Truth Never Dies

Truth Never Dies

Monday, June 23, 2014 7:13 pm

By Ayo Salami

I want to first of all thank the Almighty God that has kept and seen me through the travails of the last three years of my judicial career. I am indeed honoured to be found worthy by this vibrant Bar to chair this august public lecture in memory of a great legal mind, a worthy ambassador of the legal profession and one of the greatest human right activists of his time. The late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, like we all know, gave voice to the voiceless, hope to the hopeless and most importantly lived his entire life in the service of God and humanity. There is no gainsaying the fact that lawyers and human right activists like this courageous late legal icon are few and far between in the present generation. It is disheartening that we hear less of those Gani mentored and I hope that his struggles in the enforcement of fundamental human rights to all manner of persons would not have been in vain.

Justice Isa Salami

Justice Isa Salami

I am happy that I have also been able to make a difference in my own little way to ensure that as humans and irrespective of our positions in life, we diligently and honestly serve the cause of justice at all times. I am sure you will agree with me that this noble cause comes with a price. I must say here that in paying that price, the Nigerian Bar Association at the national level under the leadership of Mr. J.B. Daudu (SAN) stood solidly by me and you were very much a part of it. I recall some of the participants at the Nigerian Bar Association stood solidly behind any person as they did for me at that conference and I am very grateful for this. In fact a Committee was set up by the Nigerian Bar Association, headed by Chief T.J.O. Okpoko (SAN); and in their own unbiased investigation of the feud between Hon. Justice Katsina-Alu and myself exonerated me in totality and found me blameless on all points.

I also recall that your Branch held a procession to the Governor’s Office, Alausa in the rain that same year to protest the injustice being meted out to me and submitted a letter on the issue to the state Governor, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, for onward transmission to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. There were also several other television appearances by your present Chairman, Mr. O. Ubani, Mr. Jiti Ogunye and other members of your Branch advocating or calling for justice to be done in my case. I appreciate you all and pray that your Branch will continue to flourish and remain focused.

It is worthy of note that actions such as yours held in many other places all over the Federation including the editorials of almost all national dallies calling for my recall before, and particularly after, the National Judicial Council reversed its recommendation to suspend and retire me. I was thus vindicated because you stood for truth and justice. It is said that the voice of the people is the voice of God. In saner and just climes my recall would have been promptly done; but the situation in Nigeria is different!

It is a disturbing fact today in Nigeria that anyone who desires to stand on the path of truth and justice must be prepared to suffer persecution; incarceration and other mean treatments. Perhaps this is a part of our growing process; but how long will it take us to grow? Innumerable number of people have suffered and still continue to suffer in defence of truth and justice in Nigeria. Yet those who cause their fellow human beings to be incarcerated, suffer or at times killed without any just cause must know that sooner or later the law of retribution will surely catch up with them. So, if we have sworn to do justice to all, that justice must be done without fear or favour, irrespective of whose ox is gored. Also those who aid and abet meting out acts of cruelty to their fellow human beings, i.e. maligning, telling lies against them or also subverting the course of justice for pecuniary and other worldly gains, will one day stand before God, the ultimate judge, to give an account of their stewardship.

All of us are asking for a just and equitable society but until people in positions of authority think less of holding on to their positions at the expense of truth and people who offer advice do so with the fear of God in their hearts, this desire will always elude us.

The problem with the Nigerian judiciary is that some dishonourable people, not fit to be judges, get into the stream and then make it to the highest level of the judicial career. Another major point why the problem with the judiciary will remain unresolved or even compounded for a long time is that Nigerians do not naturally want the truth to be told. Whoever dares to tell the truth is marked for destruction. You members of the Bar often tell sordid stories or tales of certain high ranking serving or retired (so called heavyweight) judicial officers who act as “arranges” or couriers of bribe. That is, such are engaged at a fee to reach out to judges to influence or “purchase” justice in certain sensitive cases, but nobody dares to give details. Nobody invariably wants to “bell the cat”, as it is often said.

I must say that as a matter of fact, part of my “sins” is the fact that God helped me throughout my career to resist all temptations to be influenced by anybody in dispensing justice. My conscience is intact and my relationship with my God (to whom I am accountable) is sacred and also intact.

I should like to let you know that in the course of my travails, the NJC set up the Auta Committee (Justice Auta is a completely junior judge or judicial officer to me) to make recommendation on the NJC investigative panel (Justice Umaru Abdullahi’s Panel). This was meant to humiliate me. But God turned the humiliation to vindication for me, in that the Auta Committee adopted a laughable procedure by introducing a completely new dimension to the case without giving me any hearing at all.

The issue of my breaking the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers by speaking to the press was never raised, not to talk of being tried at the NJC Investigative Panel. The Auta Committee, however, flew above its mandate and said it took “judicial notice” of the fact that I spoke to the press and this formed part of the recommendations of his Committee which was supposed to act only on the NJC Investigative Panel’s findings. As I said above, I was never called upon to defend the issue before the Auta Committee. During the period, I had a case pending at the Federal High Court in Abuja to stop the proceedings before the Committee.

