It’s Deja vu, all over again: The end of the Road for Justice Ayo Salami.
“I believe the Judiciary has an important role to play in this country as it is the last hope of the common man. The Judiciary has to be firm, fair and courageous and must not employ any form of double standards. It is not right in my view to regard or treat the courts of Justice as an extension of the Federal Ministry of Justice. I cannot condone any attempt to destroy the judicial system in this country using me as scapegoat.”
That was Justice Yahaya Jinadu before he voluntarily resigned from the Bench following his refusal to apologize to Mr. John Oyegun, then Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Internal Affairs during the Military regime. Yes, our own indefatigable Mr. Oyegun, before he became a Governor.
The case involved one Garba v. Federal Civil Commission, while the case was pending in Justice Jinadu’s court, Garba was fired. Justice Jinadu summoned Chief Oyegun to his court; not Chief Oyegun. He refused to show up in court. That led to contempt proceeding against chief Oyegun by Justice Jinadu. As it turned out - trust the Nigerian system – it was Justice Jinadu who was instructed to apologize for harassing the influential super-perm-sec. Justice Jinadu bluntly refused to apologize and resigned from the Bench. See Salute to Courage: The Story of Justice Yahaya Jinadu by Richard Akinnola.
Today, Justice Ayo Salami is no longer the President of the Court of Appeal. The president approved of his removal from the Bench sequel to the recommendations of the National Judicial Council. The Salami’s saga is more complicated than that of Justice Jinadu. He empanelled an Election Tribunal to look into the Sokoto State’s Governorship election petition. While that process was evolving, the Chief Justice of the Federation allegedly told him to discontinue the tribunal’s mandate because the outcome would undermine the Sultan’s legitimacy and may lead to breach of the peace. He declined his master’s command. The saga became a spectacle, followed by a plethora of unsubstantiated allegations leveled against the CJN by Justice Salami.
The Chief Justice allegedly took over the case, contrary to known precedent and dismissed the petition. Later, Justice Salami went to the National Judicial Council (NJC) and filed petition against the CJN for unduly interfering in the course of justice in the Sokoto State Gubernatorial election petition. After many shenanigans at the NJC hearing, they came to a verdict – Justice Salami should, among other things, apologize to the CJN. Once again, Justice Salami said no. The story later took a dramatic turn. Justice Salami subsequently took the same National Judicial Council that heard his petition against the Chief Justice to Lagos State High Court for alleged abuse of process.
Right now, that proceeding is preempted. Therefore, moot. And the rest is, once again, history. The President approved of Justice Salami’s removal from the Bench yesterday, August 21, 2011. Now that he is gone, I am not so sure he has standing to continue the case at the Lagos State High Court because of mootness factor.
Where we go from here is unpredictable. It is my humble opinion that there is a prima facie case for judicial misconduct against the CJN, because his alleged intervention in the Sokoto State Gubernatorial Election Tribunal has no support in law or in our traditional customs.
According to Justice Salami, the CJN or the Supreme Court allegedly hijacked a pending Election Petition before the Court of Appeal sitting in Skoto and rendered judgment on it, even-though there was no petition before it requiring a hearing. Again, what was the nature of the exigent circumstance or security threat that prompts CJN to intervene in the Tribunal’s proceeding? Adding to that, there seems to be evidence of procedural lapses during the hearing at the National Judicial Council that culminates in the removal or recommendation for removal of Justice Salami.
We should take politics out of the matter right away for the sake of our judicial system. What we are witnessing is analogous to impeachment proceeding. Therefore, it is important to know whether or not Justice Salami’s alleged judicial misconduct is an impeachable crime or misconduct. If it is an impeachable judicial misconduct or crime, did he receive a fair hearing?
These are legitimate questions that need to be answered by the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice.