By NAL Staff writer
The Nigerian justice system was on Thursday thrown into seemingly confusion after the country’s apex judicial council suspended one of its members and President of the Nigeria Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami in an unprecedented move that has now attracts international interests.
The Nigeria Judicial Council (NJC) in a statement signed by its Director of Administration, Eugene Odukwu announces the suspension of Justice Salami following the Justice Ibrahim Auta led panel recommendation, which had given August 17 as deadline for the Appeal’s Court president to tender a written apology to the Chief Justice of the Federation, Alloysius Katsina-Alu. A directive Justice Salami decline to.
This was in contradiction to another panel earlier raised by the same council headed by Justice Umaru Abdullahi, which proffered reconciliation of the two justices.
In “Pursuant to the powers conferred on the National Judicial Council in the Constitution of the Nigeria, 1999 as amended, Hon. Justice Isa Ayo Salami, OFR, President of the Court of Appeal has been suspended from office with effect from today 18th August, 2011.The decision was reached at the 7th Emergency Meeting of the Council held on 18th August, 2011,” the NJC statement reads.
In addition, the NJC has asked President Goodluck Jonathan to approve the retirement of Justice Salami with immediate effect.
Back in January, Justice Salami accused Chief Justice Katsina-Alu of attempt to compromise the Appeal’s Court’s verdict on the 2007 Sokoto State Governorship election petition and filed a law suit against the chief Justice. He would later withdraw the case sighting pressure from powerful forces.
The source of intrigue and power clash between the once highly respected justices could be traced to the Appeal’s Court sacking of executive governors ( that are members of the powerful ruling Peoples Democratic Party) of Ekiti and Osun States in southwest region of the country. Series of opposition parties victories against the ruling parties attracted allegation of favouritism and suspicion of Justice Salami connivance with opposition leaders. At the height of controversy, attempts were made by the country’s supreme court headed by Chief Justice Katsina-Alu to elevate Justice Salami to the position of a Judge in the apex court, a move the latter declined (sighting unholy motives behind the elevation). It took the immediate intervention of the NJC to stopped the so called promotion of Justice Salami. However, the unusual spat between the two justices quickly degenerated into allegations and counter allegations of judicial wrongdoings and abuse of power.
Meanwhile, the decision of the NJC to suspend the Appeal’s Court president has attracted swift and strong condemnation from judicial observers who accused the committee of failure to follow due process and disregard for pending court services before reaching its decision.
The integrity of the NJC special committee has become tainted with allegations of political intrigue and arm-twisting that could have influenced the hurriedly suspension of the Appeal Court president despite the sensitivity of the issue at stake.
By the constitution provision that established the Nigerian Appeal Court, it has the final say all elections matters, but that of the presidency, where the Supreme court gets to decide. Given its status, the Appeal court has therefore become a strategic interest of politicians, many of whom are willing to pay the price of exercising their influence on affairs of the law interpreting institution.
Observers believe the current twist of event is unlikely to be the final straw of this high profile case.