Retired Justice Folahanmi Olamide Oloyede caused a stir in 2015, when as a serving judge in Osun State; she forwarded a petition to the state House of Assembly calling for the probe of Governor Rauf Aregbesola over the inability of the government to pay workers’ salaries and other allegations.
In this interview with OLUWOLE IGE she speaks about what informed her action, the anti-corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari, among other issues.
SINCE your compulsory retirement by the National Judicial Commission (NJC), how has life been, considering the fact that you are still young in age?
Well to begin with, I do not consider myself retired. I cannot be retired until I am tired and I am far from being tired. I look forward to many years in joyful activities.
Your petition to the Osun State House of Assembly against Governor Rauf Aregbesola and his deputy over the management of Osun resources while you were still a serving judge in the state brought you into public glare and it generated varied reactions. Do you have any regret writing such a petition?
Perhaps it may be more correct to say that the petition is in public glare, I myself remain a private person. As to whether I do regret writing the petition, I take solace in Mordecai’s words to Queen Esther as recorded in Chapter 4 verse 14 of the book of Esther that” if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another source, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Whilst I fear those who can kill my physical body, I fear most He who can destroy my body, soul and spirit in unquenchable torment. It is written, ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. It is further written: in this world, ye shall have tribulation but do not despair for I have conquered the world.
Interestingly, I am not religious, but I am faithful. My hope rests in the Lord, the owner of the universe, He is my strength, my joy and my hope, the restorer of my office. I remain unshaken in my conviction that I did nothing outside the fulfilment of my oath of office, to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution. What is there to regret?
No I do not regret the petition, for the very fact that it brought some measure of succour to Osun civil servants and pensioners.
As a judge, what do you think are the major challenges confronting the judiciary as an arm of government?
On the issue of the challenges facing the judiciary, hmmm! I believe the greatest challenge is the quality of the personnel and the next in line is funding. It takes the right frame of mind to apply funds appropriated effectively and judiciously. The laws are there, the constitution has made the necessary provisions that will guarantee an independent judiciary, not even the constitution of the United States, or that of the United Kingdom has such strengthening provisions. But like I am reputed for saying, only strong individuals can build strong institutions; laws themselves are nothing. It is people with abilities that breathe lives into laws, and thus clothe laws with the necessary force and majesty!
You were deeply bothered by the welfare of Osun people, including the civil servants, which was part of what informed your petition against Governor Aregbesola. What’s your position on the general condition of Osun people now?
Mr. Governor has since been making an effort to complete the abandon projects in the state ever since and am grateful for that fact. It is not yet Uhuru. As a matter of fact, it is far from being Uhuru, but I have been watching at a distance and Mr. Governor has improved howbeit slightly. Imagine if I had not spoken! The situation would have been worse than dreary; it would have been dismal. But I am still appealing to him to do the right thing, pay salary arrears in full and pay pensions. Fund hospitals and schools adequately, complete the road projects that have been on for years now and rebuild the Iwo/ Ibadan road or make it, at least, motorable. Should he do these, he will be surprised by how quickly Osun people will forgive and forget past hurts. Mine is to make peace not to fuel conflicts.
Some people were of the view that your petition against Aregbesola then was politically motivated, saying you were being used by some politicians. Is that correct?
Well am sure that you understand the fact that as a man thinketh, so he is inwardly! Human beings have always been fond of regarding the messenger rather than the message. Persons of goodwill who are not blinded by the desire to always fill their bellies at the expense of others would have paused to reflect first, would have asked the question: “is there any merit, any justification for what she has written?”.
That to my mind is the only relevant issue. But I will nonetheless ask you, if I were the type to be used by anyone, who better to use me than the governor himself, at least, at the relevant time. Who else had the wherewithal, the resources, the influence and the power, more than Mr. Governor? Had I been the type to be used, don’t you think that I would have instead found ways to ingratiate myself with him, take care of myself and care less about what happens to others? And don’t tell me it can’t be done. It isn’t as difficult as you think, seeing as many have succeeded. I just am not made that way. And if I am politically aware, what’s so wrong about that? Isn’t the constitution which I have sworn to uphold faithfully a political instrument? We know as a fact that in some climes, from where our constitution was imported, some of their judges are even elected. But to answer your question directly and clear any ambiguity, I am a proud woman, humble and yet proud. No amount of money can buy my conscience, because I know and am convinced that “all that a man hath, shall he give in exchange for his souls”, besides which, by my inherent nature, I am too objective to be partisan. I am even more critical of myself than most people realise. When Prince Oyinlola was in office, we had a running battle on staff welfare. His government threatened to sack me once or twice and I once resigned in a huff though he compelled me to go back to office. That wasn’t politics then. I truly cannot bear to see people suffer unnecessarily. I can’t comprehend why people should suffer needlessly. I once told Prince Oyinlola to sell his wristwatch and pay magistrates. He was shocked by my audacity, but I didn’t think I was audacious. I was just speaking my mind.
