A bench of 60 magistrates recently suspended by the state Judicial Service Commission, JSC, has alleged that their suspension was a product of witch-hunt.
Leading the affected magistrates, Gbenga Adeyemi told journalists in Akure on Sunday that the suspension letter dated September 14, 2017, which was on the grounds of “perceived irregularity and lack of due process in appointment,” was illegal.
Mr. Adeyemi stated that the commission and the acting Chief Judge, Oluwatoyin Akeredolu, erred in the issuance of the suspension letter.
“It should be noted that at the time the suspension letter was served on us, there was no constituted JSC,” he asserted.
“This acting chief judge and her clowns of advisers had been doing all these out of hate and flagrant disrespect to decorum and reasoning.
“She intimidates like she is a demigod; the special hatred she has for the magistrates is second to none.”
Those affected by the temporary exercise, as held by JSC, are 35 magistrates of the High Court, 25 staff attorneys of the High Court, while six are staff attorneys and senior registrars in the Court of Appeal.
Mr. Adeyemi further held that the commission was not sincere with the exercise, protesting that the plenary session had their meeting on September 22 without any recourse to the magistrates.
“At the end of said plenary session, the Ondo State JSC came up with an advertisement informing the general public about the vacant positions of magistrates and senior registrars (to function as staff attorneys), this advertisement was not directed to the suspended magistrates,” he said.
“Till date, we are yet to hear from the said plenary session as to the outcome; we neither heard nor received any other letter from the Ondo State Judicial Service Commission determining our position regarding the suspension.
“This is unfair and unjust with most of us having spent over five years as magistrates and appointments confirmed by state government two years after their appointment, some were even converted from staff attorneys to magistrates after plenary sessions.
“Some have taken promotional examinations and have been promoted while others are awaiting confirmation having spent close to two years without any misconduct. All these appointments are already gazetted by the Ondo State House of Assembly in appropriate years.”
The magistrates also alleged that the said suspension is being treated by the JSC as dismissal as their names had been removed from the payroll of the state with the failure to pay their entitled allowances.
They also appealed to well-meaning Nigerians to intervene in the matter by persuading the acting Chief Judge and JSC to desist from actions that would further rubbish the judiciary.
Meanwhile, the JSC Secretary, who signed the letter, Odubira Egbunu, stated that Justice Akeredolu, on resumption of office, noticed the irregularities by past administration and set up a committee to sanitize the system.
Mr. Egbunu stated that the committee report alleged irregularities in some appointment between 2011 and 2017, and subjected them to further probe.
While describing it as a “temporary exercise,” Mr. Egbunu noted that the suspension was devoid of victimization, but a sanitation exercise aimed at restoring “excellence, merit and due process” into the system.
“There is nothing like victimization as earlier reported; nobody is victimizing anybody,” he said.
“There are five categories of people that appeared before the committee: group A was found clean, Group B was found clean; it was Group C, D and E that have problems.
“Groups A and B appeared for the interview and were approved; they all scaled through the investigation. It was Group C, D and E that some of them didn’t even appear for interview; some not approved, but didn’t appear for interview. This is why the committee is looking at their case, and for the interim, they are suspended.”
He denied that the exercise was initiated by the state government to favour its supporters, kith and kin, adding that the various groups that appeared before the committee were treated fairly.
“When the last CJ left in January, two CJs took over in acting capacity. Somebody was there for six months and left, another person stepped in and spent one month and feels like he wants to know about what is happening there; he is the one that is digging out what has been happening there,” Mr. Egnunu further explained.
“The previous administration there must be blamed for not following the normal procedure. Things must be done properly according to the laid down rules and regulation.”