Justice Oyewole: Tribute To A Quintessential Jurist At 50 | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Justice Oyewole: Tribute To A Quintessential Jurist At 50

Posted: May 14, 2015 at 3:10 am   /   by   /   comments (0)
• Oyewole

• Oyewole

By Muritala Abdul-Rasheed


For those who know him, no word is necessary, for those who do not know him, no word is sufficient. This statement by an American author, W. T. Horrigen, aptly describes what a renowned Nigerian jurist, Justice Joseph Olubunmi Oyewole, represents

As Justice Oyewole attains the golden age of fifty this week precisely the 13th of May, 2015, I consider it most appropriate to share the little the things I know about him with Nigerians particularly the legal community.

This decision of mine is against the backdrop of our much known culture of apathy to celebrate our heroes when they alive. Rather we tend to pour unstinted encomiums on them after they are dead and gone.

Even though Justice Oyewole has only turned 50, he is already a juggernaut on the bench. He has managed to pack within these five decades laudable achievements that many other people might not achieve in the course of their lifetime.  Oyewole was appointed a judge of the Lagos State Judiciary on May 24, 2001 and since that time his judicial career has been characterised with a lot of achievements as well as challenges. In 2006,he was a resource person at a workshop jointly organised by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) on the practicability of the newly enacted E.F.C.C ACT at Shida Hotel Abuja.OlisaAgbakobaSAN the 23rd President of the Bar who presided over the session described Justice OYEWOLE and Justice Zanna, the chief judge (C.J) of Bornu state as the future Lord Denning of the Nigerian Judiciary.

If there is one judge in Nigeria today whose name rings bell beyond the small, conservative legal circle of the Judiciary and especially among the lay people who constitutes the larger society, he is no other person than Justice Joseph Olubunmi Kayode Oyewole.

He is reputed to have heard and determined many sensational cases which  both the learned minds and the common folks (as evinced in public opinion)  have adjudged to be logically, judicially, judiciously , courageously and fairly decided.

Reputed as a jurist of remarkable cerebral prowess, Oyewole handled all the said sensational cases with unusual courage, ignoring all the pressures that could impinge on or fetter his discretion and/or judgment.  He will always admonish counsel close to him to choosebetween hischambers and his court.In other words, if you are a close friend he will not entertain any matter involving you as a counsel or litigant in his court. He will graciously disqualify himself.  He is reputed to be a highly upright and incorruptible judge.  His courtroom literally turned a shrine of justice as he would not allow a wrong to go without appropriate redress. He always strive to do substantive justice, at least, within the confines and limitations imposed by law.

Some of the sensational cases the Ila-Orangun-born jurist had handled includes the notorious case of three swindlers, Emmanuel Nwude, Mrs. AmakaAnajemba and NzeribeOkoli, who were convicted and sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment by Justice Oyewole then of Ikeja High Court, between April and November 2005 for defrauding a Brazilian banker, Mr. Nelson Sakaguchi, and his bank, BanquoNoreste, Sau Paulo, of the sum of $242 million. The case is famous for being the biggest single fraud case in the world.

Oyewole also heard and determined the case of the former Deputy Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and one- time Chairman of the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA), Chief Olabode George.

George had been arraigned before him on a 68-count charge by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).  In the charge, the former NPA boss was alleged to have perpetrated the offences of contract-splitting inducing misappropriation of billions of naira and disobedience to lawful order.

Justice Oyewole convicted and sentenced George to 30 months imprisonment on October 26, 2009.  The judgment was affirmed by the Court of Appeal on January 21, 2011. The pronouncements of the judge on many of the cases he had handled have been upheld by the superior courts, viz, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, however in the instant case, the Supreme Court eventually overturned the judgement and absolved George of liabilities on the offences.  Justice AfolabiFabiyi, who read the judgment, held that the conviction was wrong on the grounds that the respondent which is the EFCC failed to prove the case against George.

The apex court stated, inter-alia “It is not in contention that all the counts by which the appellant (George) was tried and convicted was based on an intention to defraud.

“Since intention to defraud was made an element of the charge, the respondent (EFCC) has the onus to prove same but failed to do so. “It has been established that the case of the respondent rests on a shaky ground.”

Nonetheless, Oyewole’s reputation as a conscientious, thorough-bred, meticulous and cerebral judge was never threatened.

Very few Nigerians will also hurriedly forget the controversial pastor, EmekaEzeugoa.k.a Rev. King’sCase. King had been arraigned on September 26, 2006 on a six-count charge of attempted murder and murder. He was specifically accused of having killed a member of his church, Miss Ann Uzoh. Oyewole convicted and sentenced him to death by hanging on January 11, 2007.  It was well-known that Oyewole handled this case with expertise that has been now been established as his character trait.  As a matter of fact, Oyewole’s judgments are always well-researched, intellectually-engaging and his pronouncements are like legal aphorisms that would make one keep wondering and meditating!

I will like to state here that it is rather coincidental that I was involved in the appeal of Rev King as Appellant’s Counsel, which means I was able to study thoroughly the said case. In spite of the adversarial position I was in relating to the case, and even though I may not totally agree with all the findings and pronouncements Oyewole J made, nonetheless, I could not resist being thrilled by Oyewole’s brilliance as he applied himself with uncanny rigour, industry and fair-mindedness.

Not to be forgotten is also the case of former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. IshayaBamaiyi(rtd) who  was eventually freed by Justice  Oyewole of the alleged offence of attempted murder of the Guardian publisher, Alex Ibru.

It has not been all rosy for Oyewole as his career has also been fraught with a lot of challenges and obstacles. For example when, having been apparently impressed by Oyewole’s profile, the Osun State Judicial Service Commission recommended him for promotion as the Chief Judge of Osun State. The National Judicial Council (NJC) rejected Oyewole’s recommendation on the grounds that he is not a serving judge of Osun State Judiciary and that he is not the most senior judge and could therefore not be the CJ.

Secondly, Oyewole’s bid to ascend to the Appellate Court from the Lagos State Judiciary was frustrated by some powers that be, apparently on the grounds that he, as an indigene of Osun State, should not be allowed to use the slot meant for Lagos State to ascend to the Court of Appeal.

As it often happens, merit has a way of standing out no matter the obstacles, Oyewole was among the 25 new justices appointed to the Court of Appeal by President Goodluck Jonathan on the recommendation of the NJC on March 17, 2014 and he has continued to blaze his trail as a courageous, fearless and enterprising judge of the Appellate Court.

Surely, Oyewole attributes should be recommended to many aspiring judges and even some of those already on the bench who have not reckoned their position on the bench as a call to higher responsibilities. While thanking Almighty Allah for the gift of this quintessential Justice of the Court of Appeal, virtuous indigene of Osun and worthy son of Ila-Orangun, I am using this medium to felicitate with Justice Joseph Olubunmi Kayode Oyewole for attaining the golden age of 50 and wish him long life and prosperity in the service of our fatherland. I have no doubt in my mind that his presence on the appellate bench will continue to enrich our jurisprudence as well as improving our administration of Justice.  It is the hope of every practicing Lawyer that Oyewole and others who are very young, dynamic and sound will make it to the apex court in the course of their career. If he does I am certain he would leave his indelible footprints in the judicial sands of time in emulation of his predecessors like Justice OlajideOlatawura, Mohammed Bello, Kayode Eso, ChukwudifuOputa et al.

Join me in saying 50 hearty cheers to the evolving Lord Denning of our time.


• Abdul-Rasheed, a former National Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), is a member of the Osun State Judicial Service Commission.