When told by a member of the Committee that I had a case challenging their sitting at the Federal High Court and that they should not proceed on the assignment, he said they had not been served and were not inclined to stop further proceedings on the matter. Obviously, the conclusion was already predetermined because it is very elementary that what was important was not service but notice of the process. Why I said at the beginning that I was vindicated on this issue is that Justice Auta, as a result of this effort to implicate me at all cost fell into the same grave error as he did before, which Niki Tobi (JCA as he then was ) condemned in the election petition case of Oriobuna V. Obiorah (1999)8 NWLR (PE 616) 622 at 645 – 646 thus:

‘Is the judicial conduct of Auta J. consistent with the position of the law? Why did the learned Judge sit over a case as Chairman of a Tribunal, a case he had heard earlier as a judge of the Federal High Court? Why did he refuse to take the motion challenging or contesting his membership, better, chairmanship of the Tribunal?… What type of thing is this! It is most strange to me, strange in the sense that Auta J. sat on the panel and admitted the case file which arose from the proceedings he held at the Federal High Court, Abuja in his capacity as a judge of that court. It is this type of thing that makes the Hausa man exclaim ‘Haba’! and the Ibo man say ‘Ewo’. While I will not so exclaim, I must express my worry and I must say that I have never come across this type of procedure in all my little experience in the profession…

I had already briefly spoken on the role Hon. Justice Moses Bello played in my matter in another forum and I will not dwell on this again except to add that were it not for the decline in the Nigerian judicial system, an inexperienced Customary Court Judge could not have presided over the affairs of the National Judicial Council.
The irony of the situation in the Nigerian Judiciary is that these same men and some others like them still sit as members of the National Judicial Council, a body charged with the responsibility to appoint and discipline judicial officers. One wonders where lies the hope of the common man in getting justice with these crops of men at the helm affairs at the NJC. This is why, in spite of the disposition of the present Chief Justice of Nigeria, all her efforts to rid the Judiciary of corrupt elements are being frustrated.

When the controversy surrounding my suspension was raging, a young member of the profession soliloquised that if Gani (of blessed memory whom we are celebrating today) were alive, he would have gone to court. I agree, but to which court would he have gone? An intimidated and frightened court? All it requires is a call to the head of the court and it is done. Or how does one explain the Supreme Court’s decision in Dingyadi v. Wamakko? In this case, the Supreme Court invoked the provision of its rule to override an express provision of the constitution which forbids Supreme Court from hearing appeal election matters to dismiss an appeal that was not pending before it. I am aware that the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Dingyadi v. Wamakko has been beyond stating that history and posterity will bring out the truth and eventually unravel what went wrong in the fullness of time. However, permit me to state that whatever happens or goes wrong in the Judicial system, lawyers (particularly some senior lawyers) are involved. There are some who have the capacity to influence and intimidate the courts and they do it with relish.

I wish the Nigerian Bar Association would have the will, ability and capacity to implement the recommendations of the Okporo Committee that carried out NBA’s independent investigation into the Sokoto case which led to my travails. Unfortunately, NBA which had a good report in its hand could not impose sanctions on members of the Bar that were indicted therein (probably because “prominent” senior lawyers were involved).

Again, we have to leave this to history, posterity and ultimately God. One thing I know for sure is that if Gani were alive and in charge, he would not have allowed the matter to be swept under the carpet. Sometimes (and when it matters) some members of the Bar representing NBA on NJC hardly stand up for the truth not to talk of speaking the truth.

These are matters the Nigerian Bar Association must tackle. They should not be regarded as their problem. It is our joint problem because the profession they are damaging belongs to us all.

I feel the pathway towards repositioning our legal and judicial system is that some restructuring needs to be effected and I make the following suggestions:

  1. The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) should cease to be the chairman of the National Judicial Council so that the occupants of the office would stop taking undue advantage of powers of the CJN as Chairman of the Council as enshrined in the Constitution to abuse their office. For example, the Inspector-General of Police is not the Chairman of the Police Service Commission.
  2. Each of the federating states should be allowed to have its own Court of Appeal and Supreme Court to better adjudge on the respective disputes and appeal on matters falling within their legislative competence. There is no gainsaying the fact that a Judge from the core South may not know how to better to resolve disputes of the man from the core North and vice versa. If this cannot be financed by states, then the zones should create such for the states constituted in them. Constitutional issues and issues between states can be left to the Federal Court of Appeal and the Federal Supreme Court.
  3. Federal High Court, state High courts and National Industrial Court should be vested with the same jurisdiction to avoid cost of litigation and delay arising from contentious issue of jurisdiction.
  4. Members of the National Judicial Council should not accept executive appointments including briefs from the Executive during their tenure.
  5. In no circumstance should justices appointed to the Court to Appeal and the Supreme Court on ground of Sharia or Customary Law be permitted to participate in Common Law as well as constitutional cases.
  6. Finally, Gani Fawehinmi has done his part in fighting for truth and justice. He has left a legacy that his entire family and, in fact, lovers of truth the world over are proud of it. It is because TRUTH NEVER DIES that Gani Fawehinmi and others like him will be honoured for ever.

The elites must have a rethink if Nigeria is not going to collapse.
Thank you for the honour.

– Address of the Chairman, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, President Court Of Appeal (rtd), at the Gani Fawehinmi annual public lecture, organised by the Ikeja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association recently at Airport Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos.

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