A Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday referred a suit filed by the suspended President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, against the Nigeria Judicial Council (NJC), to the Court of Appeal.
Salami had dragged the NJC and 10 other respondents, including Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), to the court over his alleged unlawful suspension.
Delivering the ruling, Justice Donatus Okorowo held that only the appellate court could determine whether the suit should be heard in the Federal High Court or the National Industrial Court.
The plaintiff had further prayed the court to allow the appellate court to determine why he was suspended without due process.
“A trial court is statutorily obligated to stay proceedings in a case when an issue bordering on jurisdiction is raised.
“In the circumstance, the plaintiff has by way of a question raised an issue on whether it was the prerogative of the Federal High Court or the National Industrial Court to adjudicate on the case.
“The best thing to do in this regard is to allow the Court of Appeal to determine the issue; the case is hereby transferred to the appellate for determination.
“Consequent upon this, proceedings on the rest issues will not continue in this court, therefore, the matter is stayed pending the decision of the Court of Appeal on jurisdiction,’’ Okorowo said.
In his reply to the application for referral, the counsel to the NJC, Mr Mike Ozekhome (SAN), contended that the issues which Salami sought to refer to the Court of Appeal were not on jurisdiction.
He argued that the issues bordered on the substantive matter “which requires evidence to be taken’’.
Ozekhome submitted that the court could not be called upon to transfer such questions to the Court of Appeal without first considering and determining them.
According to him, it is after the trial court has decided on the questions that they can be challenged in the appellate court.
“It is wrong for the Court of Appeal to come in now because those issues are the very substance of the case upon which evidence must be taken and argued in the trial court,’’ he said.
Chief Akin Olujimi (SAN), the counsel to Salami, had urged the court to disregard Ozekhome’s submissions, saying that the questions raised on behalf of his client for referral to the Court of Appeal satisfied all known parameters for reference.
Salami is challenging his removal from office which was a fallout of his allegation against former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Katsina Alu over the Sokoto state governorship election matter and other corrupt activities allegedly committed by the former CJN.
A panel raised by the National Judicial Council to look into the allegations cleared the former CJN of the alleged offences and directed Justice Salami to tender an apology to Katsina Alu.
Salami’s refusal to comply subsequently led to his removal from office while the case he instituted against the NJC was pending before the court.
No date has being fixed for the determination of the issues by the appellate court.