By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—The embattled President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Isa Salami, yesterday, went before a Federal High Court in Abuja to challenge his indictment by the National Judicial Council, NJC, insisting that the verdict was not only perverse and unreasonable, but also violated his fundamental rights to fair hearing as guaranteed under Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right.
Justice Salami in the writ he filed at the High Court registry yesterday, sought a declaration that both the initial 5-man investigative committee and the subsequent 3-man review panel that was set up by the NJC, “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”.
He is seeking “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”.
Meanwhile, Justice Salami has enlisted three Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, Chief Akin Olujinmi, Mr Rickey Tarfa, and Chief Adeniyi Akintola, to prosecute the case for him.
He is 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.
Listed as defendants in the suit were the NJC, Justice Musdapher, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu (CJN), 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 the 1-11 defendants respectively.
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.
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”.
Abdullahi and Auta Panels
Consequently, he asked 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.
“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”.
It would be recalled that NJC had on Wednesday last week, ordered the PCA to tender a written apology to the CJN and the council, insisting that two separate panels it constituted to probe alleged rot in the top echelon of the judiciary, found him guilty of “judicial misconduct”.
Though it indicted the PCA of engaging in unethical conduct capable of eroding public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, the council however exonerated the CJN of alleged judicial impropriety, maintaining 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.
“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.”, NJC stated.
No case to answer
Besides, 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.
“That Justice Isa Ayo Salami and other Justices who served on the Ekiti and Osun States Gubernatorial Election Petition Appeal Tribunal namely; Justices Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, O. Ariwoola, Chiman Centus Nweze and Adamu Jauro have no ‘issue’ to answer”, noting that “the call logs relied upon by the petitioners lacked authenticity and evidential value and therefore no sufficient evidence to establish unethical communication between them.
The said petitions were written by the former governors of Ekiti and Osun states, Chief Segun Oni and Prince Olagunsoya Onyinola.