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SALAMI SAGA: NJC DEFENDS CHIEF JUSTICE

By NBF News
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In the heat of the controversy over the proposed elevation of the sitting President of the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court, the National Judicial Council which has since quashed the promotion has exonerated the Chief Justice of Nigeria [CJN], Justice Aloysious Katsina-Alu from any wrong, saying due process was followed in arriving at the decision.

In a statement at the end of its 4th emergency meeting in Abuja, the Council said it acted within its constitutional powers when it considered Justice Ayo Salami and other Justices for appointment into the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the NJC has at the end of deliberation and following the advice of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, recommended three Justices of the Court of Appeal to President Goodluck Jonathan for appointment as Justices of the Supreme Court.

It also recommended a Judge of the Federal High Court for appointment as Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to succeed Justice Daniel Dantsoho Abutu who is retiring from judicial service on 15th March, 2011.

The statement reads in part: 'For avoidance of doubt, the National Judicial Council does not seen any infraction of any stage of the process by the Chief Justice of Nigeria as Chairman of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, as the Memorandum by the FJSC advising it on the appointments of four Justice of Supreme Court and Chief Judge of the Federal High Court was in compliance with the provisions of Paragraphs 13(a)(ii & v) and 21 (a)(i) of Part I of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

'Council decided that the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria did nothing wrong that was outside the powers of his office as the Chairman of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, when he, among other Justices of the Supreme court, recommended the Hon. President of Court of Appeal for appointment as Justice of the Supreme Court.

'Consequently, FJSC had acted within its Constitutional powers when it considered all the four candidates, including the Hon. President of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Isa Ayo Salalmi, OFR for appointment to the Supreme Court Bench. It is to be stressed that from the records available to the Council, Hon. Justice Salami, OFR also participated in the nomination process of some Justice of the Court of Appeal in the present exercise.

'It was however, noted that the candidature of Hon. Justice Ayo Isa Salami, OFR was sub-judice, as the Council is one of the Respondents in the suits filed in the Court. Therefore, the advice of the FJSC on appointment of Hon. Justice Ayo Isa Salami. OFR, was not considered by Council.

'The National Judicial Council at its 4th Emergency Meeting, which was held on Wednesday, 9th February, 2011 considered appointments of Justices to the Supreme Court of Nigeria and Chief Judge of the Federal High Court. It took the opportunity to reiterate for the benefit of the stakeholders and the public the well-known process involved in the appointment of Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and stated its policy in respect of persons nominated for consideration for appointment to that office.

'The appointment of a person to the office of Justice of the Supreme Court involves the following process: First, whenever a vacancy exits, a request is made by the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria to Justices of the Supreme Court and the President of the Court of Appeal to nominate suitable candidates for appointment to the Supreme Court Bench. Second, the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) upon consideration of such nomination would deliberate on them and pursuant to its powers under the 1999 Constitution advise the National Judicial Council in nominating persons for appointment to the office of a Justice of the Supreme Court.'

Third, the National Judicial Council would deliberate on the advice of the FJSC and pursuant to its powers under the Constitution, recommend to the President from among the list of persons submitted to it by the FJSC person or persons for appointment to the office of the Supreme Court. Fourth, where the President accepts the recommendation, he would appoint the person or persons so recommended to the office of a Justice of the Supreme Court. Fifth, such appointment shall be subject to confirmation by the Senate.

'The notion that the advice by the Federal Judicial Service Commission to the National Judicial Council is tantamount to an offer of appointment or an appointment is erroneous; just as the notion that the National Judicial Council is under obligation to accept the advice is equally erroneous.

'The National Judicial Council notes with dismay the numerous negative comments that have been engendered in the media in apparent ignorance of the process involved in the appointment of a person to the office of Justice of the Supreme Court at a time when the process had only reached the second stage at the level of the National Judicial Council. The National Judicial Council seizes this opportunity to state that in accepting or rejecting the advice of the FJSC, it takes several factors into consideration, one of which is if the person put forward by the FJSC is available and willing to be recommended to the President for appointment.

During the 4th Emergency Meeting, Council confirmed that the opinion of a candidate shortlisted for appointment to the Office of a Justice of the Supreme Court is usually not sought. However, Council firmly resolved that the name of any person who has signified in writing that he or she does not want to be considered for appointment to the office of Justice of the Supreme Court will be withdrawn from the list of persons submitted to it by the FJSC.'