Recently, some pensioners in Osun under the aegis of Forum of 2011/2012 Retired Public Servants of Osun State set up a camp for Internally Displaced Pensioners (IDP) and you were sighted there at the camp. Were you there on a solidarity visit to donate relief materials or as a pensioner?
My heart really does goes out to these pensioners. Whenever I consider their plights, tears well up in my eyes. I wish I had relief materials to donate, but I am equally supplicating to God for my daily bread. No I was not there to donate but to empathise and enlighten. It was actually our NGO, Virtues Unlimited Restorative Justice Initiative (VURJI), that was invited. I had delegated someone else to represent us but was told that he was indisposed. VURJI, as the name depicts, seeks to restore that which the cankerworm had eaten. VURJI believes that welfare is the best guarantee of lasting peace and security. We are peace builders. VURJI’s objective is to ensure inclusive development for all and sundry, by ensuring that the social contract contained in Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution is given effect, faithfully adhered to by those in office, and made justiceable. Whether the pensioners are internally displaced or not is a question of fact to be proven by evidence. There are many situations and many circumstances that can lead to one being internally displaced. The word IDP was not coined in Nigeria and it predates the Boko Haram insurgency. Thus for anyone to seek to limit the use of the word to the Boko Haram insurgency is further proof of how narrow and limited in view some persons can be. Surely, it is known that a woman who is sent packing from her husband’s house without an alternative accommodation could be internally displaced; so could a family that can no longer afford rent and is ejected by the landlord. Persons whose homes are suddenly destroyed by flood or other natural disaster or even arson could be internally displaced. The highlighted situation also calls for empathy and relief just as do persons whose salaries and pensions are not paid for months. The categories are not closed and can be further extended as the need arises.
But I myself didn’t label anybody as internally displaced, seeing as it is derogatory; for it is a condition below the dignity of the human person. People should stop being one sided because they are still comfortable. Tables may turn tomorrow. My mission was to enlighten; I am not a vengeful person. I have no vendetta with anyone; I go my way in peace. Necessity may require my altering my course for a time, but I will not lose my focus. I continue to pursue my goal which I hope is lofty.
With your experience as a judge, do you still believe that judiciary is still the last hope of the common man in Nigeria?
Our last hope should be in God, but the only alternative to the judiciary is anarchy. I am not an anarchist; I am a peace-builder. I advocate good governance, because it remains the surest road to harmony and security. Definitely, the judiciary has a vital role to play in ensuring good governance and security. The judiciary is what my people call in Yoruba “akuko gagara”. It is the most important organ in a democracy; it is its pillar.
Recently, some justices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal were arrested by the operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS) in what they termed a sting operation carried out in the midnight. Some of them are now facing trial. What is your take on this development?
I am writing a desperation on the ‘Constitutionality of Trying Judges in Regular Courts’, the issue of arrest was treated adequately in the treatise. Perhaps, I should oblige you with a copy.
Some people hold the view that the anti-corruption war of the Buhari-led federal government is selective and vindictive. Do you agree with this submission?
What do you think? It is President Buhari’s war against corruption and I guess, typically, he will fight it according to his nature. Suffice to say that I made myself clear on the issue long ago, at the Criminal Justice Reform Conference held in Abuja. Interestingly, the current President of the NBA, A.B. Mahmoud, was the anchor of the session in which Mrs Waziri the chairman of the EFCC at the material time delivered her paper. And I told them then that I do not believe in the way Nigeria, is fighting corruption. To me, it seemed ludicrous. Someone steals your N5000, you then spend N5million chasing after it. What kind of arithmetic or reasoning is that? EFCC’s budget keeps increasing annually. Nigerians are not getting any benefit. If the approach is working, there should be no more corruption in the land or it should have reduced to a whisper.
The fact that we are still obsessed with corruption and talking about it every day makes it evident that our approach is wrong. And as you and I know, you can’t continue to do the same thing all the time, and expects a different result. That is hardly logical. I told EFFC then and I am reiterating it now, your job is to stop people stealing our common wealth and taking it abroad and not to allowing them take it and start running around in circles, sending good money after lost causes. Besides, who wouldn’t want to be locked up in an EFCC cell these days? I hear it is like a five-star hotel. And all you get is a perfunctory slap on the wrists at the end of the day. It has even become fashionable. Only the billionaires’ club has access thereto.
Source – Nigerian Tribune