The Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN, Wednesday, 20th August, 2014 swore in Justice Funmilayo Atilade as the new Chief Judge of Lagos State saying the leadership of the state Judiciary would remain a critical arm to the success of government in maintaining law and order and protecting human life and property.
Sixty-two-year old Hon. Justice Oluwafunmilayo Olajumoke Atilade takes over from her elder sister, Hon. Justice Ayotunde Phillips who retired as Chief Judge of the State last July.
In his remarks after the colourful ceremony at the Adeyemi Bero Auditorium, Alausa, before a capacity audience comprising members of the State Executive Council, eminent members of the Lagos Judiciary, traditional rulers, private sector operators and family members of the new Chief Judge, Governor Fashola said the swearing-in ceremony represents the climax of a momentous decision by government to fulfil its constitutional responsibility.
The Governor said by the swearing in of Justice Oluwafunmilayo Olajumoke Atilade as the 15th and 5th female Chief Judge of the state, Lagos has made history as the only state that has had female Chief Judges back to back for five years even as he noted that the out-going and the in-coming Chief Judges, from the same parents, have also made history which would be hard to re-enact.
Giving the career history of the two Chief Judges, Governor Fashola recalled that the two women, both children of Justice Oladipo Williams, followed each other in their climb to judicial prominence pointing out that while Justice Ayotunde Phillips got to the position in February 1994, her sister arrived the same position two years later.
According to the Governor, “On June 14, 2012, Hon. Justice Phillips reached the pinnacle of her career at a historic oath-taking ceremony, which automatically made her sibling the next most senior judge in the Lagos Judiciary, making her the judge in the Lagos Division, while her sister, the new Chief Judge, presided from the Ikeja Division in the state capital”.
“On July 10, 2014, when I received notification from the National Judicial Council recommending to us the appointment of Justice Funmilayo Atilade as the new Chief Judge of Lagos, I could not but whisper to myself that this would be a history that would be difficult to re-enact, as I approved her appointment and forwarded her name to the Lagos State House of Assembly for confirmation”, he said.
Governor Fashola paid glowing tribute to the immediate past Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Ayotunde Phillips, for keeping to her words on the commitments she made about reforms adding that the retired Chief Judge has left behind a truly reformed state judiciary.
Listing some of the achievements of the retired Chief Judge in the last two years, the Governor noted that she introduced, and is leaving behind, an electronic filing system for cases, the first in Nigeria, the successful implementation of the Magistrates Courts Reforms Law and a stronger magistracy and an electronic search and archiving system for litigation, land and probate matters.
“She introduced, and is leaving behind, an electronic filing system for cases, the first in Nigeria; she is leaving behind the successful implementation of the Magistrates Courts Reforms Law and a stronger magistracy, she is leaving behind an electronic search and archiving system for litigation, truly remarkable reforms in only two years and most of all, she is also leaving behind, her sister, in a historic succession”, he said.
Governor Fashola told the retired Chief Judge, “The people of Lagos acknowledge and thank you very much for your service; your partnership and team work with other arms of Government, through which progress was made in the judiciary without compromising its independence”.
Congratulating the new Chief Judge and wishing her a most successful tenure, the Governor declared, “We welcome warmly and heartily our new Chief Judge and look forward to even more ground breaking reforms because we believe that a fruit does not fall far from its tree.”
In her acceptance remarks, the new Chief Judge promised to build on the achievements of her predecessor saying her priorities would include decongesting the Lagos courts. She pointed out that Lagos courts record the highest number of cases filed daily by litigants.
She said she would also engage herself in the training and welfare of judicial officers in continuation of the work done in that area by her predecessor adding that emphasis would also be laid on Information and Communication Technology which according to her was boosted greatly during the tenure of her immediate predecessor.
Other areas of priority, the new Judge said, would include to continue pushing for more judicial reforms including the issue of being self accounting as done in other arms of the Government adding that it would make the Judiciary to be in control of its finances to enable it to be truly independent.
The new Chief Judge said she would also take steps to beef up security in the premises of the courts to protect the lives of those attending court proceedings adding that while police presence would be increased, the judicial staff would also be trained to assist in maintaining adequate security in the courts.
Describing her elevation as the work of God, Justice Atilade declared, “My message to others out there is never be discouraged, work hard, persevere and do not despair”. She promised to fulfil her responsibilities to the people of Lagos State in line with the trend of excellence laid by her predecessors.
Earlier, while introducing the new Chief Judge, the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaye, gave the history of succession of Chief Judges in the state saying the state Judiciary had maintained excellence as a tradition from the beginning.
Also present at the occasion were members of the State executive Council including: the Deputy Governor, Hon. (Mrs.) Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire; immediate4 past Chief Judge, Justice Ayo Phillips; Oba of Lagos, His Royal Majesty Rilwan Babatunde Akiolu 1; other traditional rulers, senior citizens including the Asoju Oba of Lagos, Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas, eminent members of the Bar and Bench including both retired and serving judicial officers and legal luminaries as well as other top government functionaries.