Crisis in Judiciary: Jonathan removes Salami

2011-08-22
VANGUARD Newspaper

ABUJA—The crisis rocking the nation’s judiciary following the feud between the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu and the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami reached its climax Sunday as President Goodluck Jonathan appointed Justice Dalhatu Adamu as acting President of the Court, pending the resolution of all issues relating to the crisis.

A statement issued by Dr. Reuben Abati, the Special Adviser to the President, Media and Publicity yesterday said “President Goodluck Jonathan is in receipt of a correspondence dated 18th August, 2011, from the National Judicial Council (NJC), recommending the compulsory retirement of Hon. Justice Isa Ayo Salami, OFR, for misconduct in accordance with the provisions of Section 292 (1) (a) (i) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, and Rule 1 (1) of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.

“Consequently, President Jonathan, in exercise of the powers conferred on him by Section 238 (4) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, has approved the acting appointment of Hon. Justice Dalhatu Adamu to perform the functions of the office of the President of the Court of Appeal pending when all issues relating to the office of the President of the Court of Appeal are resolved”.

The lingering feud between the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu and President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami which snowballed into Justice Salami’s suspension from office last week by the National Judicial Council assumed a new dimension Sunday as the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA announced the withdrawal of all its eight members from the NJC describing the council’s action as a great regret and shame which should not be allowed to stand.

The NBA took the decision even as Justice Salami who was ordered last week to hand over to the next most senior judge in the court is expected to report at his office today at 8 a.m. as he vowed to fight the suspension he described as unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties, CNPP,, Campaign for Democracy and the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN have joined several other groups in condemning the suspension saying the NJC was usurping the powers of the Senate.



The NBA, apart from withdrawing its members from the NJC has also said it will not participate in the swearing-in of the new Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, recently appointed by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, LPPC scheduled for this Friday and has also directed all the recipients of the award, to boycott the ceremony, saying “Any legal practitioner that attends the ceremony will not be recognised by members of the NBA with any rank he possesses.

SANs: NBA to boycott ceremony

The NBA further said, “The Bar shall boycott the ceremony and all her members are advised to stay away including those to be conferred the rank.”

President of the NBA, Mr Joseph Daudu, SAN, noted in his address, “this conference comes at a time when the legal profession is reeling from a serious crisis of confidence precipitated not by or within the Bar but by our alter-ego, the Bench. We do not amongst us need to define who members of the Bench are; suffice to say that they are entrusted with the sacred duty of adjudicating disputes between person’s inter-se and between government and other persons with a view to determining their civil rights and obligations. This hallowed function carries with it onerous obligations requiring of the occupants of such high office certain sterling qualities. The public expect of members of the bench total commitment to the cause of justice.

“No less commitment is required from members of the bar that present cases for all suitors that go before the bench for Justice. In this regard, lawyers are regarded as ministers (not serfs or plebeians) in the temple of justice. They are equal partners in the constitutional quest to provide justice to the people. Consequently, it is expected that both the Bar and Bench will at all times, particularly in the course of their service to justice protect and uphold the Rule of law, respect and observe due process, exhibit great learning and independence at all stages in the discharge of this sacred function and generally inspire confidence in the administration of Justice.

“The result, if the foregoing are scrupulously observed and applied is that the society will be peaceful, secure, progressive and blessed. Such society whose judges offer justice to her people prospers in all ramification be it economic, social or political. The converse is the case for a society with a warped, unreliable and or unpredictable system of justice or which possess a fine system but whose operators are corrupt or unreliable. Either way, the society is worse off for it,” he added.

“Nigeria operates a system of justice that should ordinarily provide for her people undiluted justice but a good system does not on its own guarantee justice. Its operators must be truthful, honest, sincere, and Spartan in living, they must also be God fearing and exhibit a disdain for any corruptive factor. It follows therefore that at all times those who administer justice must be a shining example for others as it relates to the observance and strict application of the due process of and the rule of law. It is the beginning of the end for a society whose judges exhibit selective preference for the Rule of law, choosing to apply it when it suits them and ad nauseum, rejecting it when their own personal interest is in issue.

