THERE may be other unknown forces which impelled Justice Oloyede Olamide Folahanmi to write a 39-page petition against the Governor of Osun State, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, on the 19th of June. Otherwise, this youngish state high court judge did declare that “in presenting this petition, I’m not in any way motivated by malice, spite, pecuniary interest or promise thereof, nor am I propelled by a desire for higher office…” In the hierarchy of 20 state high court judges in service in Osun State, she places 18th.
The complete text of the petition is not available. The bits and pieces available in print and in the web read like the lamentations of a patriot who felt let down by misgovernment. Yet I’m sure Justice Oloyede Folahanmi must have been totally unprepared for what has assailed her since she submitted her petition, a document that is a showpiece of courage.
Justice Folahanmi had tried to see the governor, to talk to him about her misgivings on her observations and if possible receive explanations. The governor agreed, granted her an appointment and, then, reneged. She tried again to reach the governor but the line had been ‘switched off.’ She then sat down and penned her petition which she then forwarded to the Osun State House of Assembly with the suggestion that her complaints against the governor might rise to the level of impeachable offenses. She also forwarded a copy to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, apparently, hoping the commission might find something interesting in it to investigate.
After shilly-shallying for weeks, the Osun State House forwarded the petition to the governor for his perusal and response. Governor Rauf Aregbesola, a man known for hard ball, then unleashed on Justice Folahanmi the state’s All Progressives Congress’s (APC) political machine which, instantly, called on the judge to resign her position as a judge of the high court. She must resign because she is “ganging up with the opposition to destroy the state government of which she is an integral part.” The director of publicity research and strategy of the APC in Osun State, Mr. Kunle Oyatomi, accused her of using her privileged position to launch an undue attack on Governor Aregbesola. “It is a gross abuse of the privileges of her office for the judge to use the platform of the state’s judiciary to mount open and destructive challenge against the state’s chief executive who is her boss in government.”
Mr. Oyatomi argued that the judge’s petition indicates clearly her determination to bring down the Aregbesola government which the ethics of her status in the government prohibits. It would be dishonorable of her to continue to remain in government. “Whereas the judge, as a free citizen, has rights to express herself on matters affecting the country and her environment, but as a judge of the state high court she is ethically and morally restrained from making pronouncements that would be prejudicial to the administration of justice,” Oyatomi declared.
The Osun State House forwarded the petition to the state’s chief judge who now invited Justice Folahanmi to interrogate her about the petition. Did she actually write it? She answered in the affirmative. The House then constituted a seven-man panel to review the petition and make a recommendation to the whole House. Of the seven members, not one came from the opposition party; all were members of the governor’s party, the APC. It was headed by the APC majority Leader, Mr. Adegboye Akintunde.
Governor Aregbesola was asked to reply to the petition, which he did without much ado. He treated it as if it meant nothing to him. The seven-man APC panel thereafter invited the judge. Justice Folahanmi asked for a copy of the governor’s response to her petition, apparently to enable her make informed answers to the probe panel’s questions and follow-up questions. The panel refused to give her Governor Aregbesola’s response. She then refused to show up in person, but sent a counsel, Senior Advocate Ogunlesi, who appealed to the panel to oblige her the governor’s reply: “She may even come out to say ‘I’m sorry, I withdraw my petition’ after going through the governor’s reply and may not need to see the committee again…We are not running away. She is bold enough to write the petition and she is prepared to defend it. If she should have the (governor’s) reply today she will be here tomorrow,” he assured the panel.
A few days later the EFCC sent her an invitation to come to the commission’s office. Like an accused person. She declined and asked the EFCC to come see her with its questions in Oshogbo. Now the country is watching this drama with baited breath because the success or failure of this new government’s claim to fight corruption must depend on how well Justice Folahanmi is treated. The governor thinks it is a political fight. Osun State APC insists it is a political fight. Lawyers are engrossed with the ethical dimensions of a petition by a judge. But what happens to this woman ought to command the attention of the Buhari Presidency because even if it is a political fight, it ought to be responded to by government as a moral fight. The crusade against corruption and graft is moral as well as legal. It is impossible to begin a meaningful fight against corruption without whistle-blowers.
In a country determined to reduce corruption and misgovernment, Justice Folahanmi would be handled with utmost care and respect if not by the Osun State Governor’s Office at least by the Osun State House of Assembly. Even the Nazis found that no matter the power, a police force without informants is blind. In the same manner, a fight against corruption without whistle-blowers is a waste of time. The only way majority of Nigerians would believe that this government is serious as well as sincere in fighting corruption is for President Buhari to send a bill for the protection and security of whistle-blowers to the National Assembly for immediate enactment.
Obi is a public affairs commentator