By NBF News

The face-off between the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu and President, Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Ayo Salami, deepened yesterday as the latter wrote the National Judicial Council (NJC), intimating it of a suit staying further action on him.

The NJC panel had last Tuesday ordered Justice Salami to apologise to the CJN over alleged perjury emanating from the oath the latter took insinuating Justice Katsina-Alu's directive over the Sokoto State governorship election petition.

The NJC gave Justice Salami a seven-day deadline to apologise to the CJN. The deadline expired yesterday.

But Justice Salami headed to the Federal High Court, Abuja, yesterday to seek redress. The NJC rejected the service of the suit on Monday.

Justice Salami's lawyers once again went to the council yesterday to effect the service, culminating in a mild drama at the NJC's premises.

Pre-empting any action the NJC could take against him, Justice Salami's lawyers yesterday drew the attention of the council to the suit instituted against the NJC and others before the Federal High Court, Abuja.

In a letter addressed to the NJC, titled: 'Notification of Pendency of Court Action and Application for Injunction,' Justice Salami urged the council to stay all actions against him until the matter is disposed off by the court.

The letter written by his counsel, Chief Akin Olujimi [SAN] reads in part:

'We act as counsel to Hon. Justice lsa Ayo Salami, (OFR), the plaintiff in the above headed suit. It is on his behalf and instruction that we write this letter.

'We wish to bring to your attention the fact that, our client has filed an action at the Federal High Court to challenge the decision of the National Judicial Council directing him to tender apologies to the council and the (Chief) Justice of Nigeria. The propriety of the directive and the reports of the panels set up by the council have now been turned over to the court for consideration.

'The plaintiff's suit in court is backed up with applications for interim and interlocutory injunctions. We attach hereto as annexures 1 to 23, the relevant court processes.

'The simple question that arises at the juncture is, what is the obligation of the council in the light of this present court action? The obligation of the COU' is to adopt and abide with the well-established principle of law as enunciated by Tobi J.

C. A. in I EZEGBU vs. FATB (1992) 1 NWLR (PT. 220) 699 @ PAGE 735 PARA A – F When he stated thus:

'Parties who have submitted to the jurisdiction of the court are under a legal duty not to do anything to frustrate or make nonsense a possible court order.

They must, whether they like it or not, wait for court order. They must, whether they like it or not, wait for the court to take a decision one way or the other. The procedure at arriving at a decision may be slow. It may even be sluggish. But the parties cannot jump the gun and do their own thing in their own way. That will be tantamount to undermining the integrity of the court. What I am in effect saying is that a party who has submitted himself in the jurisdiction of the court is not entitled to resort to self-help.

That will be chaos and distability of the social equilibrium if the opposing party reacts. The Supreme Court clearly held in Governor of Lagos State v. Chief Ojukwu {1986} 1 NWLR {Pt. 18} 621 that parties should not embark upon self-help when a matter is before a court of law. Since a successful decision nugatory, parties is aware of a pending court process, and whether the court ha not given a specific injunction order, parties are bound to maintain the status quo pending the determination of the court process. They should, on no account resort to self-help.

Whenever such situation arises, the court must invoke its disciplinary jurisdiction to curb the excesses of a recalcitrant party. That was the essence of the application mad to this court by Chief Williams in the case of Chief Okoya and others v. Santilli and others {1991} 7 NWLR {Pt. 206} 753. In that case, this s what I said at page 766 in respect of the disciplinary jurisdiction of a court:

'The jurisdiction inheres in the court as adjudicator qua judex. The power is designed for the maintenance of the dignity and integrity the court exercises its disciplinary jurisdiction in appropriate circumstances, it will lose its dignity and integrity in the judicial process. The institution for the court which the law has placed in an exalted and sacred position surrounded by all aura 0/ legalism and sanctity, will be reduced to a toothless dog which can bark but cannot bite'.

The personalities involved in the subject matter of this suit are highly placed judicial officials and we believe that, they are well conversant with the need to preserve and protect the sanctity of the institution of the court. In the premise, it is our firm belief that all actions will be suspended pending the resolution of the matter before the court.

'The Nigerian judiciary in recent time has unnecessarily exposed itself to public outcry by the conduct of some of its officials. The failure to stay all actions pending the resolution of the court action will send wrong signals to the public. Thus the interest of the judiciary will be better protected if actions are stayed in relation to the subject matter of the plaintiff's suit.

Kindly bring to the notice of members of the council the fact of the pendency of our client's case and this letter.'

A mild drama played out yesterday at the premises of the NJC, Abuja as an attempt by lawyers to Justice Salami to effect service of the court process in the suit filed by him against the council, Justice Katsina-Alu and nine others, met a brickwall.

When the processes were taken to the NJC, no official of the council was ready to accept service of the court's process as an official (name withheld), who initially agreed to accept to take the process to the NJC Secretary, Halilu Danladi for due acknowledgment made a U-turn after consulting with his superior.

He was apparently unaware of the content of the process before offering to take the process to the secretary's office in the first instance.

Although the lawyers went in with three copies of the court process, the official also offered to accept copies for other members of the NJC who are jointly sued, to lessen the job of the lawyers.

But as soon as the lawyers went to bring more copies, the official went inside again to brief his boss.

To the surprise of journalists who were also present at the scene, he bluntly refused to accept the process again.

In the suit filed at the Federal High Court, Justice Salami through his counsel, Chief Olujinmi is asking for 15 reliefs, including a perpetual injunction restraining the NJC from acting on the reports of the Justice Umaru Abdullahi Fact-Finding Committee and the Justice Ibrahim Auta Review Panel.

The suit came as a  group, Justice and Integrity Group (JIG) called on the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Muhammadu Bello Adoke (SAN) to initiate criminal proceedings against, Justice Salami in line with his constitutional powers under section 174 (1) (a) of the 1999 Constitution.

NJC in its final report of August 10, 2011 found Salami guilty of gross misconduct for making false allegations against the CJN, over the Sokoto gubernatorial appeal.

Accordingly, the Council which described Salami's conduct as contrary to Rule 1[1] of the code of conduct for judicial officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has directed him to within one week apologize to Justice Katsina-Alu and the entire members of the council in writing.

The NJC took the decisions at the end of its emergency meeting in Abuja where members deliberated on the two separate reports of its committees on the allegations levelled against Justice Katsina-Alu, Justice Salami, and some Justices of the Court of Appeal.

While exonerating the CJN of any complicity on the issue, the Council found that Justice Katsina-Alu 'acted in good faith and was motivated by the apparent urge to protect the administration of justice and avoid breach of peace when directed that the judgment in the Sokoto Gubernatorial Appeal be 'put on hold' pending the investigation of the petitions he had received on the matter.'