By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The judiciary may not have witnessed much controversy than has befallen it in recent times! Call it “Salami-gate” or “Alu-gate”, the bottom-line remains that the Nigerian Judiciary is entangled in an uncanny cyclone of scandal that will go into the annals of this country as the worst of its kinds!
Never in the history of the country has either a Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, or the President of the Court of Appeal, PCA, engaged in an unholy bout of verbal and legal fisticuffs, such that has not only impinged on the integrity of that arm of governance, but has substantially eroded the confidence of the common man on the sacredness of the judiciary as his bastion of hope.
The incontrovertible fact remains that the quagmire presently bedeviling the judiciary, has raised fundamental doubts about the creed of justice and its administration, as well as, exposed the dirty linens of men hitherto revered as the great custodians of the judicial “shrine” (though some may call it temple). A desecrated temple is not worth its salt. When things begin to fall apart from the centre, the fate of its components is better imagined.
No thanks to the two dramatis personae’s at the nucleus of this saga, the CJN, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu and the PCA, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, for their inability to draw a distinct line between personal acrimony and official duty, vis-à-vis discerning the difference between public stare and public glare!
Though they were said to be classmates in the law school, there is no love lost between the duo who have attracted enormous public opprobrium to the hitherto revered judiciary.
The last stray that broke the camels back was the Sokoto state gubernatorial case involving the incumbent governor of the state, Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko who was a candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the candidate of the Democratic Peoples Party, DPP, Alhaji Muhammadu Maigari Dingyadi.
Both candidates contested the April 14, 2007, governorship election in Sokoto state, after which the DPP and its flag bearer who was not satisfied with the result of the election, filed a petition at the Governorship and National Assembly Election Tribunal in Sokoto, questioning the election and the return of Governor Wamakko.
The petitioner contended among several things, that the Governor was at the time of the election not qualified to contest, stressing that his nomination was ab-initio void considering that he (Wamakko) was sponsored for the election by the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, where he decamped from and joined the PDP for the purpose of contesting the said election.
The Sokoto Gubernatorial Election Tribunal heard the petition on the merit and dismissed it. Dissatisfied with the judgment, the petitioners appealed to the Court of Appeal in Suit No. CA/K/EP/GOV/60/07. The appeal was heard at the Court of Appeal sitting in Kaduna, as there was no appellate court in Sokoto at that time.
In a unanimous decision of the Court delivered on 11/4/2008 and read by Belgore, JCA, the appeal was allowed. The judgment of the Election Tribunal, Sokoto, was set aside and the election and return of Governor Wamakko was nullified.
The Court ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to within 90 days, conduct fresh Governorship Election in Sokoto state, adding that only valid candidates involved in the annulled election should participate in the fresh poll.
The fresh election ordered by the Court of Appeal Kaduna was held on May 24, 2008, and the PDP and its candidate, Governor Wamakko won again, a situation that warranted the DPP and its candidate who lost, to proceed to the Election Tribunal in Sokoto for redress, contending that by virtue of the earlier judgment, Wamakko ought not to have participated in the re-run election as he was not qualified to contest the 2007 election in the first place.
The Governorship Election Tribunal, Sokoto again dismissed the petition without deciding the issue of the disqualification of Governor Wamakko, hence the Petitioners appealed to the Court of Appeal Sokoto Division, which was established after the decision of the Court of Appeal, Kaduna.
However, before the appellate court could enter verdict in the matter, counsel to Wamakko and INEC, Mr. Alfred N. Agu and Mr A.B Mahmood, forwarded two petitions dated February 15, 2010, to the CJN, alleging judgment leakage.
Acting promptly, the CJN issued query to the PCA on February 18, 2010, and ordered an immediate disbandment of the Sokoto state Gubernatorial Election Appeal panel, a move that was considered legally absurd by the PCA, who saw it as an attempt to usurp his powers, considering that it was the appellate court that had total jurisdiction over governorship disputes.
Consequently, the PCA ordered the panel to go ahead and deliver its verdict since the contention of the petitioners was not that they were denied justice or fair hearing.
However, before the panel could comply with the directive, the CJN ‘arrested’ its judgment and subsequently dismissed Dingyadi’s petition as grossly lacking in merit.
According to a report by the 13-man probe committee that was set up by the NBA to look into the feud, “It is the refusal of the PCA to accept the CJN’s said requests to disband the panel demands that finally erupted into the open face-off between the CJN and the PCA, a development which has greatly tarnished the image and reputation of the Nigerian judiciary and the legal profession as a whole.
“Having examined the contents of the two petitions attached to the CJN’s query to the PCA, the committee is satisfied that the CJN’s action in respect of the Sokoto Election Appeal amounts to interference.”
As if the relationship between these two legal eggheads was not frosty enough, the CJN, in another absurd move, recommended that the PCA should be promoted to the Supreme Court bench, an action that further fanned the embers of disunity in the judicial circles.
In his bid to resist the ‘unholy-promotion’, Justice Salami dragged the CJN, NJC and Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, before a Federal High Court in Abuja, alleging subterranean plot to by the CJN to “push” him to the Supreme Court bench, a move he termed “Greek gift”.
He deposed an affidavit at the High Court wherein he raised grave allegations of corruption against the CJN. However, before hearing could commence on the case, the NJC mounted pressure on him to withdraw the suit, promising to investigate the matter, an exercise that took five months.
Remarkably, the same withdrawn affidavit formed the substratum upon which the NJC finally pronounced him guilty on the premise that all the depositions therein were false.
While indicting the PCA of engaging in unethical conduct capable of eroding public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, the council totally exonerated the CJN of the alleged ‘judicial recklessness’, adding that he “acted in good faith and was motivated by the apparent urge to protect the administration of justice and avoid breach of peace when he directed that the judgment in the Sokoto Gubernatorial Appeal be ‘put on hold’ pending the investigation of the petitions he had received on the matter.
NJC in a statement it issued on August 10, maintained that, “the allegation made by the Hon. President, Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Isa Ayo Salami, OFR that the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, GCON, instructed him to direct the Sokoto Gubernatorial Appeal to dismiss the appeal by the Democratic Peoples Party of Nigeria is not true.
“Therefore, the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria was exonerated of the allegation of interference with Court proceedings in the Sokoto State Gubernatorial Election Appeal”.
Likewise, the council said it discovered that “the Hon. Justices of Court of Appeal who served on the Sokoto State Governorship Appeal Panel namely; Hon. Justices Musa Dattijo Mohammad, Paul A. Galinje, John Inyang Okoro, Mas’oud Oredola and Regina O. Nwodo, have no issue to answer.
“Having therefore established that the allegation/complaint by the President, Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Isa Ayo Salami, OFR, against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, GCON regarding the Sokoto Gubernatorial Election Appeal was false.
“Council decided that it is misconduct contrary to Rule 1(1) of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Thus Council further decided as follows, that, (1) the Hon. President of the Court of Appeal should be warned for such unethical conduct which eroded the public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary; and (2) apologise in writing to both the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of National Judicial Council, Hon. Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, and National Judicial Council within a week from the 10th day of August, 2011.”
Thrown into a dilemma, Justice Salami had no option than to re-approach the High Court for redress, in view of the fact that apologizing would automatically nail him to a criminal offence of perjury punishable with imprisonment.
He equally joined the acting chairman of the NJC, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, 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 as defendants in the suit.
Salami 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.
He 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”.
Therefore, he sought 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 judgment 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.”