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By NBF News
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Legal luminaries have knocked the National Judicial Council (NJC) for suspending President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Isa Salami, when his case against the body was already in court.

Justice Salami was suspended on Thursday by the NJC for refusing to apologise to the body and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, after the council found him guilty of gross misconduct.

Speaking in an interview with Sunday Sun, Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), said the implication of the NJC action was 'ominous' and the whole action smacks of judicial lawlessness.'What the NJC did constitutes a grave assault on the rule of law. For those sitting on the top hierarchy of the judiciary to resort to self-help is judicial lawlessness,' he said.

He wondered why the judiciary that is supposed to uphold the law should now break it. According to the constitutional lawyer and academic, since the matter is in court the respondent ought not to resort to self-help by suspending the complainant.

He quoted the case of Ojukwu versus Lagos State government to buttress his point that such action goes contrary to the legal procedure. Another constitutional lawyer, Wale Ogunade, reasoned that the NJC action could erode public confidence in the judiciary. 'The implication of the NJC action is that public confidence could be eroded if those who are supposed to protect the power and honour of the judiciary are now seen to resort to self-help,' he stated.

Also quoting the case of Ojukwu versus Lagos State government, he warned that the action portends a great danger not only for the integrity of the judiciary but also for the common man, who looks up to the judiciary as the last hope. 'We are in trouble in this country and to avoid a recourse to crude force, men of goodwill should speak up before we have a run of the judiciary where people would not have confidence in the system,' he advised.

Also speaking on the implication of the face-off, another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Yusuf Ali, noted that it is unfortunate that such a scenario was playing out in the judiciary.

'This is not the best of time for the Nigerian judiciary. It is an unfortunate incident and nobody for now knows what will be the ripple effect of it,' he stated. The legal luminary prayed that the matter should just fizzle out as early as possible.

'Sooner than later, we hope this unfortunate incident should be put behind us,' Ali stated.

The former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba, has however, said the association would take a stand on the matter after its meeting in Port Harcourt today.

Olisa, who refused to comment on the matter, explained that the NBA was not at the meeting when the decision was taken because its members on the NJC have a defined constitutional role that does not extend to the level of taking disciplinary action by the council.

'Our work is defined by constitution. It is to play a role in the appointment of judges. We do not take part in disciplinary action,' he said. He also explained that when the disciplinary action against Salami was to be taken, the NBA members on the NJC applied to leave the meeting as that was not part of its constitutional duty on the council, but assured that the body would through its president make its stand known today.

'NBA has a position, which would be announced by the NBA president on Sunday (today) in Port Harcourt,' he said.

Salami's travails started after he refused his elevation to the Supreme Court, claiming that it was not done in good faith by the CJN. He went ahead to make some allegations against the CJN, which prompted the setting up of a panel by the NJC. The panel found him guilty and asked him to apologise, but he headed to court to quash the recommendation of the panel.

Announcing his suspension on Thursday in a statement signed by the NJC Director of Administration, Mr. E. l. Odukwu, the council ordered him to handover to the most senior Justice of the appellate court.

The council also recommended to President Goodluck Jonathan to retire him from service.