By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
… Ex-CJN, Uwais, accuses NJC of injustice, double standard
The integrity of the Nigerian Judiciary has once again been called to question by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mohammed Uwais, who alleged that the National Judicial Council, NJC, blanketed justice and applied double standard in its decision that led to the ouster of the former President of the Court of Appeal, PCA, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, from office.
Uwais made the allegation on a day the embattled PCA who voluntarily threw-in the towel on October 15 and formally resigned from office, opened several cans of worms regarding how an erstwhile CJN, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, attempted to rig the judgment of an Appeal Court sitting in Sokoto, in favour of the ruling political party.
To further worsen the fact, Salami, who opened up a day to the valedictory court session that was held at the Appeal Court Headquarters in Abuja, to commemorate his exit from the judiciary, maintained that even the immediate past CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, also took part in the uncanny plot to pervert the course of justice, stressing that the meeting took place at one of the revered hallowed chambers in the Supreme Court.
It will be recalled that Salami, who currently holds record as the only judicial officer in the annals of the country, that has served the longest suspension term, got himself into trouble after he refused to apologize to Katsina-Alu for accusing him of perpetuating corruption in the judiciary especially with regards to an election case involving Sokoto State.
Consequently, the NJC, on August 18, 2011, announced his suspension from office, saying it had found him guilty of gross misconduct.
The NJC which was headed by the then CJN, Musdapher, went ahead and wrote a letter to President Goodluck Jonathan, asking him to send Salami on a compulsory retirement.
Though that decision sparked off series of legal actions from both Salami and his well wishers, the NJC stood its ground and left him in the cold for over two years.
Meanwhile, faulting the action of the NJC, Uwais, who himself is also a member of the council, in a speech he presented, bemoaned that “It is disturbing, to say the least, that the NJC, whose membership consists of eminent and experience judges and lawyers, should act in the manner they treated Hon. Justice Salami.”
According to Uwais, “What was the reason for the suspension? Briefly, there was a disagreement between the then CJN and Justice Salami on how to treat a complaint from Sokoto concerning an election matter that was pending before a panel of Court of Appeal. The disagreement was taken before the NJC. A number of committees were set up by the NJC to examine one aspect or another of the complaint. None of the committees found Justice Salami guilty of any infraction but the NJC, in considering the report of the last committee it set up, directed that Justice Salami should tender an apology to the then CJN within 7 days.
“Justice Salami refused to do, since he was not found guilty of any misconduct. Without the NJC asking him to explain why disciplinary action should not be taken against him for disobeying its directive, Justice Salami was served with a letter suspending him from office, pending his removal by the President as recommended by the NJC.”
Uwais maintained that the NJC goofed when it referred the matter to President Jonathan, noting that going by the provision of section 153(2) of the Constitution, the President, has no power to remove the ex-PCA from office, “suspension from office is an act of discipline”, he added.
Speaking at the valedictory court session, Salami, insisted that he was a victim of executive witch-hunt, alleging that the NJC, played into the hands of desperate politicians that wanted his ouster by all means.
He maintained that the NJC, by its actions and conduct with regards to all the issues that culminated to his suspension, grossly failed in its duties and functions as a revered arm of the Nigerian judiciary.
Salami wondered why the NJC which is created by the Constitution to protect judicial officers especially judges, abandoned its responsibilities and sold out in his case.
”The last three years of my career were dogged by travails which are not dissimilar to the fate of Joseph in the book of Genesis in the Bible.
”As his brothers conspired to destroy him by throwing him into a well and selling him into slavery, my learned brothers and friends in the legal profession planned and executed doing evil to me.
”The National Judicial Council (NJC) created by the Constitution to protect me, nay any judicial officer was on the vanguard of my travails. The NJC failed in its duties and thereby surrendered its functions to the Executive arm of government thus, ingratiate itself to the Executive.
”For instance,after the NJC had cleared me of any wrongdoing, following the recommendations of Justice Aloma Mukhtar’s committee, ought to have recalled me to office without asking the President to exercise the power that he does not possess, on the flimsy excuse that it had earlier referred the matter to him.
”In truth, as a matter of courtesy, all it needed to do was to write the President that in view of its recent decision, this matter was now outside his purview. After so informing him, NJC would be free to take the necessary step to implement its decision.
”The position in which NJC has found itself is similar to that of the proverbial cock that betrayed itself to the fox that what was on his head was not fire and encouraged the fox to touch it.
”The fox, having satisfied itself that truly it was not fire, has since been hunting cocks to make menu of them. Also, when the report of the committee the NJC set up to make recommendation on Umaru Abdullahi’s report was submitted to it for ratification, neither the CJN nor the next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court was present at the meeting.
”Justice Moses A. Bello, who was neither the CJN nor the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court, took it upon himself to preside at the meeting contrary to the express provisions of sub-paragraph (a) and (b) of paragraph 20 of the Third Schedule of the Constitution.” He argued that by the aforementioned provision, “no other members of the NJC, including statutory members could be Chairman.”
Besides, Salami, argued that by claiming to be Acting Chairman of NJC in the two letters he (Justice Bello) wrote to him, dated August 9 and 18an 2011 he (Justice Bello OFR) was neither a Justice of the Supreme Court, next most senior Justice of the court nor the CJN.
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