Justice Yaya Jinadu: A toast to courage
WHEN people talk about heroes, Judges don’t readily come to mind. But in 1984, a Nigerian High Court Judge was celebrated in several newspaper editorials for his courage as he chose to sacrifice his career when the powers that be tried to break him because he refused to bend and pervert the course of justice.
Retired Justice Yaya Abiodun Olatunde Jinadu, who clocked 90 on November 16, 2015, has always been celebrated as an upright and forthright Judge with uncompromising attitude on the issues of independence of the Judiciary.
In Salute to Courage, a book written by a newspaper columnist, Mr. Richard Akinnola, Justice Jinadu was described as a “Judge who would refuse to listen to a female counsel, whose stylishly braided hair did not allow the wig to stay properly on her head.”
According to the book published by Nigerian Law Publications Ltd in 1989, “Justice Jinadu was very strict and meticulous. He was a Judge who would strike out a motion simply because the lawyer made a minor mistake in his affidavit like, for example, omitting a word. Many lawyers did not like this. They believed he was too iron-fisted. But Justice Jinadu was relentless. He believed that before lawyers come to court, they had to do their homework thoroughly.
He was a judge with an obdurate opposition to interference with the Judiciary. He was fiercely independent minded and iron-willed. He possessed a remarkable consummate knack to seek justice no matter who was involved and damned the consequences. With this kind of strict background, it was inevitable that he would be on collision course not only with lawyers but with some of his colleagues as well”.
Justice Jinadu apparently didn’t realise how complicated the Judiciary could be, until the wheels within wheels began to turn against him in 1983, when he took charge of a case over the death of two persons in a fire incident at the 37-storey building of the Nigeria External Telecommunication (NECOM) in Lagos.
The fire-fighting team that handled the situation was led by the Chief Fire Officer of the Federation, Alhaji Adamu Akokhia, assisted by the Divisional Fire Officer at Onikan Fire Station, Mr. Saidu Garba. About 600 lives were saved during the exercise. But, six days after the incident, the officers were arrested and charged to court for murder along with 19 others.
The dramatis personae at the centre of the chain of events that followed included Mr. John Oyegun, who was then the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Justice Adetunji Adefarasin, the Chief Judge in Lagos, who had some differences with Justice Jinadu over procedures on Judges’ vacation and the attempt to empower Court Registrars to hear motions as Judges do.
The powers-that-be wanted Justice Jinadu to hands off the case that was becoming an albatross on the neck of Oyegun, who was accused of disobeying court orders. He refused. He frowned at how the Chief Judge had queried the way he was conducting the proceedings in court. He saw it as a dangerous precedent and he stood against it, because he felt that the independence of the Judiciary would be in jeopardy.
Even when his orders were flouted, Justice Jinadu refused to waver in the face of executive disobedience. But the Judiciary, at that time, was polarised. And it appeared there were Judges who would like to see him crucified for not playing along with them.
The Sketch put it succinctly in its editorial of August 9, 1984, ‘Public Officers and The Court’ as captured in Akinnola’s book: “This newspaper has been following with keen interest proceedings in the contempt case involving Mr. John Oyegun, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The case is before a Lagos High Court. The permanent secretary was alleged to have terminated the appointment of Federal Fire Officer Saidu Garba, while the latter was pursuing a case in court in respect of his suspension from office.
The court felt Oyegun’s action was contemptuous and ordered him to appear before it for contempt. He was tried and found guilty. But instead of the court punishing him, he was cautioned and discharged but asked to withdraw his letter terminating Garba’s appointment. Mr. Oyegun flouted this order in spite of several ultimatums given him by Justice Yaya Jinadu who was presiding. Then, on August 3, the Judge disrobed Mr. Adio, the Legal Adviser from the Federal Ministry of Justice representing Mr. Oyegun, for his failure to comply with the court’s earlier order that he should file a return to the summons issued by the court on Mr. Oyegun. And on Tuesday, August 8, a crowded court heard that the case file had been withdrawn from Justice Jinadu’s court…”
After the case file was taken from Justice Jinadu, the Chief Judge assigned the case to himself. Oyegun, who had refused to come to court, then appeared for the first time. At about 9.06 a.m. , Justice Adefarasin entered the court room, read a prepared cyclostyled statement to the court which was made available to the Press wherein he stated that he did not withdraw the case file. He said he transferred the case at the request of Justice Jinadu and that by virtue of Section 56 of High Court of Lagos law, he was empowered to do so.
When Justice Jinadu embarked on Holy Pilgrimage to Mecca, his traducers moved against him and the authorities set up Advisory Judicial Committee that curiously condemned his actions and asked him to make written and verbal apologies.
Sensing that they were out to humiliate him, Justice Jinadu tendered his resignation letter on his return. He gave the required 60 days notice, but they wanted him out immediately and they got the Military government of General Muhammadu Buhari to force him to resign with immediate effect and move out of his official residence straightaway. At that time, he was yet to complete a house of his own.
In his letter of resignation, Justice Jinadu concluded: “I believe the Judiciary has an important role to play in this country as it is the last hope of the common man. The Judiciary has to be firm, fair and courageous and must not employ any form of double standards. It is not right in my view to regard or treat the Courts of Justice as an extension of the Federal Ministry of Justice.
Above all, your letter asked me to apologise in writing and in addition to appear before you, the President of the Court of Appeal and the Attorney-General of the Federation to apologise verbally. This verbal apology appears to me to appease the lawyers in the Federal Ministry of Justice through the Attorney-General of the Federation; otherwise, what is the necessity of a verbal apology after a written apology? I cannot be a part to this humiliation and disgrace to the Judiciary and as no condition is permanent, I have done the only honourable thing for a reasonable, upright and disciplined Judge to do. I categorically deny the allegation made in your letter against me to the effect that I lied.
I wish to emphasise very strongly that I did not tell any lie and I do not tell lies. Accordingly, I cannot see how I can continue to serve as a Judge under such a system. I have already given notice of my retirement from service. I cannot condone any attempt to destroy the judicial system in this country using me as a scapegoat. May Allah guide us right.
Among other celebrated cases decided by Justice Jinadu was the case of late Dele Giwa against the Inspector-General of Police on July 20, 1984 in which Dele Giwa was asking the police to pay him N500,000 as damages for unlawfully detaining him for seven days.
In awarding Dele Giwa N10,000 as damages in addition to ordering the Inspector-General of Police to publicly apologise to him for the unlawful incarceration, Justice Jinadu said: “Our law enforcement agencies should understand that suspects are no criminals. Suspects should be treated always with decency.” Justice Jinadu was later vindicated, when the Supreme Court eventually reinstated Garba to replenish confidence in the Rule of Law.