By NBF News

As we were saying here last week, it was doubtful that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), The Hon. Justice Aloysius Iyogyer Katsina – Alu, bothered to read about the due processes for getting the position of Justices of the Supreme Court filled, as specified in Section 231, sub-sections (1) and (2) of the Federal constitution.

Had he done that, the controversies generated by his attempt to 'promote' the President of the Court of Appeal, the Hon. Justice Ayo Salami, would not have arisen at all; he would not have been taken to the High Court at Abuja, and the undisguised missiles contained in the affidavits as well as published statements would have been absolutely unnecessary.

It would have been a matter of delayed conflict, perhaps, because the circumstances which brought about the confrontation could not have remained perpetually suppressed or unexpressed. Without being judgmental, one thinks we just have to thank God all-mighty for the altercations and revelations they have produced, for a number of reasons: All literate and informed Nigerians who care about the running of public affairs and especially the rule of law as well as political stability and democratic progress in the country, have now become more knowledgeable about the 'current affairs' in Nigeria's usually noiseless Judiciary.

It is now common knowledge that the CJN 'maradonically passed' the 'Sokoto Case' to the Supreme Court; trapped the ball there and, like a dog in the manger, failed to pass it out as and when due, for his competent colleagues at the Appellate Court to score the goal by adjudicating upon it, one way or the other.

The CJN has to explain to the Nigerian public and legal world what business he had in hijacking a case from the Appeal Court to the Supreme Court and, like a bank account, allowing it to go dormant in his own territory. Did he think the people of Sokoto State had no right to early justice on the issue of who was their rightful Governor or that judgment on the matter should take forever, and be based on his convenience and pleasure?

Did he ever imagine that because people say 'silence is golden', that meant the less said and done to resolve that electoral dispute (for which the tribunals and courts provided the only viable options to violence on the streets), the greater would be the prospects of peaceful co-existence and political stability in that State?

Will the CJN accept or deny the allegation that he canvassed a verdict in favour of a party in the dispute, to stave the chances of removal of the Sultan of Sokoto?

Somehow, the honoured CJN, whether he denies that charge or not,has created a crisis of confidence in himself and brought that position into great disrepute. After all, what is the value of a judge who canvasses victory for one side, especially in a case which constitutionally and ordinarily does not come under his jurisdiction? None at all, or not any more, one can assert categorically, without even thinking before offering an answer.

People like him who think they owe anybody any favour or that they have an obligation not expressly permitted by the laws – which the Judiciary is meant to safeguard, uphold and enforce – need to be seen as enemies of the rule of law in our land; individuals who sadly help to pollute the temple of justice with their illegal actions. Who determines legality in the matter? Simply answered, it is the constitution and the standards of practice which the 'division of labour in the Judicature have already specified and made abundantly clear over the years.

As for the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Salami, what was his offence in being a punctilious judge? From the averments laid so far before the world in the fire and cross-fire between the two very learned gentlemen, it is obvious that he was a source of worry to his parallel colleague for reasons not related to his professional competence but of what the consequences of his decisions had been, and may very well become, especially over the gubernatorial dispute in Sokoto State.

The questions to ask are: Why did the CJN have to imagine that a decision by the Court of Appeal, as constituted, would or must necessarily entail the removal of a natural ruler? Who said that any Governor, even if slightly rational, would just set about removing the Sultan, who has been saying and doing things capable of assuring peace and unity through righteous actions and behavior towards and among Nigerians, regardless of religious and ethnic backgrounds?

For me, it amounts to wishful thinking and naivety of the highest order, to assume or conclude that the Sultan of Sokoto is a small man that any new governor can remove at will, when that was not part of his manifesto. It is clear that even if that was an expressed wish during the campaigns, he would already have had his votes seriously divided because there was no way he could carry the entire electorate along with him in such a mission of division, hatred and viciousness against such a leading son of the soil who neither lobbied nor paid for the position, any way.

And then, there is this other matter of partisanship or political leanings in the Judiciary, or of justices at the Supreme and Appeal Court levels of our Judicature. No judge worth his place on the Bench should ever make it obvious that he is a political thug in judicial robes, as it were. After all, even in arriving at their decisions, the judges are not expected to do so unanimously. That is why 'when justices do not agree, dissents usually reflect divisions within society…. (and) many dissents have become majority opinions,' according to a legal scholar.

And as Justice William O. Douglas of the US Supreme Court once said:

'The truth is that the law is the highest form of compromise between competing interests….. When judges do not agree, it is a sign that they are dealing with problems on which society itself is divided. It is the democratic way to express dissident views. Judges are to be honored rather than criticized for following that tradition, for proclaiming their articles of faith so that all may read.'

Another view offered by someone else on the issue of political questions is also pertinent and worthy to be quoted. 'Political questions are issues that at any given time the (Supreme) Court regards as outside its province. Such issues are politically sensitive and affect the fundamental powers of Congress, the President, or the State (of the U.S.A). Questions cease to be political when the Court decides to confront the issue….'

In this Katsina-Alu/Salami matter, it was the CJN's 'imaginings' that precipitated the conflict: Too many decisions had gone against the governments and in favour of the 'Opposition' at the Appeal Court, and that trend was threatening the ruling party's grip on power.

Now, that was a very wrong assumption because out of 36 states of the Federation in which certainly controversial elections were held in 2007, less than five of them were eventually handed by the judiciary to the petitioners. Which of the PDP members is prepared to swear by the Holy Bible or Holy Koran, that everything about those elections – which many observes have since dubbed 'selections' – were anywhere near good or excellent in the ways they were conducted?

I wrote in April 2007 that I was at a polling centre (in Uzebba Grammar School, Owan West LGA of Edo State), and no INEC officials came to do their duties, whereas 'elections' had been held (thumb-printed 'voting') on private premises the previous night, right into the voting period. Properly documented and argued at the tribunal and Appeal Court levels, why should any reasonable man or woman be whining over the decision that people like Comrade Adams Oshiomole (Edo State) and Engr.Rauf Aregbesola (Oshun State), for examples, got at the Appeal Court? And who told the CJN that his role as Chief Protector of the law in our country permits him to hijack a case (as in Sokoto State) and lock it up for as long as he likes – may be until the four years expire -at the Supreme Court?

Justices can be card-carrying members of any political party but their views and votes are not to have partisan colorations.

That is the ideal situation and anyone who crosses the line has goofed woefully.

The CJN should therefore be honest and professional enough to take the Sokoto governorship dispute back to the Appeal Court or resign forthwith, for indefensible breaches of the constitution like the unenlightened and provocative interferences with an on-going (Sokoto) matter at the Court of Appeal, thus bringing the Judiciary into disrepute, and listening to political hawks, instead of being a loyal defender of the rule of law.

The CJN has consequently brought considerable contempt on the Bench and ought to take responsibility for the negative vibrations which just fizzled out at the apex of our Judiciary and should be gentlemanly enough to accept his unfortunate role as its agent provocateur and apologize openly to Justice Salami for the undeniable tort against him. For esprit de corps to be restored, he just has to become more humble and honest as well as non-partisan in his thoughts, words and actions henceforth.

And he should resign his appointment as soon as it becomes evident that he is not humble enough to admit his errors. The world is watching what he does next, now.