By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — A mild drama played out at the premises of the National Judicial Council, NJC, yesterday, as spirited efforts by the embattled President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, to serve the court processes he filed before a Federal High Court in Abuja, on the council and its acting chairman, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, met stiff oppositions.
Salami had ordered his team of lawyers, led by Chief Akin Olujimi, SAN, to proceed to the headquarters of the NJC located at the Three Arms Zone in Abuja, with relevant copies of the court processes, immediately he got wind that the council was meeting with top officials of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, yesterday.
Although the lawyers succeeded in gaining access into the NJC premises, however, they were prevented from proceeding to the meeting venue by stern looking security men who mounted sentry at the main entrance to the building.
One of the security officers who initially volunteered to convey the processes to the intended parties, subsequently rushed out with it, panting, and quickly dropped it on the ground with a “please oga take this thing and leave this place immediately!”
Investigations by Vanguard revealed that the security officer was nearly mobbed by his senior officer, who was allegedly ordered ab-initio, to instruct his subordinates not to touch the court processes with even “a 10-metre pole.”
It was furthered gathered that the ad-hoc conference that involved the FJSC yesterday, was part of wide-range consultations by the NJC with a view to ascertaining the appropriate sanction it should hand to Justice Salami today following his refusal to apologise to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu.
Sources at the NJC disclosed that the council is currently at a cross-road over the next line of action it should take in the matter, with the seven days ultimatum it handed to Salami last Wednesday, expiring today.
Salami goes to court again
Meantime, following his inability to serve the NJC and its acting chairman, Justice Musdapher, with the processes, Salami, yesterday, went back to the Federal High Court, praying it to allow him to effect the service on them through substituted means.
He is praying the court to allow him to paste the notice of the pending suit at the entrance of the NJC.
Meanwhile, a letter entitled,“Notification of Pendency of Court Action and Applications for Injunction” addressed to the NJC by lead counsel to Justice Salami, Olujimi, yesterday, reads in part: “We act as counsel to Hon. Justice Isa Ayo Salami, the plaintiff in the above headed suit. It is on his behalf that we write this letter.
“We wish to bring to your attention the fact that our client has filed an action at the Federal High Court to challenge the decision of the National Judicial Council directing him to apologise to the council and the (Chief) Justice of Nigeria. The propriety of the directive and the reports of the panels set up by the council have now been turned over to the court for consideration.”
The plaintiff’s suit in court is based up with applications for interim and interlocutory injunctions. We attach hereto as annexures 1 to 23, the relevant court processes.
The simple question that arises at the juncture is, what is the obligation of the council in the light of this present court action? The obligation of the council is to adopt and abide with the well-established principle of law as enunciated by Tobi J. C. in Ezegbu vs FATB (1992) 1 NWLR (Pt.220) 699 at page 735 Para A-F, when he stated thus: “Parties who have submitted to the jurisdiction of the court are under a legal duty not to do anything to frustrate or make nonsense a possible court order. They must whether they like it or not, wait for court to take a decision one-way or the order. The procedure at arriving at a decision may be slow, it may even be sluggish but the parties cannot jump the gun and do their own thing in their own way that will tantamount to undermining the integrity of the court.
“The personalities involved in the subject matter of this suit are highly placed judicial officers and we believe that, they are well conversant with the need to preserve and protect the sanctity of the institution of the court. In the premise, it is our firm believe that all actions will be suspended pending the resolution of the matter before the court.
“The Nigerian judiciary in recent time has unnecessarily exposed itself to public outcry by the conduct of its officials. The failure to stay all actions pending the resolution of the court action will send wrong signals to the public. Thus the interest of the judiciary will be better protected if actions are stayed in relation to the subject matter of the plaintiff’s suit.
Kindly bring to the notice of members of the council the fact of the pendency of our client’s case and this letter”.
Other members of the NJC who were equally dragged to court by Justice Salami were, Justice Umaru Abdullahi, Justice Emmanuel Ayoola, Justice Dominic Edozie, Justice Michael Akpiroroh, Mrs. Rakia Sarki Ibrahim, Justice Ibrahim Ndahi Auta, Justice Kate Abiri and Justice Peter Umeadi.
The plaintiff argued that the NJC was improperly constituted on the 9th of August 2011 when it sat and received the report of the three-man panel chaired by the 9th Defendant and that as such all actions, steps and decisions reached on the said date are illegal, null and void.
Salami contended that the NJC investigative panels that indicted him of lying of oath, “being administrative bodies, have no power to pronounce on the veracity of facts or statements contained in the statements on oath sworn to before the court of law or pronounce facts contained in statements on oath to be false as such power is exercisable only by a competent court of law”.
Consequently he is seeking among other things, “a declaration that the setting up of the National Judicial Council’s (hereinafter referred to as “NJC”) Investigation Committee by the 1st Defendant and its composition are in gross violation of the principles of natural justice, and the Plaintiff’s constitutionally guaranteed right to fair hearing under Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999(as amended) and is therefore unconstitutional, null and void
“A declaration that the NJC Investigation Committee, chaired by the 4th Defendant, Justice Umaru Abdullahi, lacked the competence to investigate the petitions against the Plaintiff having regard to its composition.
“A declaration that the proceedings of the NJC Investigation Committee were conducted in substantial breach of the principles of natural justice and fair hearing as guaranteed under Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999(as amended) and the proceedings are therefore unconstitutional, null and void.
As well as “a declaration that the findings of the NJC Investigation Committee chaired by the 4th Defendant as contained in the ‘Investigative Panel Report’ dated 6th July 2011 submitted to the 1st Defendant and addressed to the 2nd Defendant, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, are perverse, unreasonable, and violates the fundamental rights of the Plaintiff to fair hearing, guaranteed under Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right”.
He is also praying the court to invoke its original jurisdiction and set aside the proceedings and findings of the NJC Investigation Committee contained in its report dated 6th day of July, 2011, the recommendations of the Justice Ibrahim Auta led panel and all actions, decisions, proceedings and administrative directives arising from or based on such recommendations.
On the allegations of ‘judicial recklessness’ he earlier leveled against the CJN in relation to the Sokoto State gubernatorial election appeal in 2007, Justice Salami urged the trial court to issue “a declaration that the 3rd Defendant, CJN, has no power under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999(as amended) to issue as administrative directive halting or purporting to halt the delivery of judgement by panel of the Court of Appeal in a Governorship Election Petition and that any exercise of such power by the 3rd Defendant is ultra vires and in breach of the combined effect inter alia of Sections 6, 232, 233,234, and 246 of the said Constitution”.
Even as he has urged the High Court to “restrain the NJC, its acting chairman, Justice Musdapher, and the CJN, their agents, servants and / or privies and all functionaries of the 1st Defendant or otherwise, howsoever, from acting on, relying on, recommending or taking or further taking any action or decision whatsoever in respect of the findings of Abdullahi and the Auta Panels.
Issue “an order setting aside the warning letter dated 9th August, 2011 Ref. No: NJC/f.2/CA1/1/273 written by the NJC to the Plaintiff.
“A perpetual injunction restraining the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Defendants from taking any or further action, reaching any conclusions or issuing any directive(s) in any form whatsoever in respect of the various petitions written against the Plaintiff in respect of which the 4th Defendant’s (Abdullahi) Panel was set up by the 1st and 2nd Defendants.
Likewise “a perpetual injunction restraining the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Defendants from taking any or further action, reaching any conclusions or issuing any directive(s) in any form whatsoever in respect of the findings and recommendations of the NJC Investigation Committee chaired by the 4th Defendant and the three-man (Auta) Panel chaired by the 9th Defendant”.