The reinstatement or otherwise of Justice Isa Ayo Salami as the President of Appeal Court of Nigeria, as recommended by the National Judicial Council (NJC) will, obviously, mark a watershed in the nation’s judicial system.
Although eminent jurists, lawyers, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), indeed other professional and pressure groups are unanimous on the need to recall from a year’s suspension, Justice Salami the issue rather than settle, is again agitaing the polity.
Since the inception of the current democratic project, thirteen years ago, the judiciary has remained a issue or knocks and praise kudos and thumbs down at various stages of our growth and national development.
Yet, it should be the cornerstone upon which our nascent democracy should rest, and except a stable and dependable judicial system predicated on justice, equity and the Rule of Law is enthroned, the nation’s democracy may be heading to the rocks.
Perhaps, that informs the reason why jurists and lawyers are unanimous, that President Goodluck Jonathan should embrace the recommendations of the NJC without preconditions and recall Justice Salami. Their position seems to be powered by their conclusions that the Appeal Court President was suspended from office without justifiable considerations.
Justices Muhamed Uwais and Adolphus Karibi-Whyte, among others, had explained in several fora that reinstatement of Justice Salami would redress the wrong inflicted on him and indeed the judicial system. Uwais succinctly declared that: “it is only the NJC that has the constitutional powers to reinstate Salami, and not the president as erroneously believed in certain quarters.”
He said that all issues of appointments, discipline and removal of judges reside with the NJC and all that is required of the council is to merely inform the president of the country. By implication, Salami’s recall should be automatic, and should therefore, not require presidential seal.
However, the Justice Minister and Attorney General of the federation, Mohammed Bello Adoke, has a contrary view. For him, the president cannot approve Salami’s recall for now, since according to him, the matter was still pending in the law courts.
Adoke told newsmen in Abuja that it would be prejudicial and contemptuous to reinstate Salami because the presidency would believes that the law ought to take its normal course, and can therefore, not allow itself to take hasty and pre-emptive decisions.
Justice Karibi-Whyte disagrees with Adoke’s views noting that Salami was not found culpable of the allegations leveled against him and regretted that the then NJC could behave in such a funny way by allowing itself to be used to victimise Salami, irrespective of the lack cogent evidence to justify its action.
Justice Karibi-Whyte, former judge of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and a member of the Uwais-led committee on review of Salami’s case further asserted that the former Chief Justice of Nigeria lacked the powers to promote or discipline the President of Appeal Court and insisted that Salami be recalled immediately, irrespective of the suit filed against him.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has also thrown its weight behind Salami’s recall. “Justice Salami was suspended without considering the judicial implications of the pending court cases and for government to hinge its refusal to reinstate him because of same now court actions amounts to blowing hot and cold at the same time. This also amounts to using the court as a shield and a sword at the same time,” NBA declared.
Another legal giant, Mustapha Akanbi, former president of Court of Appeal and ex-chairman of Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) said there are issues that can be political but it would be dangerous for the judiciary to be politicised, more so when Mr President at the time he suspended Salami said the judiciary must put its own house in order. This is politics, and it should not be in the judiciary.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), John Bayeshea also berated the federal government, saying that President Jonathan’s reluctance to re-instate Justice Salami is a sad development for the judiciary, while, other lawyers who spoke with our correspondents said the development was capable of leading to judicial anarchy and constitutional crisis, and urged the president to tow the path of honour.
Salami’s case constitutes a tip of the iceberg, especially against the backdrop of developments in the nation’s judiciary and by extention the entire judicial system as cases of meddlesomeness, corruption, perversion and delay of justice, among others, abound.
Though, there have been landmark judgments by the Bench, in the past decade arising from election results of 1979,’83,’87 and 2011 polls, but our judicial system is still flawed as obvious cases of corruption, money laundering, abuse of office, murder, among other criminalities still remain puzzling and mind-boggling.
Cases of unresolved assassinations and murder of political opponents, arson, corruption in high places, fraud, terrorism and military still stare our judiciary in the face and from all indications, Nigerians, and indeed the global community is yet to see tangible results.