22nd August, 2011
The barrage of condemnation that has trailed the suspension of the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, by the National Judicial Council, NJC, clearly underscores the rejection of NJCâ€™s shenanigans that culminated in the suspension of Salami.
The purported suspension of Salami has not only ridiculed the Nigerian judiciary, but also brought it into disrepute and sent signals to members of the public that even key players in the judiciary can trample on the rule of law and due process in order to achieve their parochial interest. Or how else do we explain the hasty suspension of Salami when he had instituted a suit against the NJC?
Salami was not even given the opportunity for fair hearing before the decision to suspend him was taken. The fact that the suspension of Salami is unconstitutional makes matters worse for the NJC which ought to know better. The suspension runs counter to Section 292 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
According to this section, â€œA judicial officer shall not be removed from his office or appointment before his age of retirement except in the following circumstance: (a) in the case of: (i) Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Court of Appeal… by the President acting on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate.â€ Taking this provision into consideration, NJC clearly usurped the power of the President and the Senate.
Since this is the only condition under which the constitution says the President of the Court of Appeal could be removed from office, was NJC blinded by its inordinate desire to nail Salami at all costs that it chose to ignore this provision of the constitution?
The hasty appointment of Justice Dalhatu Adamu as Acting President of the Court of Appeal by President Jonathan is uncalled for, more so as issues relating to Salamiâ€™s dismissal have not been resolved. It suggests that President Jonathan tacitly endorsed NJCâ€™s illegal act.
We align with those who believe that NJC is doing a hatchet job given the manner it has handled the row between Salami and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu over the Sokoto State 2007 election petition row.
The nationâ€™s judiciary had been on a very serious trial long before the messy fight between these top judges. We had heard allegations about judges obtaining huge bribes to deliver judgment in favour of the highest bidder.
This row has further called the integrity of the judiciary to question. The cause of justice will be better served if the custodians of the rule of law take the right steps to resolve this issue and put their house in order. The ignoble path the NJC has taken has cast doubts in the minds of many Nigerians if the council still comprises men and women of honour and integrity.
The embarrassment and denigration of the judiciary must stop now. The Nigerian Bar Association should wade into this debacle in order to save the judiciary from destroying itself. The Senate, whose power has been usurped by the NJC, should also take a stand regarding the suspension of Salami. It should compel NJC to rescind its decision forthwith.