Controversially removed under Jonathan, Justice Ayo Salami returns to lead monitoring of corruption cases

Six years after he was controversially removed as the President of the Court of Appeal, Ayo Salami was on Wednesday appointed by the National Judicial Council, NJC, as head of its committee for monitoring corruption cases nationwide.

The NJC approved the establishment of the Financial Cases Trial Monitoring Committee with Mr. Salami as its head.

A statement from the NJC’s Director of Communications, Soji Oye, said the decision was taken at the 82nd meeting of the NJC, which started on Wednesday.

The meeting which is expected to continue on Thursday is meant to consider among other things the various restructuring plans initiated recently for the justice sector by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen.

According to the statement, the committee is to be comprised of 15 members, including Kashim Zannah, the chief judge of Bornu State, P. O Nnadi, the chief judge of Imo State, and his counterpart from Delta State, Marshal Umukoro.

Others are M. L. Abimbola, the chief judge of Oyo State; Abubakar Mahmood, President of the Nigeria Bar Association, Wole Olanikpekun, a former president of the NBA; Olisa Agbakoba, Joseph Daudu, and Augustine Alegeh, all former NBA presidents. Others are Garba Tetengi, and R.I Inga, members of the NJC.

Other members include the NJC’s Secretary, Gambo Saleh and representatives from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, Ministry of Justice and non-governmental organisations respectively.

“The Committee’s primary functions include; regular monitoring and evaluation of proceedings at designated courts for financial and economic crimes nationwide; advising the Chief Justice of Nigeria on how to eliminate delay in the trial of alleged corruption cases; giving feedback to the Council on progress of cases in the designated courts, conducting background checks on judges selected for the designated courts; and evaluating the performance of the designated courts,” Mr. Oye said.

According to the statement, the setting up of the new committee is in compliance with the resolve of the chief justice on September 18, to ensure special attention to cases of fraud and finance related trials in courts.

The ultimate objective, the statement added, is the reduction in the delay of corruption cases and a speedy resolution of corruption matters by the judiciary.

While the membership of the committee has thrown up discussions among informed Nigerians, it is the selection of Mr. Salami to head it that appears most surprising.

Mr. Salami, a former President of the Appeal Court, was suspended following his alleged disclosure to the media, of an attempt by the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Aloysius Katsina-Alu, to influence the decision of the Appeal Court, in a Sokoto governorship election matter pending before the court at the time.

Based on the recommendations of a panel which investigated petitions against Messrs. Salami and Katsina-Alu respectively, the former was found guilty by the findings of the panel, headed by Ibrahim Auta. Mr. Salami was accused of lying on oath against the then CJN and asked to apologise to Mr. Katsina-Alu within 7 days. The Justice Auta-led panel’s recommendation was received by the NJC on August 9, 2011.

Reacting to the panel’s report, Mr. Salami approached the Federal High Court, challenging the recommendations of the panel.

While that matter was pending in court, the NJC held an emergency meeting on August 18, with most of its principal members absent and suspended Mr. Salami, immediately replacing him with an acting appeal court president, Dalhatu Adamu.

Despite the apparent sub-judice in the suspension of Mr. Salami and the failure of the NJC to follow the right channel, by recommending the said suspension first to the President, Goodluck Jonathan, Mr. Jonathan approved Mr. Salami’s suspension.

Eight months later, in April 2012, the NJC, headed by the then new Chief Justice of Nigeria, Dahiru Musdapher, recommended the reinstatement of Mr. Salami to President Jonathan. That NJC recommendation was, however, not implemented.

The NJC, under Mr. Musdapher had hinged its decision to recall Mr. Salami on the findings of a three-member committee headed by a retired justice, Mamman Nasir.

Explaining its reasons for dismissing the allegations against Mr. Salami, Mr. Nasir said; “It became evident that Katsina-Alu CJN’s administrative decision that the case should be put on hold, should not be made by him. In any case, the CJN should not in the first place have written direct to the Justices in Sokoto judicial division as the power to do so lies in the PCA (President of the Court of Appeal).”

Giving reason for the presidency’s refusal to approve the reinstatement of Mr. Salami, the then Attorney General, Mohammed Adoke, said the presidency could not act on the matter, because a case was already pending in court regarding Mr. Salami’s suspension.

The case cited by Mr. Adoke as reason for the presidency’s action was filed by a private lawyer, Amobi Nzelu, but curiously distributed to the media by the presidency.

Despite the explanations given by the former AGF, many had at the time ascribed the president’s refusal to widespread criticism of Mr. Salami by members of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party. Mr. Salami was accused by PDP members of allowing the Appeal Court to rule against it in various election petitions which eventually led to opposition parties reclaiming seats.

Until his compulsory retirement in 2013, Mr. Salami was never reinstated by the former president.

SOURCE: Premium Times