By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—The embattled President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami has vowed not to apologise for his allegations of impropriety leveled against the Chief Justice of Nigeria Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu insisting the Chief Justice sought to twist judgment on the election petition in the Sokoto gubernatorial election.
Salami who was given a deadline of tomorrow to apologise to Katsina-Alu and the National Judicial Council, NJC for supposedly tarnishing the image of the Chief Justice and that of the Nigerian judiciary is to make another approach to the Federal High Court, Abuja for redress.
His move followed the reports of two investigations by the National Judicial Council which cleared Justice Katsina-Alu of the allegations of impropriety but subsequently gave the PCA a deadline of tomorrow to apologise to the CJN for first raising the allegations.
He is asking the court to not only quash the decision of the NJC against him, but also to declare the two separate reports tendered by both the Justice Abudullahi Umaru and Justice Ibrahim Auta led panels, null and void and of no legal consequence.
The embattled PCA is not only alleging prejudice against the panels, but equally querying the yardstick employed by the NJC in exonerating the CJN despite several proof of evidence he said established his complicity in the Sokoto state Gubernatorial Election Appeal, 2007.
Though spirited efforts to secure the court process yesterday proved abortive, however, Vanguard investigations revealed that among the reliefs sought by the PCA included an order barring the NJC from acting or taking any step with regards to the final probe report issued on August 10, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
Equally joined as respondents in the suit were the Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Bello Adoke and the CJN himself.
It would be recalled that NJC had on Wednesday last week, gave Justice Salami till tomorrow to say “am sorry” to both the CJN and the council itself, stressing that two separate panels it constituted to probe alleged rot in the top echelon of the judiciary, found him guilty of “judicial misconduct”.
Aside investigating the feud that had ensued between the PCA and the CJN, the panels equally looked into plethora of petitions that alleged judicial malpractice against justice Salami and six other Appeal Court justices that sat in the Ekiti and Osun state Election Petition Tribunals that sacked Governors Segun Oni and Olagunsoya Onyinola.
Whereas it was the initial 5-man panel of justices, headed by a former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Abudullahi that passed verdict on the PCA, a subsequent 3_man review panel, comprising of three Chief Judges, recommended that he should be allowed to apologize for allegedly lying against the CJN on oath an action said to have Rule 1(1) of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
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.
“At the end of deliberations the Council decided as follows: 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.
“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”, adding that it discovered 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.
“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.
It would be recalled that Justice Salami had earlier dragged the CJN, NJC and the 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 “unholy Greek gift”.
Nevertheless, before hearing could commence on the case, the NJC mounted pressure on the litigant to withdraw the suit, promising to investigate the matter, an exercise that took five months.
Remarkably, the same affidavit that was withdrawn by the PCA formed the substratum upon which the NJC finally pronounced him guilty on the premise that all the depositions therein were false.
Justice Salami in the alleged false affidavit, which he made on oath, averred that his relationship with the CJN went awry from the day he refused to comply with a directive that he should disband the panel of Appeal Court Justices that sat over the Sokoto matter.
According to him, “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.
“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 judgement 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 21st November,2010 notwithstanding that the appeal was not before the Supreme Court”.