio the whereabout of the defendant to which he replied despondently that he could not find Mr Oyegun.
An angry Awokoya, who stood in for Fawehinmi addressed the court: “The stage is now set for which the authority of the court must be preserved. The excuses being given by my learned friend that he could not locate the defendant is a brazen method of scandalizing the court. The court has duty to see that its orders are enforced. Instead of the permanent secretary obeying the order of court, he has contemptuously and irresponsibly, without any justifiable reason, disobeyed the orders of this court”.
Mr Adio thereafter went ahead with his application that the court lacks the jurisdiction to hear the case. He quoted section 6(6)(a) of the constitution, section 221 and section 51 of the High Court Laws of Lagos State. He also quoted the infamous Decree 17 that ousted the powers of court. “The effect of section 3(3) of Decree 17 is that is dead completely. If a statute says there is no jurisdiction in certain event, it is impossible for the court to have jurisdiction. If the court has no jurisdiction to entertain a matter, all proceedings on the matter are a nullity”, he argued.
At this junction, Justice Jinadu quipped in and asked: “ If a law says nobody should bear a child, then anyone pregnant should not bear the child. Is that not absurd?” After several arguments, the court dismissed the application the following day. Despite the dismissal, the judge did not wield the big stick against Oyegun. Rather, he summoned the bailiff to explain his efforts to serve the defendant. The Bailiff, Mr Kayode Oduwole explained to the court all his efforts at effecting service on Oyegun both at home and office which was to no avail.
The next day, July 27, Justice Jinadu delivered his judgment where he upheld the jurisdiction of his court since the matter before him was not dismissal but interdiction. He furthermore declared Seidu Garba’s interdiction illegal and ordered that he be reinstated back to his job. The court thereafter still gave Mr Oyegun till July 30 to appear before him and like earlier orders, it was flouted. The judge thereafter asked that Mr Adio, Oyegun’s lawyer should serve the defendant.
Meanwhile, the leadership of the Advisory Judicial Council and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice George Shodeinde Showemimo called Justice Jinadu to his chambers at the Supreme Court where he advised that he should adjourned the case till after Hajj which Justice Jinadu was scheduled to attend and then proceed on his leave. The CJN advised that a ditch was being dug for Jinadu and that he should not fall into it with his eyes wide open.
Justice Jinadu’s reply was that he was protecting the integrity and independence of the judiciary. He said to adjourn the matter indefinitely will be contrary to the oath he swore to uphold justice. On August 3, the matter came up in court and when asked for the whereabouts of the defendant, he lawyer, Mr Adio in his reply was unruly to the court. After several warnings, the court ordered that he remove his wig and gown and step out of the bar. However, again, maturity prevailed as the judge rather than sending Mr Adio to prison, reprimanded him.
The case came up again on August 3. Oyegun as usual was not in court. Justice Jinadu again asked Mr Adio if he had filed a return he ordered. Adio became unruly and replied the judge in a very rude manner. : “I don’t understand what a return means, I am not a party to the order. I will not carry out any order..” At this juncture, the judge had had it to the brim. His patience stretched beyond limit. He ordered Adio to remove his wig and gown and step out of the bar. Adio complied and moved to the dock.
It took all the maturity in him not to commit Adio to Prison that day. In a short ruling, Justice Jinadu wrote: “It has never happened in all my experience at the Bar and on the Bench, for a legal practitioner to behave in such a defiant, arrogant, and outrageous way in which you have behaved this morning. I shall therefore adjourn this matter till Thursday, August 7 to enable you carry out the order of this court as explained to you by the registrar”. The judge allowed Adio to go free despite the insult on the court.
At this juncture, the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Adetunji Adefarasin who had been watching from the sidelines, decide to intervene. He summoned Justice Jinadu to his office and called two senior judges to the meeting as well. They are Justice Candide Ademola Johnson, and Justice Charles Bada. At the meeting, the Chief Judge revealed that he was in receipt of a letter the Federal Ministry of Justice forwarded to Dodan Barracks complaining about Justice Jinadu. The three judges after reviewing the case agreed that Justice Jinadu should have known that there were unseen hands behind the conduct of Adio. That being the case, he should know what to do in the next adjourned date.
However, when he got to the office, he found out that Adio had filed the returns the court ordered. Shortly after, The Chief Judge called him on phone to come to his office with the case file. He complied and returned the file. The Chief Judge again called him to minute on the file: “I have no personal interest in the matter and I do not want to handle it any more”, Justice Jinadu complied. The following day, August 7, the trial judge announced in court that the file has been returned to the Chief Judge.
Chief Fawehinmi was shocked: “I am worried about the rule of law in this country. All the orders made are being ignored. The rule of law is being bastardised and brutalized! This is a dangerous precedent!”, he said. The following day, all newspapers carried the story in their front pages. The Sketch in an editorial condemned the withdrawal of the case from the trial judge. “The truth is that the rule of law is being bloodied with marked consistency by the authorities in this country.. When decrees are made ousting the jurisdiction of ordinary courts, when trials are being conducted in secret, when judges trained to administer justice are subordinated to military laymen, what respect can the authorizes say they have for the rule of law?”, The Sketch asked.
