…as NJC shops for his replacement
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Barely a month after he was picked by the National Judicial Council, NJC, to head its Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee, COTRIMCO, former President of the Court of Appeal, PCA, Justice Ayo Salami, has rejected the offer.
Vanguard learnt that Salami has already communicated his decision to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen who doubles as Chairman of the NJC.
A source at the NJC confirmed to Vanguard on Thursday that Salami expressed his reservations about the composition of the committee which has 15 members that were drawn from within and outside the judiciary.
The source disclosed that Salami had in his meeting with the CJN, pinpointed three members of the committee he said he would not be comfortable to work with.
He was said to have drawn attention of the CJN to the fact that the trio who are senior lawyers, have vested interest in some of the corruption cases the committee would monitor in the exercise of its mandate.
Besides, Salami who himself bowed out of active judicial service in controversial circumstance, was said to have told the CJN that he was not ready to be in the eye of the storm again, saying he would rather prefer to enjoy his retirement in peace.
He further drew attention of the CJN to the fact that composition of the committee was already being queried by the public.
It would be recalled that Salami was on August 18, 2011, removed from office as the PCA by the NJC, following his refusal to apologise to both the Council and the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu who he accused of attempting to pervert justice in a governorship case involving Sokoto state.
The council, at its seventh emergency meeting, ordered Salami to vacate his office and hand over the leadership of the Court of Appeal to the most senior Justice of the court.
Eventhough the NJC later lifted his indefinite suspension, however, Salami was not recalled to the bench until he clocked the mandatory retirement age.
His appointment as head of COTRIMCO was the first judicial engagement he has gotten since he was “pushed” out of the bench.
Vanguard further learnt on Thursday that some members of the NJC’s graft monitoring committee played key role in the process that led to Salami’s ouster as head of the Court of Appeal.
Meanwhile, media aide to the CJN, Mr. Awassam Bassey, confirmed to Vanguard that Salami’s resignation letter had yet to get to his boss.
While confirming Salami’s rejection of his appointment, the CJN’s aide said: “I can confirm that it is true; I mean the resignation of Hon. Mr. Justice Ayo Salami (Retired) as the chairman of the Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO).
“However, besides what we see in the media, we cannot exactly say what the reasons are for Justice Salami’s decision not to undertake this all-important national assignment that he was called upon to perform.
“Hon. Salami (retired) says he has sent in a resignation letter to His Lordship the Hon Chief Justice of Nigeria but that letter has yet to get to the CJN.
“That’s all I can say at this moment. A more detailed explanation, if it becomes necessary, will be communicated to you when His Lordship receives Hon. Mr. Justice Salami’s letter”.
The former PCA was reportedly out of the country when the NJC announced his appointment to the head the looters’ trial monitoring committee.
Other members of the committee are Chief Judge of Borno State, Justice Kashim Zannah, Chief Judge of Imo State, Justice P.O. Nnadi, Chief Judge Delta State, Justice Marsahal Umukoro, Chief Judge of Oyo State, Justice M. L. Abimbola.
Others are the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. A.B Mahmoud, SAN, former NBA Presidents, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, Mr. J.B Daudu SAN and Mr. Augustine Alegeh SAN.
As well as Dr. Garba Tetengi, SAN, Mrs. R.I Inga, Representative of Non-Governmental Organisations, Representative from the Ministry of Justice, Representative from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, ICAN, as well as Secretary of the NJC, Mr. Gambo Saleh.
According to a statement the NJC issued at the end of its 82nd meeting in Abuja, the committee was expected to operate from the Council Secretariat situated inside the Supreme Court complex.
Among groups that criticised the composition of the committee included the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, which conveyed its position to the CJN vide a letter dated October 3.
In the letter signed by the Executive Director of SERAP, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, the group said the composition of the committee was not in consonance with the advisory of the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.
“SERAP urges your Lordship to urgently revisit, review, and reconsider the membership of the Salami committee to ensure that members currently handling high-profile corruption cases involving PEPs are removed.
“This proposal aims solely to remove the risk of apparent and potential conflicts between the work of the committee and the private practice of some of its members who are handling high-profile cases of corruption involving PEPs and to ensure the independence, impartiality, integrity and accountability of the judiciary.
“SERAP believes that judicial accountability should be secured in a way that is harmonious with, and not damaging to, the essential character and functions of the judicial office. A system of fair, effective and trustworthy judicial performance evaluation promotes public confidence in the judiciary, which, in turn, is essential to judicial independence.
“SERAP also urges your Lordship to ensure that the Salami committee can manage its own budget and has enough human and financial resources to properly function with independence. The Salami committee should also be accountable for its activities, to avoid the possible public perception of bias and conflict of interest”, the letter read.
Part of the Committee’s mandate included “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, conduct background checks on judges selected for the designated courts; and
“Evaluating the performance of the designated courts”.
It will be recalled that the CJN had in his speech at the Special Session of the Supreme Court of Nigeria to mark the commencement of the 2017/2018 Legal Year, emphasized on concerns expressed by members of the public on the very slow speed with which corruption cases were being heard or determined by the Court.
He therefore directed all Heads of Courts to compile and forward to the Council, comprehensive lists of all corruption and financial crime cases being handled by their various Courts.
The CJN equally directed them to designate in their various jurisdictions one or more Courts, as Special Courts solely for the purpose of hearing and speedily determining corruption and financial crimes cases.
The Supreme Court of Nigeria and the Court of Appeal were further directed to fix special date in each week for hearing and determining appeals from such cases.
The NJC said the monitoring committee was expected to drive its new policy on anti-corruption war.