Modern Corruption in Nigeria Judiciary- Case of Justice Ayo Salami and Justice Katsina-Alu

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The Supreme Court has struck out the case of the former governor of Ekiti State Olusegun Oni on Friday 1st of June 2013 based on the ground that the case has been settled long ago. His returning to court was to claim his mandate which he said was unlawfully denied him by Ayo Salami to Fayemi. His claims resulted from some allegations that arose from the case of the two giants in the Nigerian Judicial Council.


The dilemma between Justice Ayo Salami (the former president of Appeal Court) and Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu (former Chief Justice of Nigeria) revealed the long dwelling act of corruption that has been in existence within the judiciary system of Nigeria.


The story became a public knowledge when Salami alleged that Katsina-Alu interfered in the handling of the court case arising from the 2007 gubernatorial election in Sokoto State, an election won by Governor Magatakarda Wamakko of the PDP but quizzed by Alhaji Maigari Dingyadi of the Democratic People’s Party (DPP). Katsina-Alu was alleged to have told Salami to dismiss the panel investigating the case on the ground that the judgment the panel was going to deliver had leaked.


One thing led to another and the NJC, headed by Katsina-Alu, recommended that Salami should be promoted to the Supreme Court. But to Salami, it was a demotion, a demotion from the privileged chair of the Court of Appeal president to an ordinary seat in the apex court. Salami rushed to court for an order to stop the ‘promotion’.


a five-member investigative panel headed by retired Justice Umaru Abdullahi was set up to probe the allegations. The investigative panel cleared the CJN of allegations of interference in the Sokoto election case, and indicted Salami for ‘lying on oath’.


The NJC set up another panel, this one headed by the Chief Justice of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, to review the Abdullahi-led panel report. The Auta panel found Salami guilty of misconduct and of perjury. It stated that the allegations Salami raised against Katsina-Alu were false, and ordered Salami to, within seven days, do a written apology to Katsina-Alu and the NJC for ‘false complaints’.


The findings of both panels ran contrary to those of the panel constituted by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Lagos Chapter which indicted Katsina-Alu over the Sokoto governorship appeal. This variance between what the NJC and NBA made of the CJN-Salami feud from the beginning, may explain the rejection of Salami’s suspension by the NBA and its resolve to have nothing to do with the NJC till the controversy was sorted out.


While members of the NBA and much of the general public were still protesting the suspension of Salami, President Goodluck Jonathan did ‘the unthinkable’ when he appointed Justice Dalhatu Adamu on acting capacity, to take over Salami’s job as head of the Court of Appeal bringing to its peak the wide condemnation of Jonathan and the NJC which recommended Salami’s punishment to him.


Many faulted Jonathan’s action by citing section 238 (4) of the 1999 constitution which states, “If the office of President of the Court of Appeal is vacant, or if the person holding the office is for any reason, unable to perform the functions of the office, then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the functions of that office, or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, the President shall appoint the most senior Justice of the Court of Appeal to perform those functions.”


Third Schedule I, section 21(b) states that the National Judicial Council shall, “recommend to the President, the removal from office of the judicial officers specified in subparagraph (a) of this paragraph and to exercise disciplinary control over such officers.”


It was based on these relevant sections of the constitution that those opposed Jonathan action asked these questions: “Is it allowed by the constitution for a contrived removal of the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA) by the NJC, thereby creating a vacancy? Is the vacancy intended by the constitution not to be evinced with the impeachment of the substantive holder of the office by two-thirds majority of the Senate on the recommendation of the President based on the NJC’s advice to the President? Should the President act to appoint a person in place of the substantive holder of the office of PCA when neither he nor the NJC is empowered to effect such removal, thereby creating a vacancy? Should the President act in a manner that holds the Judiciary in contempt when he acted on a matter which was a clear infraction of the constitution and was by then under determination before a court of competent jurisdiction? Was the President working on a project timelines that he spurned the constitutional procedural order for removal of such high-calibre judicial officer? Is the President’s action not capable of exacerbating the heated polity and giving vent to the notion of executive impunity within the Nigerian nation?”


By mishandling what ordinarily should have been purely an administrative matter, Their ‘Eminent Lordships’ Justices Aloysius Katsina-Alu and Ayo Salami have confirmed what not a few Nigerians have suspected for several years: That the judiciary is not the defender of equity and justice, at least, not for those without the means to procure judgements that reverse the ills of the society.


Accordingly, like any Nigerian who has followed the case between Katsina-Alu Vs Salami unravel will discover the high point of corruption in the judiciary system. The system in which conflicting, mind-boggling judicial pronouncements on electoral and criminal cases, especially those pertaining to ex-political office holders, and matters arising from civil disputes, is an indication that the judiciary has suffered a complete derailment.


The Court of Appeal being the Alpha and Omega of election petitions particularly governorship elections and has been dogged with allegations of corruption in almost all cases going through its judicial portals. While the allegations are legion, the cases of Charles Solubo Vs Andy Mba; Governor of Sokoto state Aliyu Magatarkada Wamakko of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Democratic Peoples Party’s (DPP) candidate, Alhaji Maigari Dingyadi; and  Fayemi Vs Oni have all raised the specter of corrupt inducements to pervert the course of justice. And in the case of Sokoto state, the National Judicial Commission (NJC) has, in fact, been activated to deal with the allegations of judicial impropriety on the part of the Court of Appeal.


For the integrity of the Nigeria Judiciary to be maintained, issues that bother on the ‘key players’ of hierarchy and authorities in the Judiciary, should not be politicized or used to drag the legal system on the mud. It seems like some political interests are steeping the events in their desired direction.


It is unfortunate that the dynamics of political interests and self-centered egocentric tendencies have infiltrated and polluted the ‘integrity’ of the Nigerian Judiciary and its key players. That is how best to describe the unending confusion and dilemma between the Nigerian Judiciary Council (NJC), the Presidency and other concerned relevant stakeholders on what may be an unjust removal and reinstatement saga of Justice Isa Ayo Salami.


A recent report from Global Corruption Barometer states that the judiciary in Nigeria is widely viewed as one of the most corrupt institutions. It has become quite “normal” for judicial officials to request for bribes so as to move cases along much faster. In fact, some of them ask for financial compensation from parties to various cases to enable them obtain a favourable ruling, or even to be granted bail. In a country where a disproportionate percentage of the citizenry can barely afford some of the basic necessities of life, legal costs are viewed as a deterrent to access to justice. The judicial arm of government has an important role to play in the impartial interpretation of the law and in keeping the other arms of government in check.

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