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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

accountable.

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

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