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Aloysius Katsina-Alu: A Chief Justice and his legacy – Part 2

By Chidi Anselm Odinkalu
19 July 2022   |   3:32 am
In his testimony to the Umaru Abdullahi Committee, Bolarinwa Babalakin reported that “both parties appeared satisfied with what the Committee of elders did in the discharge of their mandate.”

In his testimony to the Umaru Abdullahi Committee, Bolarinwa Babalakin reported that “both parties appeared satisfied with what the Committee of elders did in the discharge of their mandate.” It turns out they may not have been quite satisfied after all. A new chapter in this scandal opened at the end of 2010 when the Federal Judicial Service Commission, also chaired by the CJN, sought to recommend the PCA for appointment to the Supreme Court. He rejected this recommendation out of hand and sued to stop it. In doing so, he deposed under oath to claims that the proposal to appoint him to the Supreme Court was reprisal by CJN Katsina-Alu stemming from the allegations in the Sokoto case.

On March 9, 2011, the NJC established a five-person “fact-finding panel” to examine these petitions, claims and counter-claims. Curiously, neither the CJN nor the PCA testified before the panel. However, the PCA personally cross-examined some of the witnesses.

The Panel heard witnesses who did not testify under oath. Concerning the directive of the CJN suspending the delivery of the judgment of the Court of Appeal, the Panel concluded that it “had no difficulty in holding the view that under the Constitution and the laws of the land, no apparent power has been bestowed on the NJC of which the CJN is the Chairman to interfere in any proceedings of the (sic) legally constituted Court. The Panel however finds no semblance of ill-motive, selfishness of an individual or sectional interest being used to subvert the Constitution in the steps taken by the CJN, Chairman of the NJC. In view of the surrounding circumstances, the Panel finds that the CJN was motivated by an apparent urge to protect the administration of justice and avoid breach of peace. The Panel finds that the CJN acted in good faith to have taken the steps he took.”

Concerning the “issue of instructions allegedly given by the CJN to the PCA in the presence of Hon. Justice Dahiru Musdapher to dismiss the appellant’s appeal; the CJN emphatically denied this allegation and the clear evidence of Hon. Justice Musdapher confirmed the CJN’s position. The matter needs no further discussion.”

Thereafter, the NJC constituted yet another panel, headed this time by Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Ibrahim Auta, to determine what to do. On 10 August, a release on behalf of the NJC by one Soji Oye declared that the NJC had concluded, contrary to the findings of the earlier panels that the allegation made by the PCA that the CJN “instructed him to direct the Sokoto Gubernatorial Appeal to dismiss the appeal by the Democratic People’s Party (PDP) of Nigeria is not true”, concluding that this “is a misconduct contrary to Rule 1(1) of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. The NJC, therefore, “decided that the PCA should be warned for such unethical conduct which eroded the public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary; and apologise in writing” to both the CJN and the NJC within a week from 10 August.

Two days later the PCA returned to court to set aside these decisions of the NJC. The NJC declined to be served with the court processes but leading members of the NJC who were defendants in this case accepted service. While this suit was pending and after they had accepted service, they nevertheless, sat in the NJC to suspend the PCA.

Back at the Federal High Court, the case filed by the PCA awaited to be assigned by one Ibrahim Auta, the Chief Judge who wielded the Guillotine at the behest of CJN Katsina-Alu. Thereafter, if there were to be an appeal, it would have gone to the Court of appeal presided over by the PCA himself. It could possibly even have ended up before a Supreme Court presided over by Dahiru Musdapher as imminent CJN.

It was impossible to persuade a scandalized public that these senior judicial figures were doing anything more than using the judicial process to settle personal scores. Surely, the NJC was created to be more serious business than a kiss-and-make-up club or an I-love-you-too rendez-vous. If a fraction of this happened on the Stock Exchange, serious charges of Insider Dealing would have been justified.

Over one decade ago, therefore, it was clear that the NJC as constituted was unsustainable. It was equally clear that the ubiquitous role of the CJN in the complex web of judicial governance in Nigeria did not serve the person, the office or the institutions of the judiciary well. Katsina-Alu and, more recently, Tanko Muhammad showed how the NJC could be suborned by a venal CJN. Court users and honest judges in Nigeria deserve better.

Concluded

A lawyer and a teacher, Odinkalu can be reached at chidi.odinkalu@tufts.edu