By NBF News

THE controversy is brewing by the day.
Yesterday, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) yesterday expressed support for the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Isa Salami's rejection of an appointment to the Supreme Court.

Justice Salami had rejected the appointment on the grounds that he was not consulted, stating that he was satisfied with his position as the President of the Appeal Court.

Similarly, some eminent lawyers have joined in rejecting Salami's appointment to the Supreme Court.

Historically, the President of the Court of Appeal is second to the Chief Justice of Nigeria in hierarchy as he retires from that position.

He recommends his juniors at the appellate court to be elevated to the apex court and cannot be elevated to the Supreme Court by virtue of his position.

It is only the Chief Judge of a State High Court or Federal High Court or judges of the Court of Appeal that can be elevated to the Supreme Court direct.

Professor of Constitutional Law and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Prof. Itse Sagay, said it was wrong to ask the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, to move to the Supreme Court.

His words: 'To ask Salami to leave his position as President of the Court of Appeal is the worst precedent. This is unprecedented and grossly dishonest for anyone to say that he is promoting Salami to the Supreme Court.

'To me, this is a demotion because what they want to do is to remove Salami to prepare grounds to rig and compromise the electoral system come April 2011.'

On the issue of seniority, he said: 'How can a man who recommended judges to the Supreme Court from his court, now go over there to become junior to those he recommended?'

Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Felix Fagbonhungbe, argued in the same vein.

He said: 'This is a bad precedent being set if the authorities in the judiciary allow this kind of thing to happen.'

He called for the amendment of Schedule 3 of the 1999 Constitution so that the Chief Justice of Nigeria will cease to be the Chairman of the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) as well as the Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC). He proposed that a retired Justice of the Supreme Court should head the FJSC while the CJN should preside over the NJC.

To Emeka Ngige (SAN), the CJN should tell Nigerians whether Justice Salami solicited for his elevation  and whether there is any vacancy in the North Central in the apex court.

He argued that if Salami did not solicit for elevation, then the move by CJN to elevate him is a 'bad omen' for the coming elections in the country.

He added: 'It should be resisted by all well-meaning persons in Nigeria so that we don't end up like Tunisia. I pray that God will continue to save Nigeria.'

In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary (NPS), Osita Okechukwu, the CNPP alleged foul play and declared its support for Salami.

The statement reads: 'The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) condemns the unsolicited appointment of Honourable Justice Ayo Salami, President of the Appeal Court, to Supreme Court, by Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Aloysius Kastina-Alu and accordingly stands by Justice Salami's instant rejection of the unholy offer.

'We view the trumped-up appointment as orchestra of rigging and prelude to appointment of a pliable President of Appeal Court who will be a rubber stamp to the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

'We salute Justice Ayo Salami and stand by his outright rejection of the offer, not only because of the unethical manner of the appointment, as he was neither consulted nor the matter listed in the agenda of the Federal Judicial Service Commission; but on the truism that it is clearly politically motivated and simulated by President Goodluck Jonathan and his journey men who view Justice Salami as an obstacle in the April 2011 post-electoral petitions.'

The group continued: 'We recall how the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Aloysius Kastina-Alu, ignobly descended into the arena and unceremoniously halted the Sokoto State governorship election petition judgment ready for delivery at the Appeal Court.

'On the issue of judgments delivered by the Appeal Court recently being against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), we wish to state that out of over 100 cases including presidential election petitions, that it is only five governorship and a few parliamentary seats that were won in the Appeal Court by APGA, Labour Party and Action Congress, while PDP won the remaining cases since 2003 elections.

'CNPP agrees with Justice Ayo Salami that the environment is already over-heated and in a state of flux; consequently Nigerians will frown at anybody or group of persons who out of personal interest manipulate the judiciary to achieve predetermined results.'

The group called on the National Judicial Council to cancel the appointment and urged Kastina-Alu to avoid plunging Nigeria into a constitutional crisis.

In a letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) who is also the Chairman of the FJSC, Justice A.I. Katsina-Alu, Salami said he was contented being the chairman of the Appellate Court, as that would confer more honour on him like some of his predecessors, as he cautioned the concerned authorities against setting a bad precedent.

In the letter dated February 4 this year and entitled 'Offer of Appointment to Supreme Court Rejection,' the justice said the offer was unsolicited and therefore could be an alleged sinister motive by the Chief Justice to impose his 'stooge' on the chairmanship of the nation's Appellate Court.

The letter, which has since generated many reactions from some members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), is referenced PCA/S.25/vol. I/143.

It read in part: 'A few months ago, I heard of rumours going round that plans have been hatched in certain quarters to remove me from the post of President of the Court of Appeal of Nigeria. My reaction then was to dismiss these rumours as the talk shop gossip emanating from idle gossipers or mischief-makers.

'Regretfully enough, a few days ago, precisely on February 2nd, 2011 when I returned to Abuja from Ilorin where I had gone to attend the 8th day fidau prayers of an aunt, information got to me that at the meeting of the FJSC on 1st and 2nd February, 2011, what was thought to be a rumour became the subject of serious discussion initiated by the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria.'

According to the letter by Salami, 'I was made to understand that even though the subject was not part of the agenda of the day, Your Lordship characteristically informed honourable members of Council of his proposal to strengthen the Supreme Court by moving me to that court and presumably to replace me with his stooge. It was sadly not deemed fit and proper to discuss the proposal with me. Perhaps my view did not count for anything.

Neither was it expedient or decorous to place such an important matter on the agenda. No council paper was circulated.'

Justice Salami in the letter added, 'interestingly, however it was alleged that in giving reason for this disturbing action, the CJN said that the appointment would add value to Supreme Court. He further assured Council members that I would not lose my seniority. I regret to say that I am not taken in. I am contented with being the President of the Court of Appeal.

'Indeed it is common knowledge that I had even in a more auspicious moment, declined for good reason to be appointed to the Supreme Court. Nothing has changed since then. I prefer to remain in the Court of Appeal to continue to give service to the best of my ability. Finally, I prefer to follow in the wake of my worthy predecessors who in spite of their experiences retired as presidents of the Court of Appeal with their honour and reputation unsullied.'

For the President of the Appellate Court, 'the present unholy move to push' him out of his present status and office remained unprecedented in the nation's judiciary history, warning that it would definitely lead to 'chained reactions.'

Speaking on the development in an interview with The Guardian in Ilorin, the Chairman of the NBA in Ilorin, Salman Jawondo, descried it as an unfortunate situation that had since received the condemnation of all his members.

Jawondo noted, 'the issue is not about the country per se but the judiciary. The problem is with the CJN. Our constitution on appointment is clear but the way this one was done was with ulterior motive. Besides, some of our colleagues too should be careful with the ways they pass comments when they lose cases. Besides, the politicians should leave the judiciary alone. Our people holding secret meetings with some politicians should stop ridiculing the judiciary and its integrity.'

In the same vein, a lawyer and former Secretary of Committee on Human Rights, Abeny Mohammed, said a committee had been constituted on the development tagged, Alliance for a Better Judiciary (ABJ) to launch sharp criticisms against the transfer.