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Justice Olugbemi and the limitations of federal character, By Babafemi A. Badejo – Premium Times


I am pleased that, my Lord, Justice Olugbemi, held his head high as a judge. He never received a query from the National Judicial Council. Great that he did not bring his name into opprobrium and he made people like me, as friends, continue to be very proud of him. I am also glad he lived up to retirement in good health and wish him many more years in contributing towards the realisation of a just society in our country.
On September 30, I was at a formal colourful ceremony that was similar to the pulling out parade that the military undertakes as any of their senior officers retire from service. Justice Solomon Abidoye Olugbemi took his formal bow out of the Ogun State judiciary, and a valedictory court sitting was held in honour of an exceptional Nigerian.
The court sitting was presided over by the Honourable Chief Judge of Ogun State, Hon. Justice M.A. Dipeolu. This ceremony was to have taken place on April 2, 2020, when he actually attained the statutory age of sixty-five, which is the retirement age for judges in Nigeria, with the exception of those in the Supreme Court, who have an extra five years of service. We can all remember that the world was then in a coronavirus lockdown. As such, we could not gather for a ceremony, as the world was in utmost fear of a pandemic that was claiming many lives.
The exit of Judge Olugbemi, my unsung heroic friend, was a triple event. Being a Pastor in the Baptist Church for a good portion of his life, a Thanksgiving Service was slotted into the programme, as the ceremonial court became a church, and immediately after it was used as the venue for the presentation of his book titled, Sweet Memories on the Bench. The reviewer of the book, Professor Idowu Adegbite of Olabisi Onabanjo University, whetted the appetite of all to further seek to experience and appreciate the selected judgements of Justice Olugbemi on the bench. The reviewer concluded that Justice Olugbemi is cerebral and courageous, among several attributes that he identified from the book.
I cannot really remember my first meeting with Justice Solomon Abidoye Olugbemi. But it must have been when he was working at Olayide Adigun’s Chamber at 3, Oweh Street, Yaba, Lagos. I was Laide’s younger friend in those days and usually stopped by at his Chambers to chat on national and local issues. I was an evening law student at the University of Lagos, who also taught Political Science in the same University at that time. I enjoyed interactions with practicing lawyers.
I decided that I needed to have the Federal Government answer my daughter’s question by way of a suit. All my friends at Olayide Adigun’s Chambers chickened out of filing the suit on my behalf. This was after we had all discussed and agreed that it was necessary to challenge the Federal Government through the court system, for the correction of a patent discrimination that violates the Nigerian Constitution.
Precisely, the beginning of my close relationship with Justice Olugbemi was as a result of a decision I made in 1988. I needed to provide an answer to my daughter, Adeyinka Badejo, who wanted to know why she was not invited for the so-called Unity Schools’ admission interview in 1988, when she scored higher marks than many, including those from Kano and Sokoto States, who had as low as 37.5 per cent, and were still invited to the interview. In addition, in her class was a Minister’s daughter, who scored 58.7 per cent and was invited for the interview. She had scored 293, which was 73.25, per cent but the Federal Government fixed 296 as the cut-off mark for girls from Ogun, her “State of Origin”, in spite of the fact that she was not born in nor did she reside in the State at any point in time, beyond the less than three- or four-day annual visits to her grand-parents, as part of the end-of-year family get-togethers.
I decided that I needed to have the Federal Government answer my daughter’s question by way of a suit. All my friends at Olayide Adigun’s Chambers chickened out of filing the suit on my behalf. This was after we had all discussed and agreed that it was necessary to challenge the Federal Government through the court system, for the correction of a patent discrimination that violates the Nigerian Constitution. As I went into a melancholy state, with no one with capacity and my friends not ready to step forward with me, I was pleasantly surprised when my mere acquaintance, Solo Olugbemi, announced that he was ready to take the suit on. He was advised that he could do so under his name and not under the name of the Chambers. He agreed. We were advised at the Chambers to write our respective wills. We all knew that the military junta that controlled Nigeria was not going to be joking with anyone moving against its dictatorial order and control over the country. If anyone was in doubt, the assassination of popular journalist, Dele Giwa, on October 19, 1986 was enough lesson for Nigerians. Till today, no-one has been able to unravel the mystery of who assassinated Dele Giwa, although the late legal luminary, Gani Fawehinmi and others, convinced Nigerians about the hands of the Babangida administration in the act.
