ABUJA —THE National Judicial Council, NJC, yesterday, quashed the plan by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu to elevate the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami to the bench of the Supreme Court.
This came as the NJC also mandated the former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Umaru Abdullahi to reconcile Chief Justice Katsina-Alu and Appeal Court President, Justice Ayo Salami.
NJC which has the statutory powers to make binding decisions for every judicial officer in the country, held an ad-hoc meeting at the Supreme Court complex in Abuja where it expressed displeasure over the ongoing squabble between the CJN and the Appeal Court president, insisting that it was capable of exposing the Nigerian Judiciary to public ridicule.
A source at the meeting told Vanguard that the NJC has ordered the CJN to shelve his plans to recommend Justice Salami to President Goodluck Jonathan for promotion, even as it equally ordered the embattled Appeal Court president to promptly withdraw the suit he filed before an Abuja high court on Tuesday.
It was gathered that 24 members of the NJC who attended the meeting, took turns to condemn the controversy that has trailed the unsolicited promotion since the news broke out last week, even as they faulted the CJN on the premise that he should have taken Justice Salami into confidence before making such moves.
Justice Salami to retain the position
Consequently, they unanimously agreed that Justice Salami should retain his position as the Appeal Court President, warning that the warring parties should refrain from making public utterances capable of undermining the integrity of the entire Judicial system.
Among those at the meeting were the CJN himself, Justice Katsina_Alu; the Appeal Court President, Justice Salami; President of the Nigerian Bar Association, J.B. Daudu, SAN; Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Dan Abutu; former NBA presidents, Chief Olisa Agbakoba, SAN; Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN; and Chief O.C.J Okocha, SAN.
Others were retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Pius Aderemi, JSC; rtd. Justice Akpiroroh, Justice Umaru Abdullahi, Justice Emmanuel Ayoola, Justice Dahiru Mustapha, Justice Kate Adiri; Grand Khadi Abubakar Shettima; Chief Judge of Enugu State and Justice Innocent Uwazurike, among others.
It will be recalled that the embattled President of the Appeal Court, Salami, in a suit he filed on Tuesday, dragged the NJC, the Federal Judicial Service Commission, FJSC, and the Attorney General of Federation, AGF, to court, praying it to abort moves to elevate him to the apex court.
He specifically sought an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the Defendants, jointly and/or severally, by themselves, and all officers, servants and functionaries of the Federal Government or otherwise, howsoever, from recognising, acting on, doing anything in recognition of or putting into effect any decision of the Defendants purporting to appoint the plaintiff to the Supreme Court as a Justice of the Court, pending the hearing and determination of the Originating Summons he filed before the high court.
In an affidavit he filled in support of the suit, Justice Salami, disclosed how the CJN, Justice Katsina_Alu, mounted pressure on him to compromise in the Sokoto State gubernatorial tussle between Governor Magatakarda Wamakko and a former Governor of the state, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa.
He alleged that his relationship with the CJN went awry since the day he refused to comply with his directive that he should disband the panel of Appeal Court Justices that sat over the political matter.
Salami said: “I have all along enjoyed my work as President of the Court of Appeal and did not have any issues or disagreement with the 1st defendant, Katsina-Alu, until the controversies over the gubernatorial election petition in Sokoto state came to light.
Pending election petition appeals
“Following my appointment as the President of the Court of Appeal, I found, among the pending election petition appeals, the Sokoto State Gubernatorial election petition appeal. I set up panels of the Appeal Court to dispose of the pending petitions including that of Sokoto.
“ I was, however, shocked when subsequent to the setting up of a panel on the Sokoto Gubernatorial election petition appeal, and after all parties had filed and exchange briefs, adopted same and judgment reserved the 1st defendant summoned me by telephone to his office in Abuja.
“The 1st defendant asked me to disband the panel I had set up for the appeal on the excuse that if the panel allowed the appeal and removed the Governor, the ripple effect would lead to a removal of our highly revered Sultan of Sokoto.
“The 1st Defendant could not convince me on the logic predicating his reasoning more especially as the Sultan was not a party to the election petition and as there is no nexus between any of the parties and the sultan, so I told him I would not disband the panel.
The 1st Defendant then said in the alternative that I should direct the panel of justices to decide against the Appellant.
“To this again, I still said No that I would not do anything to pervert the cause of justice. When the matter came before the 3rd Defendant (NJC), the Committee set up to look into the complaint vindicated me and in clear terms told the 1st Defendant, he had no Constitutional and Statutory power to stop proceedings in any division of the Court of Appeal as he did. Since then there has been no love lost between me and the 1st Defendant.
“That the appeal in the Sokoto Gubernatorial election petition which was pending before the Sokoto Court of Appeal was eventually dismissed by the Supreme Court on November 21, 2010 notwithstanding that the appeal was not before the Supreme Court.
“That initially, it came to me as a rumour that plans were being hatched by the 1st defendant along with some others to remove me from the post of President of the Court of Appeal.
“While I did not want to believe such rumours about my removal nonetheless I put my ears and eyes to the ground. However on February 2, 2011 what had earlier passed as mere rumour became a reality as it became known that the 1st defendant had vigorously moved the meeting of the 2nd defendant on February 1 or 2, 2011 to accept his proposal to move me to the Supreme Court
“It is strange in the extreme to me that such ‘Greek gift’ was not even mentioned to me by the 1st defendant, presumably because my view did not count for anything.
