Several sources within the National Judicial Council (NJC) have disclosed to SaharaReporters the intrigues and behind-the-scene maneuvers that nearly sabotaged the council’s vote earlier today to reinstate the suspended President of Nigeria’s Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami. In separate interviews, these sources detailed the drama and tension orchestrated by a cabal that vehemently opposed Mr. Salami’s return to his job.
According to these sources who were part of the closed door meeting, the opposition to Justice Salami’s returned was spearheaded by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Ibrahim Auta.
Mr. Auta is the notorious judge who was used by former military dictator, Sani Abacha, to hand down a verdict that led to the execution of environmental rights activist and leader of the Movement for the Sovereignty of the Ogoni People, Ken Saro-Wiwa along with eight other Ogoni activists.
SaharaReporters learnt that the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Joseph Bodunrin Daudu, also joined Justice Auta in opposing Justice Salami’s reinstatement. Incidentally, Mr. Daudu and Justice Auta worked in tandem in the hanging trial of Mr. Saro-Wiwa, with the NBA boss serving as the government’s lead prosecutor during the trial of Saro-Wiwa and his compatriots before Auta’s kangaroo tribunal.
Peter Umeadi, a member of the NJC, emerged as another strong campaigner against the recall of Justice Salami. Curiously, Mr. Umeadi’s late uncle, Philip Umeadi, also served on the Auta panel that sentenced Mr. Saro-Wiwa to death in a highly controversial and widely condemned 1995 trial in Port Harcourt.
Our sources revealed that 20 members of the NJC attended today’s meeting which was chaired by the outgoing Chief Justice of the Federation, Dahiru Musdapher.
The NJC had earlier constituted a committee led by Justice Alooma Muktar to help resolve the impasse created by the suspension of Justice Salami. The Alooma panel was mandated to liaise with all interested parties in the suspension saga crisis and submit a recommendation to the NJC for consideration.
The committee, which also had Olisa Agbakoba, a former President of the Civil Liberty Organization, as a member, reportedly met with the suspended judge and proposed that he accept to retire from the bench as a condition for his reinstatement. “I know that the Justice Alooma committee told Justice Salami that they would recommend his recall, but they wanted him to agree to retire as soon as he was reinstated,” said one of our sources. The source added that Justice Salami flatly rejected the condition, asserting that he was willing to continue his lawsuit against his illegal removal. The source said that Justice Alooma, Justice Pius Aderemi (rtd), Rotimi Akeredolu and Mr. Agbakoba supported his position that he would not retire.
One source told SaharaReporters that some members of the reconciliation committee persuaded Justice Alooma to have their group recommend an unconditional recall of Justice Salami. The source revealed that Mr. Agbakoba was then assigned the task of writing the panel’s report.
“That report was presented to the NJC at today’s meeting despite Justice Auta’s fierce reservation and opposition,” said one source.
Justice Auta had earlier written a report that accused Justice Salami of abusing his office as the President of the Court of Appeal.
The pattern of the 10-8 voting that clinched Justice Salami’s reinstatement revealed the nature of entrenched interests within and outside the judiciary that took a position on the matter.
SaharaReporters gathered that Justice Umaru Abdullahi, a former President of the Court of Appeal, aligned with Justice Auta in voting against Salami’s reinstatement. Justice Emmanuel Ayoola, the former chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), abstained from voting. The Chief Judge of Lagos State, Inumidun Akande, who was reportedly embedded with the anti-Salami crew, absented herself from the meeting.
Others who opposed the move to reinstate Justice Salami included Justice Moses A.D. Bello, the president of the Customary Court of Appeal in Abuja, and the Chief Judge of Benue State, a crony of former Chief Justice of Nigeria Aloysius Katsina-Alu.
Our sources revealed that the pro-Salami members were led by former Supreme Court Justice Pius Aderemi, Olisa Agbakoba and included a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Rotimi Akeredolu, Justice Alooma and Chief Justice Dahiru Mustapha of the Supreme Court. Other supporters included National Industrial Court President, Babatunde Adejumo, