By DAYO BENSON, CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, DAPO AKINREFON & IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
LAGOS—THE Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, yesterday constituted a 13-man committee, comprising 10 Senior Advocates of Nigeria, to probe allegations of corruption levelled against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami.
This came even as leading lawyers in the country were divided on what would be the fate of Governors Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, and Rauf Aregbesola of Osun; if the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP’s allegations that the court decisions that brought them power were fraudulently obtained.
In the face-off between Justice Salami and Justice Katsina-Alu, the President of the Court of Appeal had accused the Chief Justice of asking him to compromise in the Sokoto gubernatorial appeal case before the appellate court.
Empowering of committee
The NBA which has vowed to get to the root of the matter, empowered the committee to take a holistic appraisal of the debilitating corruption eating into and corroding the entire judicial system, as well as to fish out legal practitioners that promote corruption in varieties of ways in the system.
NBA National President, Joseph Bodunrin Daudu, SAN, said in a statement in Abuja: “Pursuant to the resolution of the National Executive Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association made at Awka, Anambra State on February 17, 2011, I have, in my capacity as the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, been directed to set up a high_powered committee to investigate and report back to NBA_NEC the following:
“CJN/PCA face_off, debilitating corruption eating into and corroding the entire judicial system and legal practitioners who promote corruption in a variety of ways in the system.
“In compliance with the said NEC directives/resolution, I hereby appoint the following eminent persons as members of the above described NBA committee. They are: Chief T.J.O. Okpoko, SAN, Chairman; Chief Bamidele Aiku, SAN; Mr. Idowu Sofola, SAN; Dr. S.S. Ameh, SAN; Mr. O.C.J. Okocha, SAN; Mr. E.J.J. Toro, SAN; Chief Assam. Assam, SAN; Professor G. O. Olawoyin, SAN; Mr. Marcus Yarkasuwa Saleh, SAN’ Mr. Obi Ulasi, SAN; Alhaji M. U. Ibrahim, and Mrs. Stella Ugboma as members, while Mr. Ebenezer Obeya will serve as the secretary.
NBA secretariat on high alert
“The Secretariat of the NBA has been put on high alert to ensure that the activities of the committee proceeds unhindered. Finally, the Chairman of the committee will as expeditiously as possible fix a date (preferably within this week) for a commencement of the committee’s activities.
The committee will regulate its activities and within the shortest possible time, submit its report to the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, who will in turn forward it to NEC/NBA for it to deal with as it pleases.”
It will be recalled that it was only last week that the Appeal Court President, Salami, withdrew a legal action he instituted against the CJN before a Federal High Court in Abuja.
Though he premised his decision on “the intervention of well meaning Nigerians and stakeholders in the justice sector,” NBA insisted that it would investigate the authenticity of the facts personally deposed to by the litigant in an affidavit he filed in support of the withdrawn suit.
On petitions filed by the PDP against Justice Salami, while most of the lawyers said the court judgments could not be overturned because the Court of Appeal was the last court for governorship and National Assembly polls petitions before the last constitution amendment, others contended that a court of higher authority could order a retrial of the cases.
However, they all deplored the raging scandals ravaging the judiciary and urged high-powered probe and sanctioning of those found culpable.
The PDP in Osun and Ekiti had in a letter dated February 16, 2011 asked security agencies and the National Judicial Council, NJC, to unravel the purport of alleged inappropriate communications between President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami and leaders of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, and their lawyers, which they alleged influenced the judgements which brought AC governorship candidates to power in Ekiti and Osun States in October 15 and November 26, 2010 respectively.
Before the judgments the PDP had the governors of both states (Segun Oni, Ekiti; and Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Osun).
Speaking on the allegations in petitions against Justice Salami by the PDP, Mr. Bamidele Aturu said Nigerians were in interesting times with the political elite heating up the polity.
However, as per the law that guided the 2007 governorship election, he noted: “Once the Court of Appeal has given a judgment there is nothing anybody can do about it. The decision on Ekiti and Osun is final but if the justices are found culpable, they can be dealt with individually.”
Decrying the deteriorating rot in the judiciary, he canvassed “a wholesale probe of the Judiciary,” saying: “Let’s look at the issues, let the EFCC and ICPC get busy, get to the bottom of the allegations and prosecute those found culpable. If the allegations are frivolous, the people peddling them should be dealt with.”
Speaking in like manner, Chief Ayo Adebanjo lamented that the rumour had been on for while and urged purification of the Judiciary to save the country.
“The rumour has been going on for sometime. That is why I said there should be an inquiry. They should set up a panel made up of competent retired judges to look into the matter.
There should be a process to purify the Judiciary otherwise we are finished in this country because the Judiciary is the last hope of the common man.”
On what would happen if indeed the judgments were fraudulently obtained, Adebanjo said much would depend on the findings of the investigating panel.
He contended: “If the judgment is fraudulent, they can order for a retrial. Although, there is no appeal on governorship election after the Court of Appeal, when they discover that the judgement is fraudulent, a court of higher authority can order a retrial.”
In his reaction, constitutional lawyer, Prof Itse Sagay, rose in defence of President of the Court of Appeal Justice Ayo Salami, saying that those who have accused him of compromising in Osun and Ekiti states governorship appeal petitions should provide evidence just as he stated that Justice Salami was incorruptible Prof Sagay who spoke against the background of the petitions noted that since the Court of Appeal was the final court in appeal in governorship petition, (prior to recent amendments of the 1999 constitution) the judgment in the two cases could not be tampered with by any other court.
He said that any person in the position of President of Court of Appeal or Chief Justice of Nigeria has a lot of interaction with lawyers and such exchanges certainly have nothing to do with the cases before them.
