Osinbajo and the religious China shop bulls

Ogunsakin Mustapha
10 Min Read
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo SAN

By Mustapha Ogunsakin

The Farouk Kperogi onslaught on the religious landscape of Nigeria is getting serious and it is no longer funny! One had thought it is all about politics but two things happened in the last few days about his last comments on Vice President Yemi Osinbajo SAN that shows that Nigeria’s religious fault lines are getting wider by the day.

First is that some Yoruba Muslims are beginning to believe Kperogi’s lies. A Muslim brother, who doubles as a lawyer and journalist, who we covered the justice system together in Lagos, and who I believed interacted with Osinbajo for eight years at the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, shared the Kperogi story with me. Although he made no comment, his silence is as loud as Fuji music.

Secondly, political jobbers, I learnt, translated the opinion article into different languages and circulated for political advantages. It is convenient for a person to stay in his cocoon of safety in the United States of America and throw fiery darts of religious acrimony at Nigeria where religious passions have the tendency to ruin a whole nation. After all, his immediate family, particularly the wife and children are shielded. It doesn’t matter if his parents, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews are caught in the crossfire that this tendency could trigger up to the extent of claiming their lives!

The Yoruba people, due to perhaps, their level of education have never really been caught in any religious conflict, except recently in Ilorin where the issue of hijab arose. It is unfortunate that the likes of Ishaq Akintola and Kperogi, who I learnt has his roots in Kwara are trying to stir the embers of religious fire in the South West.

But they will fail. The reason they will fail lies in the person they are trying to put down. Because they don’t know him, their permutations on him are dead on arrival.

Osinbajo is not your ordinary Nigerian politician. He is not even an ordinary lawyer, but one who has committed his life to finding solutions to societal problems, using law as an instrument. That is why as Special Adviser to Prince Bola Ajibola when the latter was Attorney General of the Federation, he was the one who led the team that assisted his principal to compile the Laws of the Federation, which was in several volumes and which every lawyer in Nigeria uses today.

It is for the same reason that as Attorney General of Lagos State, he pioneered setting up the Office of the Public Defender (OPD), and Citizens Mediation Center to solve ordinary day to day problems of the poor and the rich, and save them from the delays and bureaucracy in courts and paying huge legal fees to lawyers. And so you find a situation where prosecution lawyers will file charges against an accused person in court, and you will find lawyers from OPD defending rigorously the same accused persons. Some lawyers who worked with Osinbajo are today judges and still contributing to the society. This system is now replicated across the country today. There is no state that does not have them, including the Federal Government.

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu once at a public gathering told the story of how he met an elderly lady on a trip from London to Lagos who came to thank him for setting up CMC. According to him, the woman narrated how lawyers from the justice ministry assisted her in solving a matter between her and her tenant, a conflict that had taken years. She was full of praise for the governor. Asiwaju jokingly told the gathering that it was one of the reasons he hired Osinbajo as AG. “I know he is smarter than me in the area of the law. There’s no point in hiring a driver that you have to point out where pot holes are on the road. Thank you Yemi for all that you do”, Tinubu concluded

For Osinbajo, the rule of law comes before religion. The law must be obeyed regardless of whose ox is gored. That is why it was so easy for him in the early days of Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) regulations that was eventually passed into law. Osinbajo contributed immensely into getting the bill together. And so one day, a report came that a parish of Redeemed Christian Church of God in FESTAC, Lagos was disturbing their neighbors in terms of noise pollution. Osinbajo it was, who led the government team that closed down the parish. He was there live. His being a senior Pastor in the Church did not deter him from carrying out the dictates of the law to the letter! Is it therefore not an Irony that the likes of Kperogi today accuse him of favoritism towards members of the same Church?

Yemi Osinbajo is not one that will compromise his principles once he believes that he is following the law. During the trial of former Chief of Army Staff, Gen Ishaya Bamaiyi for the attempted murder of the late Guardian publisher, the late Alex Ibru, an ugly issue arose where the General accused the trial judge, Justice Augustine Ade-Alabi (now retired) of demanding $10 million bribe from him. Bamaiyi’s lawyer, Mike Okoye had flippantly told some journalists who visited him at home that it was true that the judge actually demanded the bribe. Some newspapers published the story the next day and it spread like wildfire. Bamaiyi was also very bold in open court to challenge the judge. Justice Ade-Alabi had to recuse himself from the case.

Of course, the National Judicial Council (NJC) waded into the case by setting up the late Justice Bola Babalakin (JSC) panel to investigate Bamaiyi’s claim. When Okoye realized he was in hot soup, he came before Osinbajo and confessed in the presence of the Solicitor General, Mr Fola Arthur-Worrey. He said he discussed with the journalists over a few drinks not knowing they will report their discussion. He begged Osinbajo to save his career. Osinbajo and Arthur-Worrey discussed the matter and decided to give him a soft landing provided he will confess in open court as he did before them. He was also to publish his confession in five national newspapers. Okoye agreed. Osinbajo directed Arthur-Worry to file a nolle prosequi before the trial judge, Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour (as he then was).

But some lawyers and judges were not happy with the decision of Osinbajo. They bay for Okoye’s blood as they wanted him sent to prison for contempt. Osinbajo however refused, with the argument that Okoye’s matter was an unnecessary distraction from the main case, which was one of the most celebrated cases in Nigeria then. The late Chief Rotimi Williams (SAN) as an Amicus Curae came before the court and gave reasons why Okoye must be tried for contempt.

Osinbajo went on with his plan. Arthur-Worrey withdrew the case. The Babalakin panel found no merit in Bamaiyi’s claim, calling it a tissue of lies to get the judge off the case. Shortly after, the incumbent Chief Judge retired and paved the way for Ade-Alabi to become the Chief Judge. It was only then that those in opposition saw wisdom in the position of Osinbajo on the matter. If Osinbajo had prosecuted Okoye, the trial would still be on when the position of CJ became vacant. Ade-Alabi wouldn’t have been able to step into the position due to Okoye’s trial, for he cannot have a corruption case where he was accused of corruption and still be appointed as CJ.

Therefore, Osinbajo is bringing to the Presidential Table, the intellect and genuineness of a lawyer who uses law as a tool of social engineering to solve societal problems. Nigeria missed such opportunity once, may we not miss it again.

Ogunsakin, a Judicial Reporter is Publisher,  Gavel International


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