The duty of the Bar is no different; it is expected to be knowledgeable, fearless, and truthful. Above all, her members are expected to show total respect for the laws of the land and defend same at any cost. The Bar fails in her duties to the society and the cause of justice where it condones tyranny from any arm of government. Most detestable is judicial tyranny because its effect emasculates the people. It is against this background that I wish to report on certain pressing recent events that have rocked the sanctity of our fledgling democracy.”

Kastina-Alu and Salami

On the face-off between Kastina-Alu and Salami, he said “It is essential to commence this report by providing some background information about the NJC. About three weeks ago, in the middle of proceedings of the CJN/PCA face-off, legal practitioners were required to recuse themselves. The coincidence was inauspicious. From that point the Council continued unabated with the process that has led us to the sad state of affairs that now exists.

“The plaintiff is Justice Salami and the 11 defendants are principally the NJC and 11 other members of Council excluding of course the representatives of the Bar. The cause of action arises from the disciplinary proceedings in the nature of the report of 2 committees set up by the NJC leading to the meeting of the 18th of August 2011 wherein the PCA’s retirement was purportedly recommended to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He was also suspended forthwith from the performance of his constitutional and judicial functions.

“From undisputed facts available to us, NJC was aware of the pendency of the above law suit. This is clear from the press statement signed by its secretary and published in many national dailies between August 18 and 20, 2011. I have it on irrefutable authority that the NJC decided to proceed with their action in the face of pending court proceedings ‘Since the said papers were not signed by any judge to show that it had been properly filed; that no court or date of return was stated on the process; parties that were NJC members were not served and for that reason section 158 of the Constitution applies and that NJC is therefore not subject to the direction of any authority or any person’.

“The question is whether this provision allows the NJC to proceed with the action regardless of the pendency of court proceedings. Is the court here an ‘authority’ or a ‘person’? The relevance of this poser is that if answered in the affirmative then that provision acts as an ouster clause to court intervention to the actions or inaction of the NJC. I will like to say straightaway that Section 158 is not an ouster clause to the powers of the court to intervene and correct any perceived error made by the NJC which has provided a cause of action to the injured party.

“Clearly sub judice when the NJC proceeded with its actions on August 18. The judicial reversal of the NJC’s unfortunate and worrisome actions is a matter to be left for the law courts to deal with as they deem fit. It is a matter of great regret and shame that a judicial organisation of the calibre of the NJC can ride roughshod over the processes of a court of law.

“The implication for Nigerian judicial process is catastrophic. If not remedied, we are witnessing the slide into anarchy and lawlessness which history will record as having been fired up by the judiciary. (a part of the legal profession) We shall not sit idly by and watch our profession ridiculed and brought into disrepute in the public domain,” he added

Salami vows to stay on, reports to office 8 am today

Meanwhile Justice Salami has vowed to stay on in office despite National Judicial Council’s, NJC order directing him to handover to the next senior Justice of the Court of Appeal, as he plans to resume office early today. This according to sources was to pre-empt any attempt to oust him from office by force in light of how his security details were withdrawn Friday and restored later by the Inspector General of Police, IGP.

This development came ahead of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Annual Conference which begins in Port Harcourt today which is expected to deliberate extensively on its committee report which investigated the lingering feud between Justice Salami and Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu.

Interestingly, the NBA report which would be adopted after due consideration absolved the PCA of any wrong-doing contrary to the NJC report which found him guilty of misconduct.

However, the NBA committee report indicted the CJN of undue interference over the Sokoto State 2007 governorship appeal petition, the root causes of the CJN and PCA face-off.

The NJC in its own report which found Justice Salami guilty, accused him of official misconduct, specifically alleging that he lied on oath. It was the PCA’s refusal to apologise to both CJN and NJC within seven days as recommended by Justice Ibrahim Auta’s led three-man NJC sub-committee that led to Justice Salami’s suspension from office by NJC.

