by Chi Ibe
The National Judicial Council (NJC) has withdrawn the suspension of president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami.
The decision came after a tense meeting in Abuja yesterday which saw the election favour Justice Salami with 10 votes while 8 members of the body voted against him.
Salami was suspended by the NJC last August but a 29-member Judicial Reform Committee set up by the CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, on October 14 recommended his reinstatement. A sub-committee of the panel, which includes Justice Mamman Nasir, Justice U. Kalgo and Justice Bola Ajibola, asked the CJN and the NJC to reinstate Salami.
See more details in the Nigerian Tribune:
A council source told the Nigerian Tribune that members of the council were asked by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Dahiru Musdapher, to study the processes alongside the report of the Justice Mariam Aloma-Mukthar’s five-man reconciliation committee, which recommended Salami’s reinstatement despite its reported failure to meet with the other main actor in the crisis of confidence that rocked the judiciary last year, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu.
When the meeting resumed on Thursday, members were said to have argued for and against the consideration of the Mukthar committee’s recommendation due to the pendency of the Oyinlola and PDP’s suit on the one hand, and the suit tabled before the Court of Appeal, Abuja by Salami himself on the other hand, in which he claimed that the NJC was not his employers and could not sanction him.
Apart from the two suits, there are two others brought by the Assistant Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Abuja Branch, Noah Ajare and former governor of Ekiti State, Chief Segun Oni, kicking against the consideration of the reinstatement recommendation, given the refusal of Salami to withdraw his suit against the council.
In Oni’s case, which is now at the Court of Appeal, he is pushing for Salami’s prosecution for perjury, which was given life by the testimony of Musdapher during the alleged corruption probe of Salami and Katsina-Alu, wherein he claimed that Salami lied on oath on his allegation against Katsina-Alu.
Aside the suits, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) had also launched a fresh investigation at the prompting of Oyinlola into allegations that communications firm, MTN Nigeria, manipulated the call logs of Salami to provide a soft-landing for him during the probe of his alleged unethical communication with chieftains of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
MTN had recently confessed that it released the call logs rejected by the NJC probe panel for being of doubtful origin; a position that created room for the clean bill given to Salami on the handling of Ekiti and Osun governorship appeals by the Justice Umaru Abdullahi probe panel.
It was learnt that while a majority of the jurists on the council were disposed to the body respecting the pendency of the cases in court, especially Salami’s, lawyer-members were said to have argued in favour of total disregard of the pending suits in the consideration of the Mukthar panel’s recommendation.
Members who reportedly pushed for the council to overreach the courts reportedly argued that there was no restraining order emanating on Oyinlola and PDP’s case, while also reportedly submitting that the decision to sanction Salami was also taken in defiance of his pending suit in court.
After more than three hours without a compromise, Justice Musdapher, who a council source disclosed had been on high-wire trouble-shooting to resolve the issue before his departure from office in about two months time, reportedly called for voting on whether or not the Mukthar recommendation should be discussed and carried.
With a particular Chief Judge of a state in the North abstaining, a few jurists reportedly provided support for the block vote delivered by lawyers on the council, to give Salami a razor-edge advantage over members pushing for respect of pending suits, including Salami’s.
With the two-vote advantage, it was carried that the Mukthar panel’s recommendation should be upheld, with the CJN reportedly directing the administrative head of the council to write to President Goodluck Jonathan on the majority decision and the need for Salami’s reinstatement as PCA.
It could not be ascertained as of press time whether Jonathan would simply reinstate him through proclamation or he would have to pass it through the Senate as was the procedure for replacing him with the acting PCA, Dalhatu Adamu, when the council suspended him.
However, the PDP is saying that the matter has not ended, as it signified its intentions, on Thursday, to challenge the council’s decision in the court of law.
In a statement signed by the Osun State chairman of the party, Alhaji Ganiyu Olaoluwa, the PDP described the report of the suspension reversal as the darkest chapter in the annals of the nation’s judiciary, vowing to challenge the illegality to the highest court in the land while querrying the participation of ACN governorship aspirant in Ondo State, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, at the meeting.
The party wondered what would become of the essence of justice and the judicial sector if its symbols like the NJC and CJN were riding roughshod on due process of law, adding that since the council had made nonsense of judicial process, Nigerians would be pardoned whenever they chose to follow in the footsteps of the NJC and the CJN, by overreaching the courts.
The party said it was shocked that politics of self-preservation could be employed by those occupying the top echelons of the judiciary on issues of law, adding that the desperation of the CJN to hand a parting gift to Salami was understandable because “he landed him in a bigger mess of perjury.”
The PDP said it would challenge the development in court, saying “discussing a matter that is pending before the court by the NJC is a dangerous signal and a bad omen for the judiciary in the country.”
The party urged Jonathan not to be a part of the illegality carried out at the NJC meeting, while asking the president to show respect for the rule of law by not acting on the NJC recommendation until all the cases pending in court on the matter are dispensed with, especially Salami’s.
The PDP said; “What was done at the NJC meeting of today simply amounts to an affront on the judicial system and the import is that, if members of the Bench could ignore pending court matters, other Nigerians will be right to do so, and the country will surely head for a state of anarchy.
“It is on this note that we are urging President Jonathan to take into consideration the pendency of about four cases on the issue of Justice Salami’s reinstatement before assenting to the NJC recommendation as doing otherwise will mean that Nigerians should begin to disobey the courts.”
Both the media aide to the CJN, Mohammed Adamu and the NJC’s image-maker, Soji Oye, declined comments on the development.