Saturday, May 9, 2020 5:08 pm
Ode to Justice Isiaka Isola-Oluwa who died this morning, 9 May, 2020, at 102. He was the one who passed a death sentence on a Lagos socialite, Ejigbadoro, in 1976. A no-nonsense, incorruptible judge, he was the best friend to Justice Yaya Jinadu, another upright judge who also passed on late last year.
By Richard Akinnola
He stood transfixed in the dock, beads of sweat forming on his forehead. The din that welcomed the High Court’s death verdict on him was enough to arouse his curiosity for somebody who was not literate.
Chief Jimoh Ishola a.k.a. Ejigbadero did not understand the judgment just passed on him by Justice Isiaka Ishola-Oluwa. Momentally, he turned to his counsel and asked in Ibadan dialect “Emi ni won wi”, (What did they say?”} And his lawyer had the unpleasant assignment of breaking the news to him that he had a date to keep with death.
Alhaji (Chief) Jimoh Ishola was a man of great influence. Like a typical land speculator, he was quite affluent and part of his vast land interests was situated at Alimosho village in the outskirt of Lagos.
According to him, he had purchased all the plots of land around Alimosho-Egbeda villages from one Olubunmi family. Ejigbadero also claimed that he had compensated all those whose land he acquired in the area since 1970 and therefore, no one had any business staying on the pieces of land.
But the family of Raji Oba, one of the residents in the area, thought otherwise. And each time Ejigbadero came to the village with thugs to harass the villagers, the Raji Oba family always resisted, claiming that they won’t quit the land.
That was the state of things on the night of August 22, 1975. The moon was quite bright and Raji Oba and his wife, Sabitiyu, decided to relax in front of their house. Suddenly, there were gunshots and Raji Oba started groaning from the bullet wounds.
Immediately, Sabitiyu saw Ejigbadero, along with four other people running into the bush. But Ejigbadero was a good strategist. He did his homework very well before executing his plan. He worked out a good alibi that could have extricated him from the tangled web.
Just as he was firing shots at Raji Oba in Alimosho village, music was blaring at his home where there as a party to celebrate his daughter’s naming ceremony. So, immediately after shooting Raji Oba , Ejigbadero went back to the party, attending to visitors who could attest to the fact that he never at any time left the venue of the party for another place.
All the same, being the prime suspect, Ejigbadero was arrested on January 7, 1976 and the socialite appeared before an Ikeja Magistrate, T.A. Awosanya. The charges read: “That you, Jimoh Ishola, on August 22, 1975 at Alimosho village via Agege, conspired with other persons to commit murder, an offence punishable under section 516 of the Criminal Code and that you Jimoh Ishola, on or about August 22, 1975 murdered one Raji Oba (m) thereby committing an offence punishable under section 319 (i) of the Criminal Code.
At the proceeding (not trial) at the Magistrate Court, 22 witnesses testified for the prosecution. (The criminal procedure then was for a proceeding to be conducted by a Magistrate Court whether there would be prima facie evidence that would warrant the case to be tried at a High Court).
Among those who gave evidence for the prosecution were Benjamin Olu, Joseph Akinyemi, Olawale, Aromire, Vincent Lasekhalaye, Isaac Adelumi, Tom Okoro and Ishola Ayodele. Other included, Mann Ogongo, Ishola Ayodele, Mattew Taiwo, Ademola Owodunni, Augustine Nnaji, Shitta Alagbe, Rafiu Latifu and Sabitiyu Oba, wife of the deceased.
According to Sabitiyu, “The accused had come on several occasions to look for my husband. There was a day the accused, carrying a gun, came with about four other persons to look for my husband. He said he had bought all the land in Alimosho village, including my husband’s and that he would one day eject my husband.
“On the day of the incident, when the accused came to our area, I went and warned my husband of his presence. My husband later invited me for a chat outside the house and as we sat on the bench chatting, I heard gunshots. My husband had been shot dead. I immediately turned around to see where the shot came from and I saw Ejigbadero and some of his thugs moving away.
“Though there was no electric light that night. I was able to recognize the accused because there was moon-light and since I know Ejigbadero very well, I recognized him as the one who shot my husband.”
