By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — The National Judicial Council, NJC, yesterday, gave the Acting President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Dalhatu Adamu, till today, to vacate the office.
The council, via a statement inAbuja, maintained that President Goodluck Jonathan had already approved the appointment of Justice Zainab Bulkachua to take over the affairs of the appellate court.
It noted that the tenure of Adamu, whose appointment has been renewed by President Jonathan for five consecutive times, expires today, stressing that the new PCA, will be sworn in immediately by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Maryam Aloma Muktar, who doubles as Chairman of the NJC.
It would be recalled that the NJC had on October 2, declared the successive re-appointment of Justice Adamu as Acting PCA by President Jonathan as unconstitutional and illegal.
In a written address it filed before a Federal High Court in Abuja, NJC, argued that by virtue of section 238(5) of the 1999 Constitution, Jonathan lacked the powers to reappoint Justice Adamu as Acting PCA after the expiration of three months from the day the embattled PCA, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, was ousted from office, saying the action amounted to an act of illegality since such recommendation never emanated from the council as required by the law.
President Jonathan had ordered Justice Adamu to take over the position of Justice Salami who was on August 18, 2011, axed from office by the NJC over alleged “judicial misconduct.”
Salami was accused of lying on oath against a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Aloysious Katsina-Alu, who the PCA, in an affidavit he personally deposed in court, said pressurized him to pervert the course of Justice in a Governorship election appeal involving Sokoto State.
Following Salami’s refusal to either recant his allegation or tender written apology to both the council and the ex-CJN, at the end of its7thEmergency Meeting in Abuja, the NJC, directed him to hand over the affairs of the appellate court to the next most senior justice of the court, a directive that culminated to the appointment of Justice Adamu by President Jonathan.
Nevertheless, after almost a year and two months since Salami vacated his office, the Presidency kept extending the tenure of the acting PCA, an action the NJC said was illegal.
Specifically, section 238 (5) stipulates that: “Except on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, an appointment pursuant to the provisions of sub-section 4 of this section shall cease to have effects after the expiration of three months from the date of such appointment, and the President shall not reappoint a person whose appointment has lapsed.”
Thus, without the recommendation of the NJC, the first tenure of the acting PCA ought to have expired in November, 2011.
Arguing in favour of a suit that was filed before the High Court by a Non-Governmental Organization under the aegis of Center for the Promotion of Arbitration, the NJC, had argued, “we submit that the exercise of disciplinary power and recall of a suspended Justice of the Court of Appeal is exclusively vested in the NJC by the constitution.
“By virtue of the combined provisions of sections 153, 158(1) of the constitution, and the NJC’s power to exercise disciplinary control over judicial officers contained in paragraph 21(1) of the part 1, third schedule of the constitution, the council is clothe with the power to suspend and recall the 4th Defendant (Salami) without any recourse to the president (the 1st Defendant).
“Section 158(1) of the constitution provides that “in exercising its power to make appointment or to exercise disciplinary control over persons…the NJC…, shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or persons.
“The only instances the 3rd Defendant exercises its powers in conjunction with the President is in appointment and removal of judicial officers and do not extend to the 3rd Defendant’s disciplinary control over the judicial officers and reinstatement/ recalling of suspended judicial officers; these, we submit, are residual powers exercisable by the 3rd Defendant exclusively.
“My Lord, we therefore submit that it is within the constitutionally vested powers of the 3rd Defendant to recall/ reinstate the 4th Defendant as the President of the Court. We urge my lord to so hold and resolve this issue as argued in the plaintiffs’ favour.”