Justice Salami And An Unjust System

Let me start by saying that my sympathy lies with Justice Ayo Isa Salami the suspended President of the Court of Appeal (PCA) simply because he acted the way I would have acted if I were in his shoes.

But it's a heady even if right way – or, if you like, the right way in the wrong system. The operating system is a "yes sir" one in which you are expected to toe the line, do as you are told and keep your objections in your pocket if you want to keep your job. And that's why I would not touch government job, or indeed any "establishment" job even with a ten-foot pole. I am not cut for it.

Like Justice Salami, I would have kicked against any wrong, any corruption, and any injustice or undue interference in my job. Indeed, I would possibly have done more. I would have gone to my damn boss' office and given him a mouthful if he tried to be silly to my face. But before doing that, I would have packed my bag ready to get on my bike – my back turned on the job!

The years of upright and incorruptible judges like a Justice Kayode Esho, a Justice Ayoola, or a Justice Oputa were sure gone we thought, then comes a Salami who not only delivers courageous judgements against the powers that be but is ready to stake all on the altar of integrity and justice.

Something tells me that someone like Salami would have long formed an unfavourable opinion on the character of Katsina-Alu and the CJN's unwholesome interference in the Sokoto State gubernatorial election tribunal may only have been one attempt too many to pervert the cause of Justice. If it is so, then we may expect a catalogue of earth-shaking revelations on the shenanigans and corruption in the system to be kicked up sooner than later if the system pursues the present ignominious route of seeing to the end of the PCA's career. After all, as Keith Richards said, "If you're going to kick authority in the teeth, you might as well use two feet".

The speedy descent of the faceoff between Salami and Katsina-Alu into this gory mess of national scandal is stuff for fiction. And it is so simply because the sincerity of purpose of the mediating body, the National Judicial Council, (NJC) to be an impartial arbiter is suspect. In passing a verdict over the charges and counter-charges (corruption, perjury, etc) between the PCA and the CJN, a ridiculously minority number determined that whereas neither of the PCA and the CJN was guilty, the PCA was to apologise to the CJN for the PCA's wrongful (media) approach to (family) issues.

Absolute nonsense. It was a bait for only a fool to swallow. And Salami is nobody's fool. An apology from the PCA would've been the nail to a coffin prepared for him. To save the CJN's face (perhaps seeing that his retirement from service was only a month or so away anyway, amongst other possible self-serving considerations), it was alright to splash mud on Salami's face. If Salami would not fall for the "apology bait" then he should be forced to retire and leave the system for the more pliable.

It was clear at this point that short of a prompt presidential intervention nothing could stop the momentum of the roforofo fight. Salami went to court to stop the NJC and Mr President to whom the forceful retirement recommendation was made from acting ultra vires, since constitutionally the process for removal of the CJN or the PCA from office was more windy and required senate assent.

The needed presidential intervention came, but to the chagrin of a nauseated country it was to muddy already muddied water. Discountenancing the judicial imperative not to act prejudicial to matters in court our president went ahead to appoint an "acting" PCA (Justice Dalhatu Adamu) thus recognising, if not affirming, the suspension of the incumbent Salami.

The shock is still reverberating in the land. No matter how much gloss and honey the presidency tries to put on it, it is a slap on the face of our constitution and the judiciary. And it is an action that has now ranged virtually all of the rest of the country against the president, the NJC, and the PDP.

Right now the Nigerian Labour Congress, the Nigerian Bar Association, the National Association of Nigerian Students, the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, the Nigerian Medical Association, and all manners of Human Rights groups are joined in opposition to the illegality of the NJC and the President. They cannot all be wrong; they cannot all be politically motivated or instigated by the ACN and other opposition parties. But would commonsense prevail, or is it already too late?

I cannot but feel sorry for my fellow brothers working for president Jonathan at this point, Reuben Abati and Oronto Douglas in particular. These are guys who would have been at the forefront of the ongoing public disenchantment and protest against the mess of the NJC and the conspiracy of the presidency, were they not presently working for Jonathan! Where were they when the decision was taken to ignore the fact that Salami had gone to court to declare his suspension illegal? Were their voices drowned by those of the more powerful hawks in the system?

The way Goodluck Jonathan has acted in this matter reminds one too much of the way a Chief Olusegun Obasanjo would have acted – impetuous, damning, and wrongheaded – to hell with the law, the courts, and the constitution!

President Jonathan's action is surprising and yet not surprising. Surprising in that he is assumed to be ordinarily a nice gentle guy who would want to stand by his vaunted respect for rule of law and good governance. Then, not surprising as it fits the hard-to-dismiss notion of him as stooge of some powerful forces.

Unfortunately, I cannot see how the imbroglio would resolve in Salami's favour. I cannot see a return to the status quo ante. But neither will it happen that Katsina-Alu will have his reputation intact and his name written in gold at his retirement in a month's time.

This is a battering that the judiciary that is still groping its way back to some respectability and honour after disdainful years under a dominant mass of bad apples (mala poma) – judges that literally shat on the bench – can hardly endure.

The like of Justice Ayo Salami is rare. He will lose his job because the system can neither tolerate nor cage him, but what he stands for shall endure as part of the building blocks in the reconstruction of the judiciary and our dear country.

I'll leave my readers with these two memorable quotes: "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees" – Emiliano Zapata – and, "Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it." Albert Einstein.