By Law Mefor
The Judiciary being the last hope of the common man is a proven
necessity. For most Nigerians living in a country where impunity is
the order of the day, the Judiciary really needs to live up to this
maxim. But it is a tall order as this Arm of Government is expected by
all to keep above board, no matter what is happening in the polity.
More importantly, the Institution has to be totally insulated from
politics and corruption. Ensuring this is the reason for establishing
the Nigerian Judiciary Council (NJC) in the first place.
To place it in perspective, the NJC is empowered by Part 1 of the 3rd
Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999
(as amended), to handle the complaints made against judges and all
other categories of judicial officers and disciplining them. Saddling
the NJC with a function of such delicate nature places it under public
scrutiny all the time and informed observers, for veritable reasons,
do not also want the body to be enmeshed in what could make the faith
the people have in it be shaken.
The NJC once came into public odium in the recent time with the case
between a former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloysius
Katsina-Alu and a former President of the Court of Appeal (PCA),
Justice Ayo Isa Salami, when the two were rutted against each other to
the chagrin of the Nigerians public. Many could not come to terms with
the decision of Salami to reject his elevation to the Supreme Court,
what ordinarily was a promotion. From the reactions of Salami
nonetheless, many soon leant the promotion was but a Greek gift.
Thus it became a dance of the absurd when Salami went to the High
Court to depose to an affidavit in which he accused Katsina-Alu of
interference in the judgment of the Appeal Panel in the Sokoto State
Gubernatorial Election. Expectedly, the NJC waded into that
embarrassing situation between the two most ranking Judicial Officers
and prevailed on Justice Salami to withdraw the Court Case with a
promise to resolve the matter amicably.
What the NJC did next however had many tongues wagging; after its
investigations, it shockingly returned a verdict of indictment against
Salami for the same affidavit, which the Council had prevailed on him
to withdraw and added that Salami lied on oath against Katsina-Alu.
The Council did not stop there; it asked Salami to apologize to
Katsina- Alu and the NJC. Salami said over his dead body and returned
to the trenches against Katsina-Alu and added NJC as well to his foes
by instituting fresh Court Case against both.
The NJC moved swiftly ahead of Salami and recommended his compulsory
retirement to the President who promptly obliged. Though the matter is
still pending before the court for determination, Salami?s retirement
age has caught up with it in the ensuing corrosion of time and he may
no longer return to office even if he wins. So, head or tail, NJC and
former CJN Katsina-Alu won and therein lays the danger that may
imperil the Judiciary, the so-called last hope of the common man.
Another acid test is afoot: the case, which appears to be headed the
Salami way, is the Motion Exparte of Justice Gladys Olotu against the
NJC before Justice Ademola Adeniyi of Abuja High Court seeking Order
Certiorari for Judicial Review of her suspension and subsequent
retirement. The Court has granted her leave to pursue the matter.
President Goodluck Jonathan, Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Attorney
General of the Federation were all joined.
Presumably keeping in line also with its extant powers to hear
Complaints and see to the disciplining of judges, the NJC set up two
investigative panels to look into the complaints against Justice
Gladys Kpenikpe Olotu and Justice U. J. Inyang, both of Abuja High
Court. Justice Inyang appears to have let go but Olotu, like Justice
Salami, may be headed for a showdown with the NJC if the latter does
thread softly on matters of law, whereupon it based its recommendation
of compulsory retirement against her.
Justice Gladys Olotu and U. J. Inyang were recommended by NJC to
President Goodluck Jonathan for compulsory retirement on grounds of
gross misconduct. In the case of Olotu, the NJC said she was
recommended for compulsory retirement in line with the findings of the
Investigative Panel set up by the council on the allegations contained
in the petitions against her. The two real allegations are: 1) Justice
Olotu failed to deliver judgment for 18 months in a certain case after
the final address by all the counsels in the suit had been entered
into, as against the constitutional provision that judgments should be
delivered within a period of 90 days.
Justice Olotu however while appearing before the 3-man Investigative
Panel, graphically showed why the provision could not hold out in her
own case. She had started the case in Uyo Division of the Federal High
Court and later was transferred to Port Harcourt Division where the
Court case was later also transferred and concluded by her. But before
she could deliver judgment, she was again transferred to the Abuja
Division and by rule, she was not supposed to carry the Case File with
her. Though it was one of the allegations against her, contrary to the
claim, she left the Case File in Port Harcourt as expected. And for
her to still deliver Judgment on the matter, a Fiat was needed from
the Abuja Chief Judge, which was eventually issued. This however took
time, which was not her making and she holds she ought not to be held
The Second contentious issue was that Justice Olotu entertained a
post-judgment matter in Port Harcourt after delivering judgment, which
made her functus officio. Justice Olotu explained and argued that the
issue totally bordered on Garnishee Proceedings and therefore
perfectly in order. Olotu states that Garnishee Proceedings in law
allow a party that won in a case to process part or whole of his/their
claims where the losing party has filed stay of execution. Despite
explanations, NJC still went ahead to recommend her for compulsory
retirement. Justice Olotu now seeks the intervention of a common
superior ? the Courts.
If indeed the delay in delivering judgment was caused by her transfer
and other intervening variables that were outside her control and
official time, setting that aspect aside in the Court is trite. The
tricky one may be the Garnishee Proceedings where she argues that the
allegations made against her in this regard are issues to be decided
by the Appeal Court and not the NJC. On this too, Justice Olotu cited
decided cases to show that a judgment creditor can apply for Garnishee
Order Nisi to enforce the judgment entered in his favour. One of the
cases said that garnishee proceedings are separate proceedings between
the judgment creditor and the person or body, who has custody of the
assets of the judgment debtor even though it flows from the judgment
that pronounced the debt owing.
Another decided case had it that garnishee proceedings are legitimate
exercises of the right of a party to employ auxiliary methods to
enforce the judgment obtained in his favour, and they are competent
not-withstanding the pendency of a motion for stay of execution. It
has also been decided in the past that the existence of an
application, seeking for an order of stay of execution of a judgment
does not preclude a judgment creditor from seeking to use Garnishee
proceedings to enforce the judgment. Therefore, the contention of a
respondent that an appellant is un-entitled to enforce a judgment in
its favour to Garnishee Proceedings because the respondent filed an
application for stay of execution is unsustainable.
It is not just the reputation of the NJC that is at stake here but
much more. If a motion for stay of execution cannot stop the
application of Garnishee Proceedings, then, her argument based on such
decided cases, as is usually done in law, cannot be basis for the
allegation of gross misconduct leveled against her really unless the
NJC is being economical with the truth.
The initial appeal by Justice Olotu that the NJC should seek
interpretation of Garnishee Proceedings and its applications, since it
solely based its ruling of misconduct against her on it, is a
challenge the body ought to have taken up in the interest of the Law,
justice and its public image. This would have also saved the embattled
Judge from appearing to be another Salami by making her appear to be
pitting her interest against that of the Olympian Judicial body. But
Justice Olotu has a name to protect and needs to fight to the bitter
end. Yet, while the matter rages, it is the reputation of the
Judiciary that is suffering.
As the last hope of the common man, the Judiciary really needs to be
shielded from such avoidable murky acrimony, which belittles it in
public eye. The President can however intervene by reversing the
decision and that way, save the Judicial Arm from itself and by so
doing, shore up its suffering credibility.
* Law Mefor, Forensic Psychologist, Author and Journalist, is National
Coordinator, Transform Nigeria Movement, Abuja. E-mail:
[email protected]; tel.:234-803-787-2893