By Comrade Chima Ubeku
One reason judges are called “Lords” is because they represent God on earth. Apart from God, who is the ultimate judge, judges are the ones whose pronouncements are laws. They have the power to give and take life. For these reasons, ability of a judge to dispense justice with honesty, sincerity and fear of God must never be in doubt. Once this happens, the temple of justice is in trouble, and the society risks anarchy!
In Nigeria today, the temple of justice is in trouble. The temple is in trouble because there is a liar in it. Bad enough, the liar is not just a judge, but one that is also saddled with the responsibility of running the affairs of judges and assigning cases to them. Good enough however, the liar was detected by his employer, the National Judicial Council (NJC), with the number one judge in the land as the prime witness, whose evidence exposed the lies of this judge.
Bad enough however, nine months after he was asked to vacate the temple, those whose interests he served while in the temple have succeeded in getting the NJC, which once called him a liar, wrote him a letter of caution and asked President Goodluck Jonathan to retire him to recommend his return to the temple of justice!
Justice Isa Ayo Salami is that judge who has put the judiciary in Nigeria on the spot!
On February 7, 2011, Justice Salami sued the then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Hon. Justice Alloysius Iyorger Katsina-Alu vide an Originating Summons on the ground that the latter had orchestrated plans through the Federal Judicial Service Commission to forcefully promote him to the Supreme Court. He (Salami) deposed to an affidavit, claiming that Justice Katsina-Alu asked him to disband the panel that he had set up for the purpose on the ground that the panel would allow the Appeal and begin a chain reaction that would lead to the removal of the highly revered Sultan of Sokoto.
Justice Salami also maintained in his Affidavit that he refused to disband the said panel, following which the Supreme Court arrested the Judgment of the Court of Appeal panel and brought same under the Supreme Court following which the Appeal was dismissed.
At the sitting of the Justice Umaru Abdullahi-led NJC Probe panel, Justice Salami again deposed to another affidavit on March 31, 2011, where he stated that’ “the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria actually instructed me to direct the panel of justices hearing the Sokoto state gubernatorial Appeal Panel to dismiss the Appeal which I told him I could not do.”
However, when Hon. Justice Dahiru Musdapher, the current CJN, appeared before the NJC panel, he stated that while he was in the office of Justice Katsina Alu on the said day, he never asked Justice Salami to compromise the Sokoto Gubernatorial Appeal Panel.
After its hearing, the NJC released the Probe Panel report of the panel and stated that the Justice Salami was not telling the truth when he accused Justice Katsina Alu of wanting to influence the judgment of the Court of Appeal.
The panel in the said report stated its finding on page 96 as follows; “From all the circumstances there is available evidence that the CJN did not give instructions to the PCA to direct the panel to dismiss the appeal’’…. ‘’ the Panel finds that the allegation that the CJN had taken over the running of the Court of Appeal in an unprecedented manner as unfounded’.
The NJC conclusions stated; “At the end of deliberations, the Council decided as follows: – That the allegation made by the Hon. President, Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Isa Ayo Salami, that the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, instructed him to direct the Sokoto Gubernatorial Appeal to dismiss the appeal by the Democratic Peoples Party of Nigeria is NOT TRUE” (Emphasis mine).
In elementary law, this is perjury!
Sections 156, 157 and 158 of the Penal Code Act, Laws of the Federal Capital Territory, anyone who gives evidence that is found to be untrue at any stage in a legal proceeding is said to have committed the offence of giving false evidence and is liable to be imprisoned for fourteen years.
This notwithstanding, the NJC decided to give Justice Salami a slap on the wrist by merely ordering him to apologise to Justice Katsina Alu and the NJC for his actions within seven days. A judge, who by the evidence of the CJN committed perjury, a criminal offence that attracts 14 years imprisonment was merely asked to apologise, go and sin no more.
That obviously was how the NJC shot itself in the leg, and the injury sustained from the shot has refused to heal since August 17, 2011 that the NJC summoned the courage to recommend Justice Salami’s suspension and retirement.
Nine months after the suspension, the mess created by the inability of the NJC to act decisively on a matter bordering on the integrity of the judiciary has continued to stink. It is stinking so heavily that the offensive odour is making all lovers of rule of law in Nigeria uncomfortable.
To add shit to the offensive odour, NJC that told Nigerians that Justice Salami lied on oath has recommended his reinstatement!
Simply put, the NJC is telling Nigerians and indeed the entire world that it does not matter if a judge is a liar, in as much as 11 out of 20 members of the Council are in his support, such a judge can remain in the temple of justice as member of the bench!
It does not matter to supporters of Justice Salami in and outside the NJC that the integrity of a judge must be 100 percent, not 55 percent that he (Salami) got at the NJC meeting with 11 out of 20 votes.
And if by the NJC latest recommendation, Justice Salami did not lie on oath against Justice Katsina Alu as attested to before the NJC Probe Panel by Justice Musdapher, it will mean that it was Justice Musdapher that lied against Justice Salami at the NJC Panel. Meaning either Salami or Musdapher is a liar, and whichever way, the temple of justice in Nigeria is harbouring a liar.
Where then lies the integrity of a judiciary where a liar adjudicate over cases? Where lies the hope of Nigerians in a judiciary where a man that is supposed to be serving 14 years of imprisonment is the number two or number one judge in the country is a liar? If an ordinary Nigerian deposes to false affidavit tomorrow, how is the judiciary going to react to it? Will such a person be sent to jail or rewarded with gifts for committing perjury?
Comrade Ubeku is the Coordinator, Society for Rule of Law in Nigeria (SRLN), Abuja