SALAMI VS KATSINA-ALU AND ISSUES AT STAKE
When the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu elevated the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Ayo Isa Salami to the position of a Supreme Court Justice, little did he know that this action, which Salami said 'has no precedent in our legal history,' would degenerate to controversy and open up can of worms that tends to taint the image of the judiciary.
Perhaps, if he had known, he wouldn't have done it. But now, it is too late. Apart from rejecting what has been referred to as 'Greek gift,' and an 'unholy move' to push him out of Appeal Court, Salami vowed to remain in the Court of Appeal where he will continue to offer his best to the country. He warned too that replacing him with the CJN's minion or stooge would create a dangerous precedent with possible chain reactions.
In taking this action, Salami reiterated that he was following the examples of his worthy predecessors, who in spite of their experiences, retired as President of the Court of Appeal with their honour and reputation intact and untainted. In fact, the logic of this argument can hardly be faulted. If indeed the CJN's move was to add value to the Supreme Court, why was it done without consulting the person involved? Why was it not on the agenda of the meeting of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, where the matter allegedly sailed through with little or no debate?
Justice Katsina-Alu's move has received more knocks than kudos. Some legal experts in the country have faulted the CJN's action. According to the former President of the Court of Appeal, retired Justice Mustapha Akanbi, the plan was either an attempt to humiliate Salami or punish him. Similarly, Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana has argued that there is even no vacancy at the Supreme Court for a judge from the North-Central zone, where Salami hails from.
He also explained that the zone already has three justices at the apex court. Falana did not see any justifiable reason for the controversial and problematic elevation. All these have reinforced the theory that Salami's removal would make way for the appointment of a less courageous judge as Appeal Court President. And such will be dangerous considering the fact that we are in an election year that will throw up more cases to the Appeal Court.
Furthermore, the promotion is against the provisions of Section 292 of the 1999 Constitution, which states that 'a judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except … for his inability to discharge the functions of his office or appointment (whether arising from infirmity of mind or of body) or for misconduct or contravention of the Code of Conduct.
So far, Salami has not been found wanting in the discharge of his judicial functions. Till date, he has discharged his duties fearlessly with great finesse and erudition. He has through his numerous court decisions enriched the nation's judiciary and proved beyond doubt that the judiciary is indeed the last hope of the common man. He has through his judicial functions maintained the integrity of the temple of justice as an impartial arbiter.
Salami has refused to taint this judicial integrity even at the behest of a higher judicial authority. He recently alleged that the CJN actually asked him to compromise the verdict of the Court of Appeal on the Sokoto State Gubernatorial Election Petition by either disbanding the original panel, which the CJN thought was about giving a verdict against Governor Aliyu Wamako's interest or direct the panel to give judgement in Wamako's favour.
In saying this, Salami has only confirmed what most Nigerians knew already. In most of the appeals that arose from the flawed 2007 general polls, Nigerians have had lots of doubts over the courts' verdicts. Some of the cases cast aspersions on the much touted independence and impartiality of the judiciary. Many judges allegedly compromised their positions and gave justice to the highest bidder. In some instances, two judgements were allegedly written for the same case.
Under such atmosphere, justice can only go to the party with huge pocket. It was a classical illustration of Jankara justice. It is therefore not surprising that the judiciary has added to the rot in the society by introducing 'justice for sale' into our judicial lexicon. Justice for sale is indeed a dangerous phrase we have to live with for a long time to come except something urgent is done to cleanse the judiciary and weed it of mercenary officers. This has become pertinent in view of our being in another election year that will throw up all manner of cases.
Salami's confession brought to the fore the general rot in the nation's judiciary. He deserves our praise and accolades. On no account should he be vilified. There is no doubt that most Nigerians heaved a heavy sigh of relief at the revelation and saluted his courage. This allegation is weighty enough that it deserves a high level panel of investigation to unravel the truth or otherwise of the matter as it affects Sokoto State Governorship Election Petition, which many Nigerians believe was not tidy.
On no account should this matter be swept under the carpet. The Federal government should wade into this matter and save the judiciary from itself so that people will still have faith in the decisions of our courts, especially those arising from elections petitions. If nothing is done now to clear this matter, it will be hard for Nigerians to believe future election tribunals' verdict, no matter their veracity.
Sokoto State might not be alone in this judicial murder. Let all the cases of the states where there were alleged judicial corruption be revisited in the light of Salami's revelation. It is not enough to call for the resignation of Katsina-Alu and Salami in a case that has not been investigated. Those making such calls are not fair to the matter and the parties involved. Let the matter be investigated and punishment meted to the guilty.
The stand of Senator Iyiola Omisore and Segun Oni on the matter so far is nothing short of vilification of Salami in a case that is yet to be investigated. Their grouse might not be unconnected to the fact that they were members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which lost two governorship seats, Osun and Ekiti states, to the rival Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) party, under Salami's watch. But this anger should not be unduly stretched.
If Omisore, Oni and co had genuine grievances against the Appeal Court decisions on these states, they are indeed free to lodge their complaints at the right quarters. Otherwise, the public will regard their current stance on the matter as partisan, diversionary and therefore unnecessary. Nevertheless, the real issue which cannot be glossed over is whether Salami was asked to upturn justice or not in respect of Sokoto State Governorship Election Petition or not. That is the real issue at stake that is eloquently begging for urgent answers from the judicial arm of government. This allegation must be dispensed with first and fast too in order to save the judiciary from public odium and ridicule before anything else.
And if there is alleged underhand dealings in the cases that led to the removal of governors Segun Oni and Olagunsoye Oyinlola of Ekiti and Osun states respectively, such matters should be revisited alongside other states of the federation where such judicial bribery was alleged. They should be treated on their own merit and not be subsumed under Salami's worthy allegation against the person and office of the CJN.
While the matter is yet to be investigated, nobody has the moral right to crucify Salami. Doing so will amount to witch-hunting, abuse of legal process and injustice. Such revisionist tendencies must be discountenanced.