Salami Case As Symptom Of Nigerian Judicial Atrophy —Peter Claver Oparah.


I don’t know what was possibly on the mind of President Goodluck Jonathan as he quickly acceded to the generally criticized recommendation of the National Judicial Council to remove Justice Ayo Salami, the President of the Appeal Court. Given what we know about this president, it is obvious that he never really anticipated the groundswell of public revolt on his latest move, which threatens to bury the judiciary in a maze of crises it inflicted on itself through its proclivity to pander to the hideous interests of politicians. It is doubtful if Jonathan would have wished the total umbrage he has received for his latest action. It is doubtful if he genuinely wanted to be openly seen as an active participant in the present defenestration of the judiciary, which locates its roots in the corrosive politics that has been bequeathed to us since 1999.

But in quickly acceding to what was largely seen as a biased attempt, a hatchet effort to offload Salami from the bench and free the judiciary from any perceived encumbrances to PDP’s lascivious hold on power, Jonathan stirred the hornet’s nest that, if not well handled, will adversely affect the tenuous democracy this country has been managing since 1999. As has been well pronounced, the decision to remove Salami was in clear contradiction of the constitution and one would have expected the minders of this president to reply to the many charges of constitutional infractions that have been listed against the decision but they are not just offering any, which springs the suspicion that they were ruled by bestial political interests in taking this decision and depend more on the skewed and inchoate system to force it through.

A cursory glance of this trajectory will help us understand what really happened with the Salami case and it dates back to the horribly mismanaged 2007 election where the electoral system was adopted in breach to anoint pre-determined officials as elected officers of the state. Carried under the duplicitous supervision of former President Obasanjo, the process greatly buoyed the political fortunes of the PDP, to the detriment of other contending political parties. Faced with the massive outrage that greeted the gargantuan electoral heist the PDP looted in 2007, the PDP, under the tutelage of Obasanjo, was to taunt their victims to go to court and to the courts they went.

It was in the court and at a time Salami was heading the Appeal Court that most of the houses they built on electoral spittle collapsed, especially in Obasanjo’s Southwest, where he laboured, without let, to impose his subalterns in all political positions obtainable in the Southwest. The magnitude of the reverse the PDP incurred in the process, jolted the party to its foundations and its fears of more erosion of its largely fabricated electoral strength ricocheted amongst its members at all levels. It was at this stage that the plot to oust Salami allegedly came in and every sector of the PDP, the Federal Government and the hierarchy were drawn to this massive plot.

The Ekiti and Osun PDP, which was rusticated by the progressive adjudication of the electoral tribunals that terminated at the Appeal Court, were roused to allege complicity between the hierarchy of the ACN, which benefitted massively from the judicial adjudication in the electoral disputes and Justice Salami, who was at the head of the Appeal Court. In the process, a telephone call log, a poor duplication of such earlier effort in Osun State, was improvised for the purpose. While that was on, Justice Salami was offered a Greek gift; an unsolicited ‘elevation’ to the Supreme Court, which he promptly rejected with thanks. It was this that blew the ruffle in the orchestrated plot, as Salami, reading through the plot of Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, to ease him off at the pleasure of the PDP, alleged untoward means the CJN employed to arrest and frustrate the ANPP petition in Sokoto.

A National Judicial Council, that refused to be roused to probe the weighty allegations against Justice Thomas Naron tribunal in Osun, quickly came into the fray and on the pretext of probing alleged malfeasance on the bench, went for the kill. After what is seen as a programmed move, it absolved every other person mentioned in the allegations and went ahead to report that Salami perjured by falsely alleging that Katsina-Alu attempted to pervert justice in the Sokoto case. As a further proof of the pre-programmed charge against it, it had to set up a second panel to find appropriate punishment for Salami. The second panel, working to the question from the answer, came up with a controversial recommendation that Salami should apologise in writing to Katsina-Alu within one week. At the end of the one week, and with Salami bluffing the report, a rag tag NJC meeting, composed of eight out of 24 members and without the chairman and deputy chairman, went beyond its means to announce the suspension of Salami. It further asked President Jonathan to sack and replace him as the President of the Appeal Court.

Like in a movie, Jonathan quickly aceded to this dawdy request and removed a judge heading the tribunal handling a case against his contentious election last April. In between this high wire melodrama, there were court cases Salami filed against the NJC to stop the implementation of its reports. What even irked Nigerians as this drama lasted was the demeaning area boys tactics the NJC employed to evade service in the Salami case, which gorged deep holes in the integrity of the judiciary and the haste with which Jonathan, side-stepping the important constitutionally recommended parliamentary endorsement for such removal, moved with an unknown speed, not peculiar to his tardy, lethargic ways, removed the main judge in his electoral case and replaced him with someone else. The way and manner the entire thing was procured, apart from assaulting decent minds, woke so many Nigerians to the intricate plot to get Salami removed and ensure the judiciary remains eternally malleable to the whims and antics of the PDP. The provoking of a country-wide revolt is only natural and no one knows where this will end, as the conflagration that has seen the Nigerian judiciary ebb to an all time low, swells.

But one fact that is not being addressed in the entire issue is where the CJN sourced the strange power to interfere and arrest a case that was slated for judgment before a court of competent jurisdiction. No one seems interested in this singular issue that has led to the ouster of Salami but that remains the main kernel of the Salami issue, which must be addressed or else we are being led to a judicial jungle, with all the paddy man antics and requisite compromise as part of the Nigerian judicial process. The present demands that the judiciary should be freed from the heavy tar of partisanship, which the latest issue imposes on it. The top echelon of the judiciary is terribly besmirched and needs a great deal of fumigation for it to play its natural role in the socio-political sphere of the country. I don’t know how it does the rest to clear this putrid mess but I believe its inability to so do will only lead to one thing; the final rubbishing of the judiciary as an arm of government and the institution of a state of anarchy where self help is the norm.

•Oparah writes from Lagos.

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