We were not scared to pay the ultimate price for the realisation of fundamental changes that people have been clamouring for till date. We both had no property. But we proceeded to write our last Testaments. Mine was in giving ideas on what could be done in raising my children by my devoted wife, who did not fuss over the pressures that I must not pursue a case in the name of our daughter, Adeyinka. Doye Olugbemi assisted me in ensuring that my handwritten Will complied with the law.
He did not ask for a penny. I provided the filing fees and thus began Adeyinka Badejo v. Federal Minister of Education as Suit No M/500/88 before Justice G.I. Akinboboye, by way of an ex-parte motion, on September 29, 1988. Of course, Justice Akinboboye, in an escapist manner, stated that my daughter had no locus standi. My colleagues at the University of Lagos and other Nigerians started raising funds to support what was considerd a just cause at the higher level. Joining this spirit, Pa Alfred Rewane requested to have the late G.O.K. Ajayi (SAN) take over the case at his expense. I agreed to the help on the condition that G.O.K would only be the lead counsel and the late SAN agreed. Together, we pursued the case to the very end. Doye Olugbemi was the lone counsel, as the Supreme Court read its 3-2 judgement on case no. SC 196/1990 against us on September 20, 1996. Although the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeal that Adeyinka Badejo had locus standi, it avoided a decision on Federal Character as being discriminatory, arguing that no more action was needed, given the effluxion of time. The Federal Character principle continues to under-develop Nigeria till date.
It has been my privilege and pleasure over the years to share and discuss issues, even beyond the legal profession, with my learned friend and Me Lord. He is a man of practical wisdom. I think the Nigerian judicial system owe Justice Olugbemi a great debt of gratitude for his distinguished services.
With such a fighting spirit for what is just, little wonder that “my learned friend from before before”, as he now refers to me, Doye Olugbemi became my bosom friend, who had and continues to have my utmost trust. For instance, as I left Nigeria to work for the United Nations, I did not hesitate to grant a Power of Attorney to him on all my affairs. In addition, I handed my commercial practice as a lawyer to him to help sort out. And he did not betray my trust.
Thinking that I could pay back to the Nigerian society, I started funding a national chess championship competition at the primary and secondary school levels, which ran for a decade. Doye Olugbemi, as he then was, organised this annual competition with gladness, in support of the desire of a friend. I pulled out of doing so after my friend became a judge. It became difficult to trust the arrangement in place in his absence. So, also did the judiciary rob me of the intimacy with my brother and friend in many other respects. For instance, he spoke Hausa very well. Annually, he used to accompany me to buy rams for my family’s yearly party. As a judge, he gently told me that a judge could no longer go into the market to negotiate the prices of rams.
I am pleased that, my Lord, Justice Olugbemi, held his head high as a judge. He never received a query from the National Judicial Council. Great that he did not bring his name into opprobrium and he made people like me, as friends, continue to be very proud of him. I am also glad he lived up to retirement in good health and wish him many more years in contributing towards the realisation of a just society in our country.
It has been my privilege and pleasure over the years to share and discuss issues, even beyond the legal profession, with my learned friend and Me Lord. He is a man of practical wisdom. I think the Nigerian judicial system owe Justice Olugbemi a great debt of gratitude for his distinguished services.
Babafemi A. Badejo (Ph.D) is Professor of Political Science/International Relations at Chrisland University, Abeokuta, Nigeria and former Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia. Email: ffembee@yahoo.com; +2348055331448
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