Yet Another Season Of Travails

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Yet Another Season Of Travails

The incessant terrorist attacks, as well as the continuing crisis of confidence in the upper chambers of the judiciary, are among the serious problems President Goodluck Jonathan’s government remains confronted with, writes our Associate Editor, Osasu Obayiuwana, from Lagos.

The 4 November deadly attacks which claimed the lives of 53 people – 17 security agents and 36 civilians, according to the Yobe State police chief, Sulemon Usman, is a telling indication of how determined the Islamist sect – Boko Haram – which claimed responsibility, is to cause great difficulties to President Goodluck Jonathan’s young government.

So strong was the recent attack in Damaturu, the capital of the north-eastern state of Yobe, that it not only claimed lives, but destroyed buildings, which included the police headquarters, an anti-terrorist squad base, a bank and several churches. President Jonathan, forced to cancel a personal trip to his home state of Bayelsa as a result of the attack – where he was supposed to attend his younger brother’s wedding – continues to promise that those behind the loss of innocent lives will be unmasked, whilst sterner measures will be taken to prevent terrorism from escalating.

But the capacity of the security services to successfully confront this evil is a matter of great worry to Nigeria’s citizens, who are on the receiving end of these deadly attacks.

The latest onslaught comes on the heels of an attack in which Hafiz Ringim, Nigeria’s police chief, narrowly escaped death from a suicide bomber (see NA August/September), and the bombing of the UN’s building in Abuja last August, the first attack on an international organisation on Nigerian soil, in which 18 people lost their lives.

After a meeting of the National Council of State, which includes the incumbent president and the previous civilian and ex-military heads of state still living, General Andrew Azazi, the National Security Adviser to President Jonathan, admitted that Nigeria’s current infrastructure was ill-equipped to deal with the new threat confronting the country.

“The problem is that we were not, as a nation, prepared for this new level of terrorism. The buildings we have and the public facilities we have are not prepared [for it], so when these things happen (like the bombing of the UN building), there is a lot of devastation,” Azazi said.

“We are talking of putting together a strategy for the protection of critical national infrastructure… We are talking of public enlightenment, to make Nigerians aware of the challenges, because the security challenges are here to stay.”

With Nigerians used to seeing public officers promising much and delivering nothing, it remains to be seen whether the government will seek the right kind of international expertise, which it clearly needs, in order to effectively tackle a clear and present danger that it could well do without. But the security services could also make a good start by ensuring that its own members eschew criminal acts.

When Michael Obi, the father of English Premiership footballer John Mikel Obi, who plays for Chelsea, was rescued from kidnappers, a statement released by the police in a national newspaper revealed that two soldiers, supposed to be members of an anti-crime task force, had been arrested and were being prosecuted for their suspected role in the kidnapping. That hardly inspires public confidence in their capacity to deal with the bigger monster of international terrorism on its shores.

Trouble at the bench

But President Jonathan’s troubles don’t end there. Enter the judiciary! Of the three arms of Nigeria’s government, the judiciary was the sole branch that commanded a modicum of respect from the country’s sceptical population, which has, with very good reason, little faith in the integrity and efficacy of its public institutions.

But whatever respect the public had for the enforcers of the law has certainly been diminished by the ongoing controversy that continues to stain the reputation of judges and puts into serious doubt the ability of the country’s National Judicial Council (NJC) to effectively police the conduct of those sworn to uphold justice.

As reported in the May 2011 of New African, the NJC opened an investigation into alleged ethical misconduct by Aloysius Katsina-Alu, who retired as Nigeria’s Chief Justice in August.

This followed a complaint by Justice Isa Salami that claimed Katsina-Alu had asked him to compromise on a verdict being passed by the Court of Appeal, which was to give a ruling on the legitimate winner of the governorship poll in the north-eastern state of Sokoto. According to Salami, Katsina-Alu believed the Court of Appeal, of which Salami was the president, was going to make a ruling that would be adverse to the incumbent governor, which Katsina-Alu insisted must not occur. “I 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 judgement had been reserved, Katsina-Alu summoned me by telephone to his office in Abuja.

“He 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 would lead to a removal of our highly revered Sultan of Sokoto,” Salami claimed in a sworn affidavit.

That affidavit was the basis of a court case that Salami had instituted against Katsina-Alu, which he was “prevailed upon” to withdraw, in order to allow the NJC to carry out an investigation into Salami’s allegations. With Katsina-Alu being the head of the same NJC at the time, by virtue of his position as Chief Justice, an obvious conflict of interest compelled him to step aside, whilst Dahiru Mustapher, a fellow Supreme Court Judge – and now the country’s Chief Justice, following Katsina-Alu’s retirement – headed the investigative panel. Many members of the Nigerian Bar felt the facts against Katsina-Alu were overwhelming and merited the imposition of sanctions against him, held no water with the NJC.

