A Dangerous precedent – The Nation Editorial 

  • It is ominous for a mob to force a judge to vary his order 

A caricature of a rabble could as well replace the blindfolded lady with the gavel or sword, as the symbol of justice, going by the decision of Justice David Oladimeji of the Osun High court, sitting at Ede, to vary the detention order made against Prof Anthony Elujoba, the former acting Vice-Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, following the outlawry of the defendant’s supporters at the court premises, last week.

Following protests by students and staff of the university, who consider the accused a victim of high-wire politics, the judge, who had ordered that the accused be remanded at the IIesa prison, varied the order by changing the detention facility to that of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the date for ruling on the bail application, to assuage the rioters. We deprecate the unruly behaviour of the supporters of the former vice-chancellor, who sought to use violence and intimidation to secure his release.

But we are also deeply concerned about the allegations that Prof Elujoba is a victim of high-wire politics. According to the protesters, the vice-chancellor is being victimised for, among other reasons, paying the university workers the arrears of their entitlements running into over a billion naira. The protesters also claimed that despite several petitions against Prof Bamitale Omole, a former vice-chancellor of the university, the EFCC has not charged him, but they were eager to latch on the spurious allegations against Prof Elujoba, for reasons they consider untoward.

These allegations should be properly investigated by the relevant authorities. While the courts are already seised of the case against Prof Elujoba, is it true that weightier allegations against Prof Omole have been ignored? Even while not lending credence to the claims of Prof Elujoba’s supporters, which appear to be the majority of the university community, it may do good to the credibility of the EFCC, if a different batch of operatives from outside take a second look on the findings against the accused.

Even while urging for a review of the investigation, those responsible for the unruly conduct within the high court premises, for whatever reasons, must be reprimanded. Even if their claim is unassailable, the resort to self-help and attempt to overawe the judicial process is indefensible. If they get away with that outlawry in the present case, who says a similar fate cannot be visited on another court, in a different circumstance, by a person or group who may have learned from their action?

Something close to that happened when Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State sacked courts in Ekiti, which he accused of having been recruited to undermine his election. As we did then, we urge for respect of the sanctity of the judicial process. Even when a party may feel the process may have been circumvented, the right thing to do is to appeal to a higher court for redress. In the instant case, arguments for bail had been taken, and it was the judge’s prerogative to assign a date to deliver his ruling.

As we have also argued on the granting of bail, a more definitive standard needs to be put in place. Where standards are in place, the applicable bail bond and terms would be known and upon meeting it, an accused is allowed to go home, knowing that the state has secured his/her attendance to the trial. After all, the essence of a bail is to secure the attendance of an accused person to his/her trial, and nothing more.

The other important issue that must be addressed is the presence of adequate security at the courts, to secure the impartiality and independence of judges at all times.

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