'Playing 'God' - By Sunday Akinlabi Dare
CJN, Aloysius Katsina-Alu is rightnow having a ball. In the twilight of his career as a legal luminary,Katsina-Alu is racing to the finishing line of judicial ignominy. Or how
else can one best describe the flurry of activities, probe panels, and reports
that were set up under his watch in the past five months all aimed at one
individual. And of course the curious, often contradictory submissions made
have created the perception that someone was doctoring the script and baying
for blood. Between the inauguration of the Justice Umaru Abdullahi Fact Finding
Panel by the NJC on March 9, 2011 and the Ibrahim Auta Panel, the Nigerian
judiciary has been dragged out of its sacred chambers into the public space
with its robes in tatters and all muddied. The judiciary is no longer able to
live up to its code of decency and discipline. Close watchers warned that a
script of vendetta writ large with the imprint of the CJN, Katsina-Alu will
disparage the judiciary and rupture its reputation.
But was anyone listening? No, at
least not the CJN and his rabid supporters, who urged the CJN on to exercise
the powers of life and death. The climax of five months of legal pyrotechnics
and media war between the CJN and Ayo Salami, the President of the Court of
Appeal came on Thursday, August 18, 2011 after several failed attempts to
neutralize Salami. The NJC in a curious session in Abuja suspended Justice
Salami from office and directed him to hand over to the next most senior
justice of the court. With this singular decision described by many legal minds
as ultra vires and abuse of office and process considering that not only was
the deputy national chairman of NJC, Justice Dahiru Musdapher absent, there is
a pending suit before the Federal High Court in Abuja brought by Justice
Salami- the leadership of the Nigeria judiciary might as well be on its way to
the undertakers. The NJC consists of 23 members. Only 8 sat over the Salami
matter while just 5 of them took the decision to suspend Justice Salami. This
clearly is an abuse of process and a kangaroo sitting and a decision made to
show political weight against Salami.
For many close observers who have
followed the arguments, the counter, the drama and all the subtle moves
targeted at Justice Salami, the fundamental question has been why the CJN, who
clearly is mired in several controversies is allowed free reign. The silence
from the NJC and similar bodies, who find nothing wrong in a CJN 'arresting
judgments' or one unable to defend himself against very weighty allegations
worries many Nigerians. The perception is strong and rightly so, that
because Katsina-Alu was doing the bidding of those in power and by spreading
the favors and grease around, no loud complaints were heard. In the process,
Nigeria became saddled with a CJN who willingly impugned the law and desecrated
the very chambers he was supposed to preserve.
In the rabid hurry to bring a
closure to a few questionable judicial decisions and actions in which he failed
to be an impartial arbiter, the CJN is presiding over the desecration of
Nigeria's temple of Justice. Barely a week to the end of tenure, the CJN,
Katsina- Alu surreptitiously got what he always wanted, that is, to kick
Justice Salami out of his position as President, Court of Appeal. For,
Katsina-Alu, it was the only sacrifice that can appease him especially after
Salami's letter of rejection in the matter of his promotion to the Supreme
Court in February. Justice Salami's suspension and the manner it was carried
out reeks of vendetta and weakens our trust in the judiciary.
Discerning minds will want to raise
fundamental questions about the conduct of the CJN and the decisions he has
made to the last minute. In a two-star contest, Katsina Alu is in a face- off
with another legal luminary, Justice Isa Salami who has accused the former of
been economical with the truth with regard to certain election cases and
judicial pronouncements. Rather than come clean and give us justice, the CJN
has been preoccupied with a personal battle at the expense of the nation.
The nation continues to bleed judicially because of the activities of a
CJN enmeshed in politics and one who has raised more questions about our
jurisprudence than provide answers. To arrogate to himself the powers to decide
the outcome of all matters in which he or his sponsors have interest is the
highest level of abuse.
But will the judicial lynching and apparent rascality that led to the recent suspension be allowed to stand? Will the injustice being inflicted on one man, who is one of the highest and most respected legal minds in Nigeria, be allowed to stand? I bet not. If such an injustice could be inflicted on the personality of Justice Salami, then wither
the hope of the common man? And of course, the more important fear here is that
our nascent democracy might buckle under such judicial highhandedness. In the
Katsina-Alu/Salami face off, one is forced to probe further. Who is
afraid of letting Justice Salami have his day in court to defend himself? Why
must he be forced to apologize to the CJN for a crime he has said he is not
guilty of? Why will one man, as CJN wield so much power at the detriment
of the system? Can the CJN, who has been a party to the crisis and who ought to
have since stepped down be trusted to have been fair in these matters? What we
are sadly confronted with now is the possibility that the truncating of our
democracy will likely come not from the politicians, but from the judiciary.
Having being pushed to the wall, Salami must have now learnt a lesson that
playing to the gallery will not cut it. The people he is locked in battle with
want blood-his blood.
The latest action of suspending the
President of the Appeal Court is in bad taste coming especially after the drama
a few days earlier when the NJC Executive Secretary, Halilu Danladi evaded
service by Justice Salami's lawyers. What this latest action has done is push
the highest level of the Nigerian judiciary to the tip of s stupendous crisis.
We hear the noise of the rumble, and though the final crumble might delay, it
will certainly come.
Though, Aloysius Katsina-Alu
who exits in about a week's time thinks he has scored a big one against Salami,
he leaves with the burden of having scored an own goal against his profession.
Why? Because, first, the suspension will be challenged in the court of law and
with it will come more revelations about what really happened. Secondly, the
judiciary after him will have to deal with several issues surrounding the
battle he fought in which he substituted personality for legality. And many of
them will be called to answer. Having played god, while he presided,
Katsina-Alu, must exit to await the verdict of history which cometh soon. My
greatest concern in all of these goes beyond Katsina-Alu and Justice Salami. It
strikes at the issue of Nigerian justice; who can get it, who has the power to
dispense it, at what cost and in whose interest?