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Lost opportunity

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Scale of Justice. Photo/Sealchambers

The test for the vaunted respect for the judiciary came last week. In a judgment that dismayed the observers, Mr. Justice Festus Odubiyi, unmoved by any threat to peace and order, real or imaginary, asked that the installation of Oba Michael Sonariwo as the new Akarigbo of Sagamu coming off the following day be halted. The government of Ogun State quickly rushed in an edict to empower the government to present Oba Sonariwo a staff of office, and issued a statement assuring all that the ceremony would go on as planned.

Mr. Justice Odubiyi’s order came only hours to the ceremony to which dignitaries from all over the country had been invited. Elaborate preparations had been made. The Oba-elect had gone through all the traditional rites. The order, therefore, it would seem, came too close to the D-Day. Judges are wont to decline to give orders in vain. And this brings to mind the discomfort granting injunctions at the 11th hour gave to the Chief Justice last year. In granting an interlocutory injunction, courts often consider what they call balance of convenience.

In this case, however, it would appear Justice Odubiyi had no choice, but to stop the installation. He had said Edict 2, 1990, which sought to validate the appointment of Oba Sonariwo, was invalid, null and void. What was defective in that edict may have been corrected on Friday after the court ruling. The government has thus taken care of the court’s objection to the appointment of Oba Sonariwo. But the court went on to say that, from all affidavits before it, none had contested the qualification of the aggrieved prince to the throne. The judge believed that there were serious issues to be tried in the substantive suit.

The judge could not see how stopping the ceremony was going to inconvenience the government, the local authority or the Oba. If it was it did not say so with the exception of the prospective king. There were two other respondents, and they did not swear to any affidavits as well to prove the inconvenience they would suffer.

One thing that intrigues this column in a matter of this nature is a situation in which there is a suit in court. It takes two to have a misunderstanding. One goes to court to complain of unfairness against the other party. The other files an appearance. He then proceeds to call a meeting that has bearing on the issue in court. The complainant rushes to court to stop the meeting, fearing that if it was not stopped, it would render his own struggle a nullity. The respondent, knowing full well that a matter is in court, goes ahead nevertheless to call the meeting. He issues invitation cards, and hires a hall. In his own affidavit to counter the effort to stop the meeting, he then states that it would be unfair if the meeting was stopped because he had spent money to convene it. The court in its wisdom considers such expenditure and weighs the balance of convenience in his favour. In the Sagamu case, such force was not on display, although the respondents put up such arguments that money had been spent, and the guests had, in fact, been arriving in Abeokuta.

As a layman and I stand to be educated, I would have thought that traditional rites which would eventually lead to coronation would have been stopped since a matter was in court, and neither party to the dispute knew which way the court decision would go.

Even if we were to grant that the ruling came too close to the Oba’s day of glory, the government ought to have stopped the installation to demonstrate its respect for the judiciary which is generally regarded as the place of refuge for the weak. If the substantive suit were eventually to be decided against the Akarigbo, will he be asked to vacate the tool for his opponent? It is sadly a lost opportunity to raise the dented image of the judiciary. To Justice Odubiyi, I say that was a courageous ruling. It would undoubtedly give joy to Ademola Candido-Johnson in retirement, forced on him by ill-health.

This was first published in this column on 19 July, 1990.


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