Ondo acting judge, JSC face N300m damages, litigation

A judge's gavel rests on top of a desk inside a courtroom. (AFP/Joe Raedle)


Sequel to the suspension of 60 magistrates by the Ondo State Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the Acting Judge, Oluwatoyin Akeredolu, is currently facing N300m litigation for breach of civil service laws and gross judicial misconduct.

The 60 magistrates and six other senior registrars were suspended by JSC on September 14, 2017 for "perceived irregularity in their appointment," though their salaries were reportedly released from the Accountant General's Office, but held by JSC.

One of the affected magistrates sought redress at the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Akure Judicial Division, Akure, with Suit No: NCIN/AK/33/2017, having the state JSC and Acting Chief Judge as defendants.

The claimant, Iretiolu Wemimo Dada, in a statement of material facts to the court, claimed in her reliefs that her appointment letter dated November 2013 as Chief Magistrate Grade II was valid, legal and subsisting.

"The sum of N300, 000,000 as aggravated and exemplary damages against the defendants for the undeserved, outrageous and unwarranted contempt, cruelty, malice, oppression, humiliation, molestation, embarrassment, degradation, mental trauma, torture, inconveniences and hardship occasioned in the defendants' act of unlawful suspension of the claimant from the post as Chief Magistrate Grade II."

In a letter written earlier to the National Judicial Council (NJC), they had alleged that the state governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, influenced their sack, also accusing the Acting Chief Judge of using them to settle scores with her immediate past predecessor.

Alongside others who kicked against the suspension and cried foul, Dada sought an order setting aside the letter of suspension, describing it as wrongful, invalid and void.

Aside from claims for order of reinstatement to previous position, she demanded outright payment of N1,515,523.65k as salaries and allowances from October 2016 to November 2017; and N2 million as cost of litigation.

"An order directing the defendants to subsequently continue the payment of the claimant's salary, allowances and other entitlements of the claimant while in the employ of the defendants without prejudice to claimant's promotion entitlements from December 2017 till the day of judgment and thereafter. “

"An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants whether by themselves, agents or privies from further suspending or tampering with the claimant on the alleged irregularities of the appointment of the claimant; the said appointment/employment being valid and subsisting," the suit read in part.

Meanwhile, the JSC Secretary, Mr. Odubira Egbunu, who signed the suspension letter, had told The Guardian that action of JSC was an exercise to sanitize the system and not to victimize anyone.

Egbunu, who retired as learnt by our correspondent earlier in the week, however, noted that the past administrations committed blunders in the appointment processes of the magistrates and registrars.

All efforts to speak with the Acting Chief Judge were abortive as many staff of the commission who spoke with The Guardian revealed that the handsets of every member had been secretly tapped to monitor their conversations.

Nonetheless, a source within the system who pleaded anonymity, disclosed that Justice Akeredolu and the governor, who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) are confused with the present situation in the commission.

"I can tell you categorically, they don't know what they are doing again. They had thought they would just do it with impunity and nobody could query them; the criticism is getting stiffer by the day," she said.

The source disclosed further that the NJC, some other senior lawyers and veterans in the profession questioned the decision by JSC and the commission is contemplating to recall some of the suspended magistrates as registrars.





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