Accusations of unethical conduct levelled against Nigeria's chief justice, Aloysius Katsina-Alu, have done severe damage to the public's trust in the judicial system at a politically inauspicious time, reports Osasu Obayiuwana. If the chief justice is found guilty of the allegations, the National Judicial Council will have no choice but to recommend him for dismissal from the bench and have a criminal prosecution instituted against him for attempting to pervert the course of justice.
ASCENSION TO THE SUPREME Court, the top of the judicial tree, ought to be a career-defining and deeply satisfying moment for any judge getting that once-in-a-lifetime appointment. It ought to be a confirmation of his intellect, erudition and incorruptibility.
But a decision by Nigeria's chief justice, Aloysius Katsina-Alu, to promote Justice Isa Salami, the president of the Court of Appeal, to the court of ultimate jurisdiction, has surprisingly lit an inferno of controversy, as never witnessed in the history of the Nigerian judiciary. Salami rejected the new plum appointment to the Supreme Court in February and opted to remain in his current position, claiming the promotion was a subterfuge to replace him with a politically "pliable" judge as Court of Appeal president.
"I prefer to follow in the wake of my worthy predecessors, who in spite of their experiences retired as presidents of the Court of Appeal, with their honour and reputation unsullied. The present unholy move to push me our of the Appeal Court for whatever reason has no precedent in our legal history," he said.
Salami alleged that Chief Justice Katsina-Alu asked him to compromise on a verdict being passed by the Court of Appeal in a highly contentious dispute, concerning the legal winner of the governorship elections in the north-eastern state of Sokoto. According to Salami, Katsina-Alu believed the Court of Appeal was going to give an adverse verdict against the incumbent governor and wanted them to change their decision.
"I have all along enjoyed my work as president of the Court of Appeal and did not have any issues or disagreement with the first defendant (Katsina-Alu) until the controversies over the gubernatorial election petition in Sokoto state came to light," Salami said in a sworn affidavit.
He was "shocked when subsequent to the setting up of a panel on the Sokoto gubernatorial election petition appeal, and after all parties had filed and exchanged briefs ... and judgment had been reserved, the first defendant (Katsina-Alu) summoned me by telephone to his office in Abuja.
"The first defendant asked me to disband the panel I had set up for the appeal on the excuse that if the panel allowed the appeal and removed the governor, the ripple effect...