THE judge who handled the celebrated Ejigbadero case in the 1970s has finally broken his silence on the case.
Justice Isiaka Ishola Oluwa who clocked 100 years old spoke on the case in his recently released autobiography titled: ‘A Life in Motion Reminiscence of a Jurist at 100 years’.
Justice Oluwa said he believed the celebrated murder case influenced the enactment of the Land Use Decree (now known as Land Use Act) by the military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo.
Justice Oluwa’s account of the case as contained in the book is as follows:
“As a judge, many controversial cases were brought before me that made headlines in the newspapers. One of such cases was the criminal case of Ejigbadero. I was assigned the Ejigbadero case by the Honourable Chief Justice of Lagos State in 1975. The case attracted a lot of public interest because it involved a well-known socialite, one Jimoh Ishola who was the executive chairman of Jimsol Nigeria Ltd, a nail manufacturing company in Lagos. Ishola was better known by his alias, Ejigbadero. He had his factory at the Matori Industrial Estate, and lived in Mushin with his large family, including his four wives. Apart from being an industrialist, Ejigbadero was a well-known land speculator and property dealer. What brought him to my court was a case of murder when he was accused of killing one Raji Oba.
“As a judge, one must remain impartial about every case and not allow public sentiments to affect one’s judgement. Evidence must be presented and witnesses must be led to support or disprove every evidence. I would like to dwell more on the Ejigbadero case, which I believe generated a lot of public interest and in the long run, had more impact on the policy formulation of land matters both at the Federal level and at the State level.
“The Lagos State Director of Public Prosecution led the prosecution and built an impregnable fortress of evidence against Ejigbadero. Sometime in 1974, Ejigbadero had gone to Alimosho village on the outskirt of Lagos, to clear a piece of land which he claimed he had bought. He was challenged by some of the villagers who disputed Ejigbadero’s claim to ownership.
“The land which Ejigbadero decided to clear for a new building construction, contained cocoa, kolanut and some other cash crops. The villagers accused Ejigbadero of an attempt to seize their land illegally. Ejigbadero had come to the land with some boys alleged by the villagers to be thugs. Ejigbadero claimed they were his workers. When the villagers did not allow them to work, Ejigbadero retreated after the first encounter. He returned several times thereafter and this led to clashes during which some of the villagers, including Raji Oba, were wounded. The police at Alimosho intervened and tried to bring peace but to no avail. No one was charged to court at that stage and the police also did not make any arrest.
“On August 22, 1975, Raji Oba was relaxing in front of his house at Alimosho. It was around 7.30 p.m. as his wife hurried in. She said she had seen Ejigbadero in the neighbourhood and warned her husband that he may have come again to cause trouble. The husband agreed with his wife, saying he suspected that Ejigbadero may have come to bury charms on the farm, an all too familiar occurrences in disputes over land owernership in Yorubaland. It was at this point that a gunshot shattered the stillness of the night. Raji Oba fell. His wife, Sabitu Oba, was later to give evidence that she saw Ejigbadero fleeing from the scene of the crime in the company of six other persons. Raji Oba was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
“Later that night on August 22, policemen arrested Ejigbadero in his Mushin residence. He was in the middle of a family celebration. Ramota, his young wife, who was delivered of a baby eight days earlier, was having a lavish naming ceremony with its attendant lavish party worthy of a big socialite of Ejigbadero’s social status. The party was attended by many top Nigerians including lawyers, judges, policemen, businessmen and women, socialites, top military officers and public servants. That was his alibi before the court. On the day of Raji Oba’s murder, Ejigbadero claimed he was far from the scene, attending to guests at his baby’s naming ceremony.
“Evidence presented to court was convincing enough, including that of policemen who saw Ejigbadero at Alimosho on the night of the murder. Some other villagers also gave evidence insisting that Ejigbadero came to Alimosho that night in the company of others in a Peugeot 504 station wagon. One Kehinde, one of the prosecution witnesses, gave evidence before the court. He said he was a security guard at Ejigbadero’s factory premises at Matori. He said on the night of the murder, the accused took time off from his naming ceremony, to visit the factory in the company of six other persons who were well-known to Kehinde. He named the six of them. He said they left from the factory premises in a white Peugeot 504 station wagon and returned in the night around 9p.m.
“The defence, led in evidence by Chief Sobo Sowemimo, made great effort to cast doubt on the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses. They also called witnesses to support their alibi that Ejigbadero never left his naming ceremony on that day. They called witnesses but not one of them was with Ejigbadero throughout the day. From the evidence presented before me, I had no doubt in arriving at my verdict that Ejigbadero was our man and that he committed the cold-blooded murder. He was guilty and sentenced to death.
“He appealed my judgement, but the Federal Court of Appeal in 1977 affirmed the judgement. The appeal was heard by Their Lordships Mamman Nasir, Adetunji Ogunkeye and Ijoma Aseme. Dissatistfied, Ejigbadero moved to the Supreme Court and a panel of Their Lordships Alexander, Fatai-Willimans, Irikefe, Bello and Idigbe, affirmed my judgement. The death sentence on Ejigbadero was carried out in 1979.
“The Ejigbadero case was sensational and became of national interest. It highlighted the human aspect of the chaotic land laws in Nigeria, especially in Lagos and its environs and its attendant capacity to disrupt and even destroy the lives of ordinary people. By the time the case came before my court, Nigeria was undergoing tremendous changes. The regime of General Yakubu Gowon, which came into power in 1966, had been toppled and replaced by another military regime headed by General Murtala Muhammed. When Muhammed was killed in the abortive coup of February 13, 1976, he was replaced by General Olusegun Obasanjo.
“I believed General Obasanjo or those close to him were interested in the Ejigbadero case. In 1978, the Obasanjo regime came out with the Land Use Decree which tried to streamline the issue of land ownership in Nigeria. Though it was a one blanket solution for the whole country, the decree is especially useful in Lagos for it gives full discretion to state governors on the issue of land. It also vested the ownership of all land in the state in the governor who can decide to acquire any land for the public interest.
“In the subsequent years, the decree has been replaced with the Land Use Act, but its essential features remained intact. In the past few years and especially since 2016, various state governments have attempted to address the issue of indiscriminate land-grabbing. Both the Ogun and the Lagos State governments have passed laws to prohibit seizure of land by force.”
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