From this moment, administrative intrigues took over. The Chief Judge, Justice Adefarasin, who initially asked Justice Jinadu to return the casefile to him denied he did so, saying that Justice Jinadu voluntarily returned the file. Justice Adefarasin’s rebuttal came when Justice Jinadu was out of the country on holy pilgrimage to hajj. Justice Ishola Oluwa who just retired issued a press release on the unfairness of the Chief Judge in making his comments when he knew Justice Jinadu being out of the country could not reply. “I wish to emphasize that Justice Jinadu is now on Holy Pilgrimage to Mecca and therefore not in a position to remind the Chief Judge about the exchange of correspondence between him and Justice Adefarasin on this matter. I have as a friend of Justice Jinadu’s a duty to say that If I were the Chief Judge, I would wait for him to be back from Mecca before reading a statement to the open court wherein it is not mentioned that Justice Jinadu had without reservation written the Chief Judge to maintain his stand that the file was indeed withdrawn by Justice Adefarasin”, Justice Oluwa stated.
Chief Fawehinmi also filed a suit in court challenging the withdrawal of the case from Justice Jinadu by the Chief Judge. Justice Adefarasin however dismissed the case as “misconceived and an abuse of court process”. He later transferred the case to Justice Abdulraheem Bakare.
On September 12, 1984, the Advisory Judicial Council, in a letter summoned Justice Jinadu to appear before it to answer to some queries viz:
Addressing a state counsel of the Federal Ministry of Justice in January, 1984 that he was drunk,andDisrobing a Principal State Counsel during the proceedings of a case in the court.
He was to appear before them the following day, September 13, 1984.
Justice Jinadu complied and defended himself before the panel. The following day, September 14, 1984, the Advisory Judicial Council, in a letter signed by Justice Sowemimo as chairman AJC, reprimanded Justice Jinadu, asking him to apologise to the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Adefarasin publicly in a letter. He was also to appear before a panel comprising of the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Court of Appeal, Attorney General of the Federation, and the Chief Judge of Lagos State, to tender his apology orally to them and then await disciplinary action that would be meted out to him. What this means in short, is to totally humiliate him before an eventual dismissal.
Rather than apologise, Justice Jinadu opted to proceed immediately on retirement. He immediately forwarded his notice of retirement to the Military Governor of Lagos State through the Chief Judge of the State. He gave a six month notice to enable him conclude the part heard matters before him. He then wrote a reply to the Advisory Judicial Council where he explained thoroughly the facts of the case. In concluding his letter, he said:
“I believe the judiciary has an important role to play in this country as it is the last hope of the common man. The Judiciary has to be firm, fair, and courageous and must not employ any form of double standards. It is not right in my view to regard or treat courts of justice as extension of the Federal Ministry of Justice;
Above all, your letter asked me to apologise in writing and in addition to appear before you, the President of the Court of Appeal, and the Attorney General of the Federation to apologise verbally. This verbal apology appears to me to appease the lawyers in the Ministry of Justice through the Attorney General of the Federation, otherwise what is the necessity of a verbal apology after a written apology. I cannot be a part of this humiliation and disgrace to the judiciary and as no condition is permanent, I have done the only honourable thing for a reasonable, upright, and disciplined judge to do. I categorically deny the allegation made in your letter against me that I lied;
I wish to emphasize very strongly that I did not tell lies. Accordingly I cannot see how how I can continue to serve as a judge under such a system. I have already given notice of my retirement from service. I cannot condone any attempt to destroy the judicial system in this country using me as a scapegoat”.
Rather than allowing the judge the six months’ notice that he gave, the Supreme Military Council under General Muhammadu Buhari directed him to proceed on his retirement immediately, not minding the part heard cases before him.
The matter subsequently went before the Court of Appeal where a three man panel that consisted of Justice Adenekan Ademola, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, and Justice Owolabi set aside the judgement of Justice Jinadu and decared that Saidu Garba was lawfully fired. Not satisfied, Garba proceed to the Supreme Court.
On October 26, 1986, the Supreme Court, in a lead judgement delivered by Justice Kayode Eso declared that Decree 17 has no effect on the case of Seidu Garba. The apex court thereafter set aside the judgement of the Court of Appeal, and reinstated Garba, thereby vindicating Justice Jinadu. Other members of the panel included Justices Andrew Otutu Obaseki, Saidu Kawu, Abdul Ganiyu Olatunji Agbaje, and Philip Nnaemeka Agu.
Celebrating the courage of Justice Jinadu, The Guardian Newspaper, in its editorial of November 1, 1984 titled “Justice Jinadu: A tribute to courage” said: “Not many men ever utter words so power-packed or so profound that they recommend themselves for perpetual remembrance. But then, not many men qualify for remembrance. Mr Justice Yahaya Jinadu, formerly of the High Court of Lagos State, shines like a hundred diamonds on both accounts. Said he as he bowed out of the nation’s judiciary: I cannot condone any attempt to destroy the judicial system in this country using me as a scape goat;
Those eternal words may one day go down as the epitaph of this remarkable Nigerian. Remarkable because he is one of the few in public life ever to demonstrate that the exigencies of bread- not to mention the butter on top of it-will never corrupt them into desecrating the sanctity of a respected principle.
Source: Salute to courage. The Story of Justice Yaya Jinadu by Akinola