did not go without its drama as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, alone sat on the high table that should have been traditionally shared by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Isa Salami, pointing to the deepening of the feud between the duo.
Nigerian Tribune had exclusively reported the inauguration of the tribunals at the Supreme Court on Monday, with the event expected to continue today.
A lingering crisis of confidence between the duo appears to have led to a strain in their relationship.
Salami, who has the constitutional right to empanel the tribunals, had emerged from the inner chambers of the justices of the apex court with two justices of the Court of Appeal in tow and made straight for one of the seats where visitors are allowed to sit, taking the front row, moments before Katsina-Alu made his lone entry.
Nigerian Tribune had inquired from a highly-placed source within the system if he had paid the CJN the usual visit before such events, with a negative coming from the source.
The source added that he was also not coming from the office of the CJN, even though he emerged from the justices inner chambers.
Katsina-Alu made his way into the courtroom alone and occupied a seat placed below the normal bench that justices of the court occupy during proceedings, without either of them looking in each other’s direction.
The brief ceremony kicked off immediately the CJN was seated, with the tribunal members taking their oath in front of him in batches.
The court rose immediately after his speech, without any exchange of pleasantries again between him and Salami.
In his speech, Justice Katsina-Alu read the riot act to the members of the tribunals, vowing that the corrupt would be severely dealt with.
According to him: “Any substantiated complaint of impropriety against you will go before the National Judicial Council and you will pay dearly for such. I want to warn you, the chairmen and members of the election tribunals, that you are under the scrutiny of the eyes of the litigants that will come before you, as well as the members of the general public. You have a very heavy responsibility on your shoulders and the earlier you appreciate this, the better for the nation and the image of the judiciary.
“Election petitions, just like the ordinary day-to-day civil cases, are intended to be dealt with by tribunals consistently, fairly, without bias or impartiality.”
Meanwhile, Justice Katsina-Alu, on Monday, warned judges against corruption, adding that any judge found to be corrupt would be dealt with appropriately.
Katsina-Alu stated this on Monday at the opening of a five-day refresher course for judges and khadis at the National Judicial Institute (NJI), Abuja.
The CJN, who was represented by Justice Aloma Mukhtar, urged judicial officers to handle cases without fear or favour to sustain democratic institutions, adding that the enormity of the responsibility, which the democratic governance had placed on the judiciary, demanded that the courts must rise to their constitutional responsibilities.
According to him: “Remember that the continued relevance of our work as judges depends, to a great extent, on public confidence. We must collectively avoid anything that will compromise the preservation of the rule of law.
“Bear in mind at all times that all parties, plaintiffs and defendants, prosecutors and accused appearing before you are not all likely to be satisfied with your rulings and judgments.
“The National Judicial Council would not hesitate to deal as appropriate with any erring member of the Bench in event of proven act of misconduct.”
Earlier, in his address, the administrator of the National Judicial Institute, Justice Umaru Eri, viewed the course as an integral part of the continuing Judicial Education Programme aimed essentially at improving the skills of judicial officers and to apprise them of new ideas and developments in the discharge of their adjudicatory duties.
Justice Eri stressed that the belief that the judiciary was the only hope of the helpless could be validated through strict adherence to the dictates of pure justice and judicial integrity.
The theme of this year’s course is “Ensuring Efficiency in the Administration of Justice.”
Meanwhile, Justice Salami has been dragged before a Federal High Court, for empanelling new election petition tribunals for the forthcoming general election.
In a suit filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Osun State, the court was being asked to restrain him from performing that constitutional role, given the avalanche of probe he was facing for alleged corruption in the performance of same role on the 2007 general election.
Salami is being probed by the Department of the State Security Service (SSS), police, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and a probe panel set up by the National Judicial Council (NJC) headed by his predecessor-in-office, Justice Umaru Abdullahi, over alleged corrupt practices in the determination of gubernatorial election appeals in Osun, Ekiti and Sokoto states.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) would also be stepping into the probe this week, when the investigating team from the judiciary would be meeting with its leadership.
Commission’s spokesperson, Mr Femi Babafemi, confirmed that the meeting, which was cancelled at the last minute last week, would take place this week, though he did not give the exact day of the planned meeting.
The party asked the court to restrain Salami from performing his function of office, pending the hearing and determination of the case.
Joined as defendants in the case were the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), NJC and the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC).
In a motion on notice filed by the party counsel, Mr Segun Ilori, the party wanted the court to also restrain the AGF, NJC and the FJSC from admitting, recognising or treating Justice Salami as the president of the Court of Appeal, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive case before the court.
The party said his continued exercise of powers of president of the Court of Appeal might prejudice the outcome of the investigation.