THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu
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By Mohammed Adamu
Sometime in 2008 I was at the Abuja residence of my Principal, Aminu Wali, then Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the U.N, and quite unusually I met him agonizing over an article written by Sam Nda Isaiah, and in which the ‘Leadership’ publisher, made an unwarranted allegation against justices of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Idris Kutigi. Wali’s bosom friend, Justice Dahiru Musdapher was one of them.
The allegation, in an article titled ‘UWAIS VISITING KUTIGI?’ was that the Chief Justice and his colleagues might be plotting to pervert the course of electoral justice in Buhari’s 2007 Presidential Election Petition against Yaradua. And this, Isaiah himself admitted emanated from ‘hearsay’ -that a ‘notoriously disreputable’ former Chief Justice, Uwais, visited Kutigi’s office at a time the Apex Court’s verdict was awaited. It was this office-hour meeting between a predecessor and his successor, that Isaiah described as “frightening” because, according to him, it was pregnant with the possibility of preemptive interference with the outcome of that petition which was before Kutigi and others.
In fact Isaiah said that all other justices were “scared” seeing such a ‘disreputable’ man, Uwais visiting the man (Kutigi) who “they believed was about restoring their honor and dignity” -by this suggesting, rather mischievously, that: (1), Kutigi’s ruling alone and not a majority of the judges’ would determine Buhari’s petition; (2), that no outcome would be ‘just’ unless it favored Isaiah’s principal Buhari; (3), that an Uwais visiting Kutigi was a threat to that favorable ruling; (4), that all the justices of the Supreme Court, at that material time had neither ‘honor’ nor ‘dignity and (5), that only a pro-Buhari ruling could restore those virtues.
My rebuttal of that piece simply condemned the partisan, sub-judicial insinuations of a journalist against Judges based merely on speculation. It condemned Isaiah’s exploitation of media privilege to assail the character and reputation of justices who had not the luxury of public self-defense; plus I lamented his predatory brand of journalism intended to intimidate judges “to abandon the due judicial process” in favor of partisan -or public- opinion. And since there was no law barring a former CJN from visiting his successor, I even had the luxury –though not being a lawyer- of quoting a principle of law which says that “What is not relevant if proved, ought not to have been alleged in the first place” (or: allegari non debuit, quod probatum non relevat).
And although Aminu Wali informed me that Musdapher and his colleagues appreciated my article, I did not know the extent of that appreciation, until sometime in 2011 when the same Wali -now Nigeria’s Ambassador to China- called to say that his friend, the newly appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria CJN, Dahiru Musdapher would like to see me immediately. When we met Musdapher, would recall and thank me again for that article, saying plainly that the ‘language’ of that piece being ‘neither overtly legalese nor blatantly journalese’, was the reason he wanted me to be his media Adviser as he was just about to embark on a program of judicial reform.
And for the next 11 months, a four-man team of Abubakar Maidama, currently Secretary of the National Judicial Institute NJI, Hadiza Santali, now Director Monitoring and Evaluation at the National Judicial Council, NJC, Bello Tambawal, a former Director of Finance at the Supreme Court and my humble self, had a swell time assisting Justice Musdapher showcase one of the most public-spirited judicial reform programs ever conducted by a Chief Justice.
And for me, the most challenging part of that experience was the CJN once handing over to me two ‘sack-loads’ of documents -containing mostly petitions on the Katsina Alu-Ayo Salami issue- and requesting that I read them and in two days turn in a 3-page memo which he intended to send to the President recommending the recall of Justice Salami from what he painstakingly explained to me was an unjust suspension. It seemed like Musdapher wanted this memo as some kind of moral prerequisite to the restoration of the integrity of the Judiciary which his reform program was about to embark upon. And he said to me that he wanted the memo written in a language ‘neither overtly legalese nor blatantly journalese’. Something I thought Jonathan could easily be moved by.
And I remember wondering ‘why I have principals who always pump up my adrenaline with difficult tasks?’ In 2000, during the maiden anniversary of the PDP Musdapher’s friend Aminu Wali -then Special Adviser to Obasanjo- did the same to me at the International Conference Center. Barely an hour to the arrival of the President, the Party’s Chair then, Solomon Lar rushed to inform my Aminu Wali that the President was not coming because he learnt there was no prepared speech; but that Atiku who would represent him, would be an hour late so that by then the Anniversary Committee should prepare a speech for him. Without hesitation Aminu Wali turned to me as he proudly informed a confused Lar not to worry, “my S.A. here will do that.” How I did it is story for another day. And it was on the same kind of adrenaline that I chewed and digested Musdapher’s ‘sacks’ of documents, to write the 3-page letter to the President.
By the way the thrust of Justice Musdapher’s memo to Jonathan, was: (1), that, there was no evidence before any of the National Judicial Council NJC’s panels that investigated Justice Salami, to justify any findings of contravention of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers; (2), that, although Salami’s alleged breach was that he granted press interview, none of the panels that investigated him questioned him on that –as such he could not have been found guilty of a misconduct he was not given fair hearing to defend; (3), that, notwithstanding the merits or otherwise of the charge against him, the NJC’s order for his suspension was made when the matter itself was before the courts and was thus sub-judice; and (4), that in fact the last reviewing Committee, having found that Salami’s suspension was “ill motivated”, had recommended that he be reinstated.
Needless to say that, President Jonathan did not reinstate Salami; nor did he even acknowledge the Chief Justice’s letter.
In any case, three days to Musdapher ’s retirement, a certain Justice of the Supreme Court invited me to his Chamber, where there was, packed in a corner -this time- a ‘truckload’ of some three-part collection of the judgments of Justice Musdapher, which this ‘Judge’ said he had personally commissioned. I was suddenly adrenaline-charged. I thought he would request that I help review the books ‘in two days’, using -as Musdapher would say- a language ‘not overtly legalese and not blatantly journalese’. But no, the ‘Judge’ said he had earlier planned to propose these books for launch at the CJN’s valedictory but that some other candidate books had already been chosen –and launched. And now he was stuck with a N2.8 million debt incurred by a private Chamber he had contracted for the job. Plus, the frustrated Chamber was now demanding immediate reimbursement. He swore to me he could not pay, pleading I should help him talk to the CJN “before they humiliate me”.
Suddenly, reviewing the books ‘in two days’, using a language ‘not overtly legalese and not blatantly journalese’, now seemed more appealing to me than getting an outgoing Chief Justice pay N2.8 million in 48 hours for a project he knew nothing about. And even as I pitifully wondered why a judge at this apex level should be in such beggarly situation over such measly amount, I still felt obligated to help. And surprisingly, when I informed Musdapher, he was so deeply touched he even rejected the idea of leaving behind an official directive for the poor ‘Judge’ to be reimbursed, preferring instead, to sign a personal cheque of N3million for the man.
And when I phoned to give the distraught ‘Judge’ the good news, he was almost crying as he repeatedly prayed: “God, as this man has saved me from humiliation, may you save him from humiliation in this world and in the hereafter”. And to which I repeated ‘Amin, amin’. As I do even now, to all the prayers said in repose of the gentle soul of My Lord the Chief Justice, Dahiru Musdapher. Adieu.