People & Politics

May 21, 2012

Justice Salami’s messy recall

Justice Salami’s messy recall

Justice Salami

By Ochereome Nnanna
I AM a great fan of wildlife documentaries. The crisis in the Judiciary involving erstwhile President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Isa Salami and retired Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Aloysius Katsina Alu, reminds me of an animal that strays into a deep mire, marsh or bog.

The more it struggles to get out the deeper it sinks. I once watched a buffalo caught in such a situation. It was there for hours until a ravenously hungry group of hyenas arrived and started eating it alive from the rear end. They had almost consumed a third of the poor ox before it finally gave up the ghost.

The recent call by the National Judicial Council (CJN) on President Goodluck Jonathan to recall the suspended PCA, Justice Salami, bespeaks of a lamentable but avoidable tragedy that two of the nation’s topmost judicial officers allowed their perceived romance with politicians to plunge the hallowed institution into. Let us briefly describe the anatomy of this mess.

On February 5th 2011, the newspapers celebrated the headline news of Justice Salami’s letter to the then CJN, Katsina Alu, accusing the latter of posting him (Salami) to the Supreme Court because he refused to allow the CJN interfere in the judgement of the Sokoto governorship election appeal.

He declined to go to the Supreme Court because, according to him, he would become junior to many of the Justices there who are his juniors on the Bench. The other unspoken reason was that, as President of the PCA, he has the power to influence the fate of elected governors and legislators; a position of political power and money.

His opponents in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) accused him of using his position as President of the PCA to influence the removal of PDP Governors in Edo, Ekiti, Ondo and Osun States where candidates of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and (in Ondo) the Labour Party (LP) were declared winner. On the other hand, Salami and his supporters in the ACN and the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) urged him not to accept the Supreme Court posting, as it was a ploy by the PDP to remove an “incorruptible” judge and bring in someone who would be more sympathetic to the PDP.

Presidency or National Assembly’s intervention

With both the CJN and the PCA along with elements of the highest decision making body, the NJC, clearly showing signs of partisan leanings, it was at this juncture that leadership should have prevailed. The Presidency or the National Assembly committees on the Judiciary should have quickly intervened to save the Judiciary.

The two warring officers should have been asked to go on compulsory leave while an independent inquiry should have been set up to ascertain if either or both had stained their elevated posts with partisan politics. Anyone found guilty would be fired while anyone above board could always return to his job.

Rather than do this, the two sides to the conflict were allowed to slug it out. The CJN used his enormous powers to turn the NJC against Salami. At first, “elders” of the Council were asked to “make peace” between the two. Then, another panel of the NJC headed by Justice Umaru Abdullahi was set up to probe them. It turned in a verdict of guilty against CJN Katsina Alu, accusing him of perjury and clearing Salami.

In a reprisal, Katsina Alu set up the Justice Ibrahim Auta panel to “review” the Justice Abdullahi panel’s findings. It, in turn, returned a verdict of guilty against Salami, clearing the CJN. It also ordered Salami to apologise, failing which he should be sanctioned. Salami refused to apologise, opting to go to court.

The NJC recommended to President Jonathan to remove Salami from office. In a rather expeditious manner, the President suspended Salami from office and appointed Justice Dalhatu Adamu as the Acting President of the Court of Appeal.

Shortly after all this, Katsina Alu retired from office and a new CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher was appointed. Musdapher seemed keen on restoring the dignity of the Judiciary. He decided to revisit the Salami case which was seen in many quarters as injustice, since his opponent, Justice Katsina Alu sat on, and decided his fate. He also set up a 28-man panel to reform the Judiciary.

A sub-committee of the panel consisting of retired Justices Umaru Kalgo, Mamman Nasir and Bola Ajibola, cleared Salami and recommended his recall. A reconstituted panel of the NJC also agreed with this recommendation and another letter was sent to the President to effect the recall of Salami.

Here lies the dilemma. Granted, the old NJC panel was unfair to Salami in that his accuser sat over his case as judge. Granted also, Justice Salami is seen in certain judicial quarters as a man who gives justice to those who deserve it. In what way will Salami’s recall erase the fact that he and Katsina-Alu dragged the name of the Judiciary into public ridicule? What about the alleged partisan roles both played by betraying their allegiance to political parties? Did the NJC look into that issue or did it merely dwell on the injustice against Salami against his opponent?

Foolishness of the NJC

The era of Katsina Alu and Salami as officers in our temple of justice is effectively over. Salami would have been retired by now. Even if the NJC is ready to eat its own words, the President of Nigeria should not be forced to reverse himself. He should not be made to pay reparation for the foolishness of the NJC.

If the NJC has discovered that it made a mistake in its earlier verdict and thus misled the President, they should apologise to Salami, the President and the nation for that tomfoolery.

They should administratively regularise Salami’s retirement with full benefits just as Katsina Alu was given, though I believe both should have gone with ignominy as a warning to others who may be tempted to play politics with justice in future.

The Katsina Alu and Salami era belongs in the past. Let it stay there.

Kano Hisbah mass wedding

I WAS intrigued by the recent mass wedding of widows and divorcees which took place with pomp and pageantry in the Kano Central Mosque under the close supervision of the Emir of Kano, Dr. Ado Bayero and top government officials. According to the story, about 100 couples (the first batch of a thousand slated) were wedded.

The state government funded the payment of N10,000 bride prices on each bride, offered financial assistance for household utensils and the training of the women to empower them for self reliance. Some wealthy individuals also made generous donations to the newlyweds.

The entire package was put together by the Hisbah Board, the Islamic guidance organisation which was set up to implement the Sharia law.

A similar gesture was promised by the Governor of Yobe State, Alhaji Ibrahim Geidam on Friday, February 13th 2009 while at the Central Mosque in Damaturu. The then newly sworn-in Governor Geidam (his boss, Alhaji Mamman Ali, had just been buried) promised to pay the bride price for all bachelors who worshipped at the Central Mosque.

Just as in the case of the Kano Hisbah mass wedding, the reason adduced by the governor was, according to a report filed by The Guardian’s Njadvara Musa, to: “discourage …men from immoral acts and related social vices fuelled by their state of singleness”.

The Kano State Government went into this gesture when a non governmental organisation screamed that there were about 1,000,000 divorced and widowed women in Kano State alone, which obviously made Hisbah to take up the cause of mass match-making.

Something tells me that the act of government marrying wives for men is culturally alright in the Muslim North. Nothing can be further from the truth in the southern cultures of Nigeria. I don’t think this culture applies to Muslims in Yorubaland. In the south, marriage, just like religion, is a personal issue.

Government does not pay bride price for anyone. It just does not come up at all. But when a man decides to get married he gets a lot of support, even from those in government if he has such contacts.

Paying bride price to enable a man marry is one thing. His being able to carry the burden of being a husband (and father) is yet another. The large number of divorcees came originally from failed marriages. In most cases, these women were neglected by their former husbands, either because culture allows them to maltreat women and get away with it or simply because they lacked the financial capacity to maintain families.

These are the sociological causative factors that government should be more interested in addressing rather than paying bride prices.

Part of reasons there is so much poverty in the north is because public funds are wasted on unsustainable cultural practices, such as sponsorship of pilgrimages, al Majiri education and marriages of individuals. Why not channel the funds to education, especially of the women? An educated person will escape the trap imposed by poverty, illiteracy and cultural superstitions.

The chances are good that those poor women married out in this manner will be back as divorcees a few years down the line due to the same archaic cultural factors.

Our leaders need to reason better than this. The common people who vote at elections deserve to be led better than this!