Vanguard learnt that the battle ready Salami’s decision to fight on was buoyed with the fresh suit he filed last weekend praying for an order setting aside his suspension by the NJC as well as the supports he had received so far from some prominent members of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA on his predicament.

Vanguard gathered that the PCA who had vowed to resume office today, had earlier visited his home country weekend returned to Abuja yesterday to resume work today, in anticipation of any move to stop him.

Also, the former president of the West African Bar Association, WABA, Mr. Femi Falana has urged President Goodluck Jonathan to ignore the recommendation by the NJC asking the President to retire Salami from the Bench of the Court of Appeal.

Falana said in view of the pending suit before the Federal High Court coupled with the neglect of President Jonathan’s approval by NJC before announcing the suspension of Salami, urged the President to disregard the recommendation of the NJC.

According to Falana, by virtue of section 292(1) of the Constitution the President of the Court of Appeal can only be removed from office by the President, supported by two-thirds of the Senate.

NJC lacked the power to remove him — Falana

He said, apart from recommending to the President of Nigeria, the NJC lacked the power to remove him through suspension from office, adding that the body acted ultra vires by suspending Justice Salami from office.

He also said “under Section 238 of the Constitution if the office of the President of the Court of Appeal becomes vacant the President of Nigeria “shall appoint the most senior Justice of the Court of Appeal to perform those functions” pending the appointment of the President of the Court. By directing the most senior Justice of the Court of Appeal to take over the functions of the office of the President of the Court of Appeal the National Judicial Council has usurped the powers of the President of Nigeria.

“Having publicly acknowledged through an advertorial that it had been served with the originating process in the case filed by Justice Ayo Salami at the Federal High Court challenging the legal validity of the request of the National Judicial Council that he should apologize for allegedly lying on oath the purported suspension of the President of the Court of Appeal from office is illegal and contemptuous.

Crisis painful —Gbagi

Meanwhile, Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Blue Delta Integrated Services Limited, Emuoboh K. Gbagi, has described the crisis in the judiciary as very painful saying politics had permeated the very root of the foundation of the Bench.

According to him “Nigerians would not want to imagine the implications of a country without a recognized and respected judiciary. The entire unfortunate situation is one that must be resolved in line with the doctrine of equity”.

“Before now the National Judicial Council had always suspended deliberations on any matter that was pending in court so as not to present the Court with a fait accompli. With respect to the petition alleging misconduct against Justice Thomas Naron the National Judicial Council stated that it could not deal with the complaint because the petition filed by Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola against the election of Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola was pending at the Court of Appeal at the material time.”

He said, even under a military dictatorship the Supreme Court in the Governor of Lagos State v. Emeka Ojukwu (1986) 2 NWLR (PT 18) 621 held once a law court is seized of a matter parties should maintain the status quo so as not to render the proceedings before the Court nugatory.

He therefore urged the President not to endorse the actions of the National Judicial Council, saying, “by withdrawing the security of the President of the Court of Appeal when the President of Nigeria had not acted on the recommendation that Justice Salami be removed from office, the National Judicial Council has treated the office of the President of Nigeria with total disdain which should not be condoned by President Jonathan. The Inspector-General of Police deserves commendation for restoring the security of the President of the Court of Appeal illegally withdrawn on the orders of the National Judicial Council.”

“It is time for all democracy loving Nigerians to stand up in defence of the rule of law by opposing this violation of the rule of law by the National Judicial Council. This is not about Justice Salami but about the essence of the foundation of justice in our country and halting the mindless drift into lawlessness by the shenanigans of the few men of impunity abusing their position to make us look like inhabitants of the jungle.

“We hope the President on whose behalf it is being insinuated these men are acting to stall the judicial challenge to his victory before Justice Salami led court, will act wisely and distance himself from this odious plot. We equally call on the Senate without whose stamp this NJC coup cannot be successful to act in good discretion by withholding support for this shameless move by the NJC. In the end, we the people of Nigeria would have succeeded in safeguarding our freedom from impunity by collectively rising against this crude assault on Justice”.

 

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