Also giving evidence was Rufai Oba, the deceased’s brother, who told the court: “I was a witness on one occasion when Ejigbadero came to confront my brother and warned him that he (Ejigbadero) had bought all the land at Alimosbo village and that all other occupants except my brother had surrendered their title of deeds to him for money.
“He boasted that my brother should either surrender the title of deeds in his possession or face the resultant consequences.”
The police detective who investigated the case also gave evidence and stated how Ejigbadero invited him to his house on the night of the incident for a party. He, however, declined the offer.
His words: “On the night of the incident, I was passing by the accused house when I saw a large crowd in the front of his house surging forward towards the road. I stopped and enquired what was going on and the accused told me he was having a naming ceremony for his daughter.”
Detective Benjamin Olu also relayed how he recovered the blood-stained dress worn by the deceased on the fateful night.
The medical expert who performed the post-mortem examination on the deceased was also in court to give evidence.
Dr. Ademola Olatunji from Lagos State Laboratory Services told the court. “In my opinion, the cause of death to be a fractured skull, laceration of brain and cerebral hemorrhage as a result of gun shots. I saw about eight marks of bullets.”
At the end of the prosecution’s case, the prosecutor, Mr. Muri Okunola (Late Justice (Dr) Muri Okunola of Court of Appeal), told the court that a prima Facie case had been established to warrant the case being tried at the High Court. The court agreed and on March 20, 1979 the case was sent to the High Court for trial.
On August 27, 1976, Justice Isiaka Ishola-Oluwa, then of Lagos High Court, delivered his judgment. He threw out the defence of alibi put forward by Ejigbadero.
His words: “I consider the evidence against the accused reliable and have no doubt in my mind about what took place that night. Evidence of motive is not essential in a case of murder where there is evidence which the court considers reliable as in this case. It has been submitted that the prosecution through one of the prosecution witnesses had named and claimed knowledge of all those who are supposed to have conspired with the accused persons….
“I believe the evidence of prosecution witness Yekini is true. He, with the accused and others, had met together and conspired to murder the deceased as charged on or about August 22, 1975. The evidence of all the prosecution witnesses pointed out that there had been series of disagreements between the accused and the villagers of Alimosho. ‘The basic cause of these is that the accused claimed that he had bought all the land around Egbeda and Alimosho villagers to the tune of 11,6000 acres and that the deceased of the said land though they had no claim in it.”
Rejecting the alibi, Justice Ishola-Oluwa said: “I believe that he was away from the party held in his house on the night of August 22, 1975. I reject his evidence that he was at all times between the hours of 8:00p.m. and 9:30p.m. on August 22, 1975 in his house. I believe that he was in Alimosbo that night.”
It was at this stage that Ejigbadero asked his counsel: “Emi ni won wi?” (What did he say?)
Dissatisfied with this decision, Ejigbadero went to the Court of Appeal where his counsel, Chief Sobo Sowemimo (SAN), said the identification of the business magnate was not proper. But the Appeal Court panel, presided over by Justice Mamman Nasir, dismissed the appeal.
Wanting to explore all legal avenues, the socialite went to the Supreme Court to contest his death sentence, where the main thrust was whether the eighteenth prosecution witness, Kehinde Yekini, was an accomplice whose testimony insofar as it intended to implicate Ejigbadero, required corroboration from an independent witness.
Standing for the state in the appeal was Mr. S.O. Ilori, then Lagos State Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) (later retired Chief Justice of Lagos). The Supreme Court panel of Justice was made up of the late Justice Darnley Alexander (the Chief Justice of Nigeria), the late Justice Atanda Fatai-Williams, the late Justice Ayo Irikefe, the late Justice Mohammed Bello and the late Justice Chukwunweike Idigbe (who read the lead judgment).
On September 22, 1978, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and gave its reasons for the judgment on Thursday , October 26, hence answering the poser of former juju musician, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, who in the early 70s waxed a record in praise of Ejigbadero, singing that nobody would know Ejigbadero’s source of wealth. But the court unwrapped the secret of the wealth -land speculation.