Justice Ayo Isa Salami
Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
A Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, thursday fixed March 11 for judgment in a suit seeking to compel the National Judicial Council (NJC) to reinstate the suspended President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Ayo Isa Salami.
After the parties had adopted their briefs, Justice Adamu Bello adjourned for judgment in the suit filed by the Registered Trustees of Centre for the Promotion of Arbitration seeking to compel NJC to reinstate Justice Salami.
Justice Salami has been on suspension since August 18, 2011 when the NJC found him guilty of “gross misconduct” following his refusal to apologise to former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu.
In an originating summons, the plaintiffs, numbering 11, prayed the court to hold that the NJC, by virtue of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, has the exclusive power to mete out sanctions against judicial officers.
Such powers, it added, include discipline and recall.
The plaintiffs asked for an order of mandamus compelling the NJC to recall Justice Salami.
Plaintiffs’ counsel, Mr. Jitobo Akanike, argued that President Goodluck Jonathan (first defendant) and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice (second defendant) have no business in matters of discipline of a judicial officer.
Akanike also argued that the earlier pronouncement reinstating Justice Salami by the NJC did not need any approval or endorsement by the president for it to carry the force of law.
He further submitted that the only issue for determination was whether the NJC shared its disciplinary power with the president and or the AGF.
To this end, he urged the court to “discountenance” the preliminary objection raised by Jonathan and the AGF, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), challenging the plaintiff’s locus standi to file the suit.
He said that the facts deposed to in the defendants’ preliminary objection were not sufficient for the court to uphold the objection.
Accordingly, the plaintiffs invited the court to grant their reliefs as stated in their originating summons, and asked the court to dismiss the objections by Jonathan and Adoke.
In their separate responses, counsel to the president and the AGF, Mr. Matthew Echo, urged the trial judge to dismiss the plaintiffs’ originating summons on the grounds that they lacked the locus standi to institute the matter.
They maintained that: “The plaintiffs have not shown any sufficient interest above any other Nigerian in the matter” to warrant the court granting their reliefs.
The court was therefore urged to dismiss the suit, as it is mere academic, indeterminable and a waste of the time of the court.
“The actions of the 1st and 2nd defendants, as it relates to this matter, are in line with Section 21 (2) of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, which is clear on the issue of discipline and steps to be taken by the NJC and the responsibility of the 1st defendant in line with the provisions of the law,” they said.
Counsel to NJC (third defendant), Dr. A. A. Kanah, simply “urged the court to arrive at a decision that will best serve the interest of justice”.
But Justice Salami’s counsel, Chief Adeniyi Akintola (SAN), aligned with the submission of the plaintiffs as he urged the court to dismiss the defendants’ preliminary objection.
He averred that the objection did not represent the current status of the law on locus standi.
Akintola told the court that the NJC had “also admitted that it has the power of discipline of judicial officers”.
He also agreed with the plaintiffs that the court has the inherent jurisdiction to grant an order of mandamus compelling the third defendant to perform its constitutional duty to save the judiciary from ridicule.
He said: “The failure of the third defendant (NJC) to reinstate Salami by wrongly and unlawfully referring it to Jonathan for approval when indeed the first defendant lacks such power under the constitution has diminished the status and influence of the third defendant in the public domain.
“This court has the unique opportunity to redeem and restore the dented image of the judiciary through the grant of the prayers sought by the plaintiffs.”