The stage is set for a dramatic showdown between Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, Chief Justice of Nigeria, and Justice Ayo Isa Salami, president of the Court of Appeal, as the latter has written a letter rejecting the CJN’s plan to promote him to the Supreme Court.

SaharaReporters has detailed an insidious plot by Justice Katsina-Alu and elements within the Goodluck Jonathan administration to neutralize the principled and highly courageous Salami by moving him to the Supreme Court where he would be a junior, ineffective voice under the direct control of the CJN. Justice Salami, whose leadership of the Court of Appeal has been described by lawyers as “inspiring” and “exemplary,” has established a reputation for fearless judgments.

Several sources in the judicial sector have told SaharaReporters that the plot to “promote Justice Salami out of relevance” is driven by political considerations. Justice Salami is credited for being directly or indirectly responsible for judicial verdicts that overturned the fraudulent “elections” of former Governors Osunbor in Edo State, Segun Oni in Ekiti and Olagunsoye Oyinlola in Osun.

By contrast, Justice Katsina-Alu, who heads the apex court, is notorious for what one Abuja-based lawyer described as “cash-and-carry judgments and a shameless habit of prostituting himself with any government in power.”
Justice Salami’s letter, which is being circulated to members of the Federal Judicial Service Commission and the Nigerian Judicial Committee, unequivocally rejects the plan to accelerate his promotion to the Supreme Court.

A member of the NJC, who discussed the content of the letter, told SaharaReporters that Justice Salami argued that he was never consulted by the CJN on the ostensible promotion and that he never sought to be elevated. The letter also raised several constitutional and zoning issues that lay bare some questions about the real intention of the planned promotion. Our source noted that Justice Salami’s tone suggested that he was aware that Katsina-Alu’s program was to render the head of the Court of Appeal “irrelevant in the run-up to the 2011 elections afterwards.”

“Justice Salami is regarded as a non-nonsense judge, who will not tolerate election rigging,” said a member of the Nigerian Bar Association, adding that some lawyers have vowed to fight the CJN’s plan to emasculate the Court of Appeal by removing its effective head.

A source in the judiciary said that Justice Salami’s troubles with the CJN started as soon as Salami was confirmed as the President of the Court of Appeal. As Justice Salami made plans to constitute panels to consider lingering election fraud cases, the CJN came down hard on the appellate panel constituted to hear the gubernatorial case in Sokoto State. The panel was set to kick out the governor of the state on the account of the fraudulent process that brought him to power. But in a brazen manner described by a lawyer as “shameful and unprecedented in Nigeria’s legal history,” Justice Katsina-Alu used the Supreme Court to scuttle the delivery of the judgment in the Sokoto governorship case.

However, Justice Salami succeeded in reversing the electoral fortunes of PDP governors both in Ekiti and Osun states. For those daring acts, an irate CJN, who played a huge role in validating the electoral fraud that imposed former “President” Umaru Yar’Adua and “Vice President” Goodluck Jonathan in 2007, last week proposed at a meeting of the Federal Judicial Service Commission that Justice Salami be promoted to the apex court, even though there was no vacancy for Salami’s North Central zone. Justice Katsina-Alu exploited Justice Salami’s unavoidable absence from the meeting of the commission to push his nefarious agenda. Two members at the meeting told SaharaReporters that the CJN’s proposal came as a real shock to them. “It is curious that the CJN wants to promote someone without his consent or application to be promoted,” said one of the commission’s members.

But as soon as word spread about the sinister promotion plan, lawyers across the country said the issue would be thoroughly debated at the upcoming NBA conference in Awka, Anambra State. They contended that tampering with the Court of Appeal leadership at this critical time indicated that the CJN was working in tandem with the PDP government to strip the Nigerian judiciary of one of its dependably fearless justices prior to the election. They said they would vehemently oppose the move in Awka. However, SaharaReporters learnt that the president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Joseph Daudu, was sympathetic with the CJN’s conspiracy. Mr. Daudu was one of the federal prosecutors who prosecuted Ken Saro-Wiwa at the kangaroo tribunal set up by the Sani Abacha regime.

After SaharaReporters exposed the CJN’s sinister agenda, a rattled Justice Katsina-Alu summoned an emergency meeting of the NJC for next Wednesday to discuss and ratify the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission on the matter. The CJN's intention, our sources say, was to complete the nomination process and forward the file to Mr. Jonathan for approval before the NBA weigh in on the issue in Awka.

As Katsina-Alu tries to move at lightning speed to “promote” Justice Salami to the Supreme Court, judicial observers note that it was curious that the slot reserved for the Southwest on the apex court has yet to the filled. Justice Katsina-Alu has weathered the zoning objections raised against the elevation of Justice Salami by stating that Mr. Jonathan would soon increase the number of Supreme Court justices to 21. “This whole idea of adding justices to the Supreme Court is driven by the idea to justify and accommodate the so-called ‘promotion’ of Justice Salami,” said a senior source in the judiciary.

A legal observer told SaharaReporters that the duel between Justice Salami and Katsina-Alu could prove dramatic “since Justice Salami knows a lot about some dirty happenings in judiciary, especially under the leadership of Justice Katsina-Alu.”

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