Katsina-Alu: A Bold Judge Whose Tenure was Bedeviled by Controversies


Tobi Soniyi

Born on August 28, 1941 in Ushongo, Benue State, Justice Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu was

Chief Justice of Nigeria between 2009 and 2011. He was sworn in as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on Wednesday, December 30, 2009. His tenure as CJN was characterised by controversies, starting from his first day in office. The first controversy was however not his own making.

Whereas Chief Justices are sworn in by the President and Commander- in -Chief, he was sworn in by his predecessor, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, because the then president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was ill and had been flown abroad for treatment.

Had Yar’Adua handed over to his deputy, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, the controversy would have been avoided. But the president did not transmit a letter to the National Assembly as required by the constitution before proceeding abroad for medical treatment, thus creating a lacuna.

Justice Kutigi rose to the occasion by personally administering the Oath of Office on his successor.

While he was the CJN, he was accused by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, of trying to influence the course of justice in an appeal in Sokoto governorship election tussle. This scandal forced the National Judicial Council to constitute a five-man probe panel, headed by retired Justice Umaru Abdullahi, to investigate allegations of professional misconduct against the CJN.

The National Judicial Council also suspended Salami. This kick-started a crisis never witnessed before in the history of the Nigerian judiciary.

Salami, was first offered elevation to the Supreme Court which he rejected. He went to court but was suspended while his case was in court. The NJC initially refused to accept service of the court’s proceedings.

The scandal shook the judiciary to its foundation.

Justice Katsina-Alu would also go down in history as the only CJN who would not show up for his valedictory service. Several times he was contacted that a day had been fixed for the solemn ceremony usually held for retiring Justice of the Supreme Court but he told the authorities he was not interested.

Controversies aside, Justice Katsina-Alu was a bold judge who truly believed in the saying ‘let justice be done even if heaven falls’.

Katsina-Alu spent about one and a half decades on the bench of the Supreme Court before he retired in 2011 having attained the mandatory retirement age. He sat on over 406 cases, out of which he delivered 56 leading judgements, 346 concurring judgements and 4 dissenting judgments.

He was a brilliant judge whose erudite judgments contributed to enriching the nation’s jurisprudence.