The Chief Justice Olukayode Ariwoola has been sighted in London pretending to be a physically-challenged old man, 9news Nigeria has learnt.
According to Peoples Gazette learnt today, in what Supreme Court sources said was a clandestine preparation for a meeting with President-elect Bola Tinubu.
Mr Ariwoola’s movement was exposed to The Gazette as Mr Tinubu was arriving in London for what his team claimed was a relaxation trip after a hectic campaign that preceded his declaration as Nigeria’s president-elect last month. But Mr Tinubu kept his trip to London secret until it was exposed on Wednesday afternoon by Sahara Reporters, which said the trip was a medical emergency.
The Gazette learnt that Mr Ariwoola departed Nigeria on March 11 via Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. He was pushed in a wheelchair through the terminals to board a British Airways flight, our sources said.
Upon arrival in London, Mr Ariwoola, 64, was also wheeled into a hotel downtown, where he has remained ever since. But immediately after checking into the hotel, Mr Ariwoola abandoned his wheelchair and started moving around the facility unaided. The Supreme Court head is not known with any physical disabilities.
“He has been moving about in the hotel without any wheelchair,” a source familiar with the CJN’s activities at the London accommodation told The Gazette. “He was standing on his own in the elevator just yesterday.”
The Gazette learnt that Mr Ariwoola repeatedly picked up food ordered via delivery services at a mid-level lobby, including Uber Eats and Deliveroo. It was unclear whether or not he placed the orders by himself or how he paid.
With Mr Tinubu now in Europe, he would be meeting Mr Ariwoola in a secret arrangement to discuss issues unknown to Nigerians, our sources said.
“The CJN deliberately left the country more than a week ahead of Tinubu to avoid any suspicion about why both of them disappeared at once,” a source familiar said. “That is why he travelled secretly and Tinubu also travelled secretly.”
Shortly after Mr Tinubu’s trip was reported, his media aides issued a statement saying he was going to be in Paris and London briefly before heading to Saudi Arabia for prayer rites. His return date was not disclosed.
But many Nigerians expressed immediate doubt about the statement’s credibility, especially as it was not volunteered before the trip was uncovered.
“They thought that they could secretly move the president-elect abroad without anybody knowing about it,” a source said. “That’s one of the several mistakes they made on this matter, asides from the belief that they could allow the Chief Justice of Nigeria to move about in a London hotel for several days undetected after going through the trouble of disguising him in a wheelchair.”
The Gazette has temporarily withheld the CJN’s photos and the specific hotel he stayed in to protect a source central to this story.
A Supreme Court source said Mr Ariwoola wanted to meet Mr Tinubu to discuss issues that may arise from the budding legal challenge to the declaration as president-elect, including whether or not he should be worried about the petitions recently filed by opposition parties.
“The CJN would either assure Tinubu of victory in court or tell him that he should be worried about the dimension the petitions may take through the court stages,” the source said under anonymity to avoid facing administrative action for divulging privileged information to reporters. “But we may never know what they actually discussed after their secret meeting.”
“I am reluctant to start thinking about the of their meeting right now,” the source added. “But any fair-minded person will easily admit that both of them meeting in a foreign corner to discuss something that Nigerians will not know about is highly suspicious and should be unwarranted.”
Both the Supreme Court and the National Judicial Council declined comments about Mr Ariwoola’s suspicious activity. Mr Tinubu’s spokespersons also declined comments on Thursday afternoon.
Mr Ariwoola’s apparent affinity with Mr Tinubu has continued despite the raging challenge to the declaration of Mr Tinubu as president-elect and the ultimate role the Supreme Court is expected to play in the legal battle.
Two main opposition candidates Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar have this week filed petitions against Mr Tinubu’s emergence, saying the process that led to the decision of the electoral office INEC was fraudulent and unconstitutional.
Mr Obi, the Labour Party’s candidate in the February 25 election, also sought disqualification of Mr Tinubu on the grounds of his involvement in illicit narcotics dealing in the United States between the 1980s and 1990s.
As Nigerians debate the strength of both petitions against Mr Tinubu, they’re also voicing an even more critical concern about the credibility of the Supreme Court as an arbiter of untainted justice.
Besides the court’s recent contentious judgments that severely blunted the court’s reputation — chiefly the decision to return Hope Uzodinma as governor in Imo despite coming forth in an election and the enforcement of Ahmad Lawan as APC candidate in Yobe North Senatorial District despite not participating in the primaries — critics are also saying Mr Ariwoola’s conduct has done little to inspire public confidence in the Supreme Court under him.
In November 2022, Mr Ariwoola openly praised Seyi Makinde for working internally to sabotage the candidacy of Mr Abubakar. The Supreme Court denied Mr Ariwoola’s statement, but video evidence contradicted the denial. Mr Ariwoola was later questioned by the State Security Service, which feared the comments could threaten the country’s stability.
Still, both Mr Ariwoola and the Supreme Court have repeatedly assured Nigerians that justice would be dispensed fairly as dictated by the Constitution. A spokesman recently said Mr Ariwoola could be expected to dispassionately empanel justices for Messrs Abubakar and Obi’s petitions when they get to the Supreme Court later in the year.