“Again the matter was also considered top most secret by the 1st defendant that it was not listed on the agenda for the meeting.
“That as the President of the Court of Appeal of Nigeria, I am a statutory member of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, National Judicial Council amongst other judicial statutory bodies.
“That on Friday, January 28, 2011, out of courtesy and respect for the 1st Defendant, I informed the latter of my inability to be present at the meeting of the 2nd defendant slated for Tuesday, February 1, 2011.
“That I predicated my inability to attend the meeting aforesaid on the loss of an aunt whose eighth day Muslim prayers was fixed for Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at Ilorin in Kwara State and the fact that the agenda for the meeting of the 2nd Defendant which had earlier been sent out to members did not contain anything to warrant cancelling of my trip to Ilorin.
“That I was encouraged by the 1st Defendant to attend my aunt’s eighth day prayer especially because there was nothing on the agenda serious enough to compel my attendance. That the purported meeting of the 2nd Defendant, Federal Judicial Service Commission, that the 1st Defendant directed that the deliberations should be kept a close secret.
“That at the purported meeting of February 2, 2011 before the commencement, the 1st and 4th Defendant (Attorney General of Federation) held a private secret meeting in the chambers of the 1st Defendant where the plan was hatched for my removal to the Supreme Court.
“Notwithstanding the foregoing, the 2nd defendant (FJSC) on February 1 or 2, 2011, resolved to nominate me to the 3rd defendant for appointment as a Justice of the Supreme Court.
“Obviously, the game plan to move me to the Supreme Court will facilitate the efforts of the 1st defendant to plant his own minion or stooge as President of the Court of Appeal to do his biddings as and when needed.
“That I was not heard before the 2nd Defendant took its decision to recommend me for appointment as a Justice of Supreme Court of Nigeria.
“Quite naturally, when I became aware of the ill_motivated decision to move me to the Supreme Court, I wrote to the 1st defendant as Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the 3rd defendant to reject the decision. A copy of my said letter dated February 4, 2011 is Exhibit A herewith.
“I know as a matter of fact that such ill_motivated decision to move the President of the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court has never happened in our legal history”.
Abdullahi to reconcile CJN and Court of Appeal President
Meanwhile, the NJC, yesterday, mandated former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Umaru Abdullahi, to reconcile the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the incumbent President of the Appeal Court, over the heat generated by the failed attempt to move Justice Salami to the Supreme Court bench.
This was part of the resolution reached at yesterday’s meeting of the NJC.
However, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who preferred anonymity, told Vanguard that the proposed movement to the apex court could not have been called elevation, stressing that it was punitive in nature.
He said: “How can you decide to move somebody, who is going to render a service, yet you failed to tell him. You cannot force him to move, that was the more reason he should have been informed and his consent obtained. It was not in any way an elevation, but a punishment and thank God the NJC had met and said that status quo should remain.”
Other stakeholders in the legal profession also reacted to the controversy. Fred Agbaje, a senior lawyer, in his reaction said: “I am surprised this issue went to this level. I don’t know when an internal or administrative issue in the Bench becomes a discourse at the public gallery. It is a very bad precedent for the President of the Court of Appeal to go to the court. I don’t like the idea at all, especially, for him to go to the press and to expose to the public what happened between him and the Chief Justice of Nigeria.”
Chief Olusola Oke, PDP National Legal Adviser: “Every Nigerian has a right to seek redress in Court irrespective of the position such a person is occupying. Being an employee or employer, you have a right to go to court. The issue, however, will bother on whether it is administratively right for such person to do so or whether it will amount to an act of indiscipline.
What is happening in the Judiciary presently is ridiculous, it is an organized anarchy. The President of the Appeal Court has raised several allegations in his suit; the CJN is yet to react to them. As the CJN, he is not supposed to join issues with his subordinate or employee. There are well laid down disciplinary procedures to take care of internal disloyalty. It will be very unfortunate if he chooses to join issues with Justice Salami over this matter.
Chief Nkereuwem Akpan: “The suit filed by Justice Salami is a welcome development as it will help to expand our jurisprudence and case_law in that area. If you look at section 6(6)(a) and (b) together with section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, just like every other Nigerian, Justice Salami has unfettered access to the law courts in the determination of his personal rights and obligations against individuals and authorities. He cannot be shut out merely because the defendant happens to be the Chief Justice of Nigeria.”
Mr Kayode Ajulo: “Justice Salami is under oath of his office to defend the law, going to court to protect his office as President of Court of Appeal is perfectly in order. He should be commended for his courage as the alleged offer of appointment is unprecedented in any legal history of the realm. It makes mockery of the principle of seniority of the members of the bench.
It’s even more of demotion as the President of the Court of Appeal is in a class of its own and takes precedence over any other judicial officer except the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
Mr Joseph Otteh in his reaction said if the allegation that the Chief Justice of Nigeria had sought to interfere with proceedings before the Court of Appeal by asking for the disbandment of a duly constituted tribunal or procuring the Court of Appeal President to direct the outcome of the tribunal’s verdict is correct, it would be a grave, grossly unethical and treacherous violation of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“It would undermine every precept about justice, fairness, due process, rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, and transparency that the Judiciary stands for. It would be perfidious, and a serious and profane fraud on the administration of justice in Nigeria and on the eminent Office of the Chief Justice who is the face of the Judiciary.”