WHAT will Nigeria make of the opportunities the crisis in the judiciary presents? It will be too presumptuous to think that the departure of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Aloysius Katsina-Alu and President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami will cure the judiciary of the allegations of corruption but it will be a good start.
The published allegations against judges, particularly ones from complainants in lost election petitions, are too many, too loud, to be ignored. The accusations have been direct and the petitioners are ready to provide more evidence.
Judges have been accused of interfering in cases. Salami made that case against Katsina-Alu in the Sokoto State governorship case. Salami went to court on February 8 and his allegations against the Chief Justice of Nigeria were in an affidavit. There are also allegations against an electoral panel on which Salami sat.
Accusations of compromise against the Supreme Court are not new though mostly muted. In a clear departure, a lawyer, Ephraim Duru, on 21 June 2005, in open court, asked then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammadu Lawal Uwais to disqualify himself in a matter between two car vending companies.
“Having made serious allegations against the CJN, we think that the CJN should not be in the panel hearing this case,” Duru insisted.
“If I disqualify myself, which panel will hear your application? As a responsible counsel, I expect you to know the way we do things here,” Uwais replied.
Part of the affidavit read: “That the Respondent/Applicant believes that the impartiality of the said panel cannot be guaranteed under the prevailing circumstances, as the contents of the said exhibits hereto made by third parties may anger their Lordships of the Supreme Court and prejudice the legitimate interest of the Respondent/Applicant in this appeal.”
Justice Dahiru Musdapher, a member of the panel, was furious. “We cannot be intimidated or harassed. This is a far serious allegation against the Supreme Court. You are attacking the integrity of this court. Why do you want to destroy the judiciary because of one case? You need to prove all the allegations because they are criminal,” he told Duru.
Uwais asked Duru to report him to the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, if he had a case. Two months later, EFCC chairman, Nuhu Ribadu told a newspaper: “We investigated the Chief Justice of Nigeria based on the petitions we received against him. We did not find anything against him.” Duru was not prosecuted for the allegations.
Musdapher, next in the Supreme Court hierarchy, has been appointed to investigate Katsina-Alu and Salami. Who performs the judicial functions of the duo at a critical time, less than a month to the elections? Or will they keep their offices while being investigated?
The President is busy with his campaigns.
We again ask both justices to resign and pave the way for a proper investigation of these allegations. Their continued stay diminishes their offices — and the judiciary.