The committee set up by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to investigate the face-off between Nigeria’s Chief Justice, Aloysious Katsina-Alu and the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, has indicted the Chief Justice and two lawyers, Alfred Agu and Mahmood Yahaya.
Members of the committee included Chief Thompson Okpoko, Chief Idowu Sofola, Chief Bamidele Aiku, Dr. S. S. Ameh, Prof. G. A. Olawoyin, E.J.J. Toro, Chief Asam Asam, Mr. Marcus Saleh and Mr. Oba Ulasi. Other members were Mrs. Stella Ugboma, Alhaji M.U. Ibrahim and Mr. Ebenzer Obeya who acted as the secretary of the committee.
In its final report submitted to the NBA, the Chief Thompson Okpoko–led 12-man panel averred that petitions from the lawyers led the CJN to direct that the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the Sokoto governorship dispute should be put on hold. That was however done without considering what the lawyers were alleging.
The committee reported that “when Justice Salami refused to interfere with the proceedings of the Sokoto Election Appeal Panel, Messrs Agu and Mahmood took the matter to the CJN who readily acceded to their request and, without considering what the petitioners were alleging as misconduct, promptly directed that further proceedings on the appeal be put on hold”.
The panel also reported that “by these petitions, both counsel played material part in the action taken by the CJN which brought about the crisis in the judiciary which resulted in the CJN/Salami standoff”.
The committee also pointed out that the petitions of Agu and Mahmood were all tailored to achieve one purpose which was to delay the hearing and determination of the election appeal filed by Alhaji Muhammadu Dingyadi and his party, the Democratic Peoples’ Party (DPP).
The Okpoko committee reported that ”the visits by Mahmood to Salami with a view to influence him to disband the Sokoto Governorship Election Panel set up by him on basis of personal relationship when other counsel in the appeal were not present constitutes a breach of Rule 31(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct of Legal Practitioners.”
The committee also stated that the petition addressed by Mahmood to the CJN with intent that Katsina-Alu might influence Salami in the performance of his judicial duties constituted a breach of Rule 30 of the Rules of Profesional Conduct for Legal Practitioners.
The report also stated that contrary to allegations that the judgment of the Sokoto election appeal panel was leaked, it did not find any proceedings showing a judgment of the Sokoto Court of Appeal in which such judgment or order was made.
The CJN had invited Salami and requested him to disband the Sokoto Governorship Election Appeal Panel which heard the appeal on January 18, 2010, on the grounds that the petition he received contained an allegation that the judgment of the appeal panel which was yet to be delivered had leaked.
The committee’s report however indicated that there was no record to show that the judgment was even prepared by the panel.
Meanwhile, the National Judicial Council had also set up a five-man panel, headed by a former president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Umaru Abdullahi, to also investigate the Katsina-Alu, Salami face-off. The panel had retired justices A. V. Wali, A. Iguh, Olayinka Ayoola and Mustapha Akanbi as members.
In its own report, the NJC committee noted that the failure of Salami’s predecessor to constitute the panel to hear the said appeal laid the foundation for the crisis on the grounds that Mahmood and Senator Umar Dahiru went to see Salami to ask why he constituted the panel which his predecessor did not constitute.
The panel exonerated Justice Salami since no serious complaints of misconduct were made against him in any of the petitions by Agu and Mahmood.
It was stated in the panel’s report that the NJC or the CJN has no power to interfere in any judicial proceedings as Katsina-Alu did on the Sokoto governorship dispute.
It also stated that “be that as it may, the Panel had no difficulty in holding the view that under the Constitution and the laws of the land, no apparent power has been bestowed on the NJC of which the CJN is the chairman to interfere in any proceedings of the legally constituted Court.
The Panel however stated that it found no semblance of ill-motive, selfishness of an individual or sectional interest being used to subvert the Constitution in the steps taken by the CJN, Chairman of NJC.
The 153 page report concluded that “in view of the surrounding circumstances, the Panel finds that the CJN was motivated by an apparent urge to protect the administration of justice and avoid breach of peace. The Panel finds that the CJN acted in good faith to have taken the steps he took.”