Sagay said: “In any case, Justice Salami is not the type of judge anyone can corrupt. So those who are making the allegation that he might have been compromised should come forward with their evidence. He stated that Justice Salami was not a member of appeal panel in Osun governorship election petition, so the issue of being compromised does not arise.
Court of Appeal upturning itself
“It is impossible for the Court of Appeal to upturn itself. The Court of Appeal is the final Court of Appeal on governorship petition cases and its decision is final. You cannot go against it for whatsoever reasons.
Its decision cannot be set aside by any court, that matter is finished permanently. Let me put it this way, personally, it is impossible for Justice Salami to be involved in any case of perversion of justice.
“Let me also put in hypothetical manner. Supposing Justices of the Court of Appeal are influenced into giving decisions on the governorship petition, which amounts to perversion of justice, I want to put it in that general way. When it comes to election matters as relating to a governor, the Court of Appeal is the final court in that matter; but once you establish a case of perversion of justice or corruption, if you make a case or a petition, it will be investigated. If the case is established upon investigation, such judges will be removed.”
A prominent Lagos lawyer who preferred anonymity argued that some of the lawyers mentioned in the petition appeared for both PDP and ACN candidates. In their petitions, it was possible they had telephone exchanges with some of the judges involved. He, however, asked on whose behalf such conversations were made adding: “Were such calls made on behalf of PDP or ACN candidates?”
According to him, Lateef Fagbemi SAN was counsel to both former Governor Olusegun Agagu and Governor Rotimi Amechi; Yusuff Ali, SAN was counsel to Governor Fayemi and former Governor Olagonsoye Oyinlola ; Niyi Akintola, SAN was counsel to Agagu and Fayemi; He said Emeka Ngige SAN was mentioned because he is a younger brother of Chris Ngige, a chieftain of ACN.
Abuja based lawyer, Ugochukwu Osuagwu in his contribution said: “I am aware that Justice Salami was queried by the NJC over allegations that he compromised standard in the Ekiti State governorship appeal. The truth is that he is a civil servant under the employ of the Federal Government and should, therefore, be held accountable over any allegation of misdemeanour raised against him.
As a civil servant, procedures laid down under the civil service should apply to him, which I think the NJC should enforce. The underlying controversies should equally be looked into, maybe he has declined to respond to the query due to pending cases in Court or there could be other reasons as well.
Nobody is beyond reproach; if the NJC can furnish enough evidence against him then he can be sanctions with or without his response. Until the allegations are proved he should be deemed innocent. We must be very careful in accepting every allegation against judicial officers or judge’s especially when politicians make them.”
Chief Nkereuwem Akpan, Human Rights Activist, said “the NJC is statutorily enamoured with powers to investigate and if need be sanction erring judicial officers. We are told that it was the intervention of the NJC that prevailed on justice Salami to discontinue his suit against CJN.
Now because the CJN is the chairman of the NJC and with the sordid, disgraceful and embarrassing allegations and counter allegations flying all over the place from both sides, who will chair the NJC during the hearings as the CJN cannot be a judge in his own case. Sadly, one of these respected jurists is not telling the truth and that is how low our judiciary has sunk, most regrettably.
ACN in its own reaction warned the PDP and the colluding top federal government officials not to throw Nigeria into an avoidable crisis over their desperation to reverse the Appeal Court judgements on the Ekiti and Osun governorship election petitions.”
In a statement issued in Abeokuta, Ogun state on Tuesday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said the Appeal Court judgments in the cases are final, irrespective of what the ousted usurper governors are being told by their starry_eyed advisers or the buttons they are pressing at the Federal Government level.
‘’Despite the clandestine meetings in the highest echelon of the PDP and also involving some top officials of the federal government, the PDP cannot re_write the Nigerian Constitution just because the rulings in these cases did not favour them.
Heavens did not fall when other parties lost to the PDP in many other election petition cases. And heavens will not fall now that the PDP has lost the cases in Ekiti and Osun, where the rigging party did not win anyway.”
‘’As we said earlier, the cases are not final because they are infallible, but they are infallible because they are final. The sooner the PDP understands this, the better for everyone.
There is no point trying to bring down the entire judiciary just because they lost cases they could not have won, on the strength of the available evidence,’’ it said.
ACN warned, however, that should the PDP think it can re_open the cases and overturn the judgements, then it should be ready for an epic battle, the end of which no one can predict, and the consequences of which can only be imagined.
‘’We have the strength of character, the courage and the conviction to mount a sustained campaign in defence of justice, and in defence of our mandate. We will not surrender a mandate freely given to us by the people, which was evident in the massive jubilation that greeted the rulings of the Appeal Court in both Ekiti and Osun states,’’ the party said.
Commenting on the MTN call logs insinuating a deal between ACN chieftains/lawyers and Justice Ayo Salami, as contained in the petitions by Messrs Segun Oni and Osun PDP chieftain, Sunday Ojo_Williams, the party dismissed them as ‘’selective perception’’, designed to muddle the waters.
It said: ‘’If the petitioners and their sponsors want to really convince Nigerians about their allegations, they should be courageous enough to publish all the call logs of Justice Salami during the period in question, so that all can see all the calls that Justice Salami received during the period.
‘’The fact that Justice Salami is the President of the Court of Appeal does not mean he will not have a social life, or that people can no longer call him. Can’t his friends, acquaintances or others even call to invite him to social sessions like weddings, birthdays and burials? Do such calls _ even if they are from party members _ automatically translate to seeking undue favour? Why publish only calls from a few people when all the call logs during that period should have been published for all to see? This selective perception will not help the petitioners in their lost cause,’’ ACN said.
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