The immediate past Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Opeyemi Oke, has joined the league of Nollywood producers.
Oke, who started acting while in secondary school, not long ago launched her production outfit, Honourable Justice Opeyemi Oke Plays Ensemble (H.O.O.P.E) in Lagos. The group recently staged a play entitled, Mosafejo as part of activities marking her retirement after 33 years of service. The event also witnessed the public presentation of her book, ‘Memoirs of Hon. Justice Opeyemi Oke, the 16th Chief Judge of Lagos State’.
In this chat, Oke, who is the executive producer of the play, speaks about her trajectory as a judge as well as her passion for stage cum film production.
Could you shed more light on your production outfit, Hon. Justice Opeyemi Oke Plays Ensemble (H.O.O.P.E)?
H.O.O.P.E is a not-for-profit ensemble dedicated to giving interpretation to the laws and statues of Lagos State through drama, musical renditions and films. It is settled that law is for the people. The law is to encourage peace, development, economic growth and continuity. The law is also to check and punish crime appropriately. However, in order to fuel the use of the law to capacity, the citizenry need to be sensitized as to which laws are applicable to their situations and how the law works.
For instance, a victim of domestic violence in Lagos State needs to know that the state has not just a zero tolerance for domestic violence, but also a dedicated stand alone court against sexual offences and domestic violence. In the same light, the use of restorative justice shall have high impact when the citizens are sensitized as to its availability and utility. Who will tell them? How will they know? All stakeholders of the administration of justice collectively have a social responsibility to tell. To tell through old fashioned word of mouth, social media, electronics and print media, and also dramatic expressions. The judiciary has not been visible enough in the past in this regard.
However, through H.O.O.P.E, I am set to give hope to the citizens of Lagos State by dramatic interpretation of the law. Through this medium, among other things, we can sensitize the people to unite in working towards a crime free community. Through restorative justice in particular, we can mend fences and build bridges in personal,
communal and corporate relationships. We can build a better today and give hope for a greater tomorrow. We can, together.
How do you feel retiring after a successful career spanning 33 years?
I want to thank the Almighty God for the programmes people initiated for my retirement. His name is being glorified and I have been glorified in so many of the programmes. The fellows’ award by the Institute of Criminology and Penology given me at the event is another one to God’s glory. And to be recognised by Magistrate Jadesola Ajayi, who
put the programmes together because she believes in what God has done through me, gives me a beautiful feeling. And the award was a big surprise. I didn’t see it coming but I thank God that it came because I’m a criminologists. It is a field where I had my Masters degree in America. I have been able to bring it into my administration and make use of it.
What is the difference between Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), which became popularised during Justice Ayotunde Philips’ tenure, and Restorative Justice?
Restorative Justice system is a form of Criminal Alternative Dispute Resolution (CADR). So, rather than just finding yourself in court, you can have the matter settled amicably at the police station. When you even get to the court, you can still have it settled. The essence is that parties are the ones who are going to determine the terms of settlement. For instance, someone knocks you down on the road and he is willing to settle the medical bill; that is restorative justice. When the defendant doesn’t have to go to court or prison to serve a sentence; that is restorative justice too. The victim is taken care of; even the defendant is also taken care of. It is a win-win game. It’s one of the things we introduced to help decongest the prison. It breeds a better society, and there is stability in the society rather than ‘Oh, I’m going to lock him up’ or ‘I can’t pay the fine’ and then the person spends about three years in prison custody. And when he comes out of the prison custody, he has graduated to a higher level of criminality. We are not helping the society. So, restorative justice is playing a positive role in the type of society we’ll be having in future.
What do you think about grassroots mobilisation for this form of justice system?
It is the right thing to do. Not only the grassroots, even to the lawyers’ community. Because if you want a success of any policy you are bringing or introducing into any justice administration, lawyers must be carried along. Most of them don’t know what restorative justice is all about. Most of them are concerned about ‘I need to collect money from my client’, whereas they can collect their fees and still have our restorative justice mechanism going on. So, it is not only the grassroots that need to be informed about the system, even the members of the Bar and the elite society need to know about it.
Now that you’ve joined the league of Nollywood producers, what shall we be expecting from you?
It must be something that would be beneficial to the society. We can pick another subject of law and try to make a play out of it, for people to watch. Lagos State has a judicial institute now; it is like a training school. This is part of what the training school would be doing; where there is law and training for members of staff, it is better to put it in an artistic form for them to be able to understand. You know, when you visualize, you remember more than when you read. So, this is one area I intend to bring into the training school. Again, the future belongs to God.
There is a siege on the family system: domestic violence, suicide and rape…
(Cuts in) I set up the domestic violence division of the Lagos State High Court. It is the first in the country. There is no other one in Nigeria. I saw that it was a problem during my administration. And what did we do to solve the problem? We designated two special courts to tackle cases of domestic violence and rape. Those two judges mainly deal with these cases. Let’s continue to pray for what we have established and for God to continue to use it to make positive impact in the society.
On a lighter note, what’s the secret of your youthful look?
Fortunately, I am 65-years-old. So, the secret is contentment, peace of mind, and when you put God first in everything, you can’t go wrong. You do the job but because you have the grace of God upon your life, there is no stress that would have an effect on your body. It would bounce back. Don’t forget that I combined my 20 months as Chief Judge of Lagos State with sittings, hearing cases, trials, writing my rulings and judgments. So, it is God’s grace that sustains us, and there are certain things one cannot explain, which only God understands. The mystery of life rests with God Almighty.