Releasing its verdict, the NJC ruled that “the allegation that the Honourable Chief Justice instructed him (Isa Salami) to direct the Sokoto Gubernatorial Appeal [Court] to dismiss the appeal by the Democratic Peoples Party [which had brought the case against the sitting governor] is not true.”

“Therefore, the Honourable Chief Justice was exonerated of the allegation of interference,” it said. In addition, Salami was found to have laid “false allegations” against Katsina-Alu and was instructed to tender an apology to the former Chief Justice within one week of its verdict. Insisting on the truth of the allegations he made against Katsina-Alu, Salami bluntly refused to apologise, returning to court to seek redress against the NJC’s verdict, which he argues “has no power to pronounce on the veracity of facts or statements contained in an oath sworn to before a court of law.”

Twenty-four hours after the expiration of the one-week deadline given to Salami to apologise, the NJC met in an emergency meeting in Abuja and recommended that he be retired with immediate effect.

With the prevailing mood in the legal community being one of surprise over the recommendation of the NJC to retire Salami, it was thought that President Goodluck Jonathan would tread carefully before responding to the NJC’s decision. But, in a rather unique twist, Jonathan signed off on the suspension of Salami from his Court of Appeal post and approved the appointment of Dalhatu Adamu as the acting president of the same court, pending the determination of Justice Salami’s court case against the NJC.

As Chukwudifu Oputa, one of Nigeria’s most respected legal minds and a retired Supreme Court Justice, poignantly observed, “What is happening in the judiciary is most unfortunate and most embarrassing.It is a happening that could never ever have been imagined in our days. The judiciary is however a part of the Nigerian polity. It is therefore naturally reflecting the general decay that has unfortunately permeated the entire system for some time now.

“However, what happens in the judiciary raises more dust and poses more danger because the judiciary is supposed to be the citadel of rectitude and the bastion of law and order. The last hope for a nation-state melts away when corruption and politics also engulf the very core of law interpretation and enforcement,” Oputa warned. Dan Abutu, who retired as the president of the Federal High Court in June, opined that the NJC would be unable to effectively police the conduct of judges if the constitution of the body was not changed to guarantee its impartiality, as well as insulate it from conflicts of interest.

“Because the council has disciplinary powers, the head of the judiciary should not be the chairman of the National Judicial Council. If the head of the judiciary is the chairman of the council, when, God forbid, we have a delinquent head of the judiciary, it will be difficult to discipline him,” he said.

The decision to suspend Salami, taken a few days before the start of the last national convention of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Port Harcourt, attracted a very strong response from it. Joseph Daudu, the NBA’s president, said that President Goodluck Jonathan had lost an opportunity “to range himself on the side of due process and the Rule of Law” by accepting the suspension of Justice Salami and approving the appointment of a provisional replacement.

Bello Adoke, who attended the conference as the incumbent attorney-general and minister for justice, received a negative response, as a result of the president’s action, from the lawyers that were displeased with the government’s handling of the ongoing controversy. “An efficient and incorruptible judiciary will guarantee a vibrant, just and egalitarian society. On the other hand, a crooked, corrupt and inefficient judiciary will promote disunity, insecurity, anarchy and strife in the polity,” Daudu warned.

In protest against what it described as the illegal removal of Salami from his post, the NBA withdrew its members from the NJC and has vowed to confront the “evils of corruption” threatening the very foundation of the country’s legal system.

“Our withdrawal from the National Judicial Council, NJC, does not mean that we shall sit helplessly with our chin in hand. The Nigeria project is far too important for us to resign ourselves to utter helplessness,” said Daudu.

“We shall now engage the system proactively, borrowing a leaf from progressive Bars like the Pakistan Bar Association. We are resolved to confront any form of lawlessness be it executive, judicial or legislative.” The legality of Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to sign off on the suspension of Salami has been questioned by several legal experts, taking cognisance of Section 238 (4) of the 1999 Constitution, which says:

“If the Office of President of the Court of Appeal is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then until a person has been appointed to and has assumed that office, the President [of the Federal Republic of Nigeria] shall appoint the most senior Justice of the Court of Appeal to perform those functions.” This section clearly caters for the permanent removal of the President of the Court of Appeal and not suspension, as has been currently done, pending the determination of Salami’s suit against the NJC.

A High Court Judge, deployed to sit on one of the Election Tribunals, confessed to New African that his fraternity has done itself immense damage over the way the dispute between Salami and the now retired Chief Justice has been handled:

“There is no question that the way and manner in which this matter is being handled is doing tremendous damage to our reputation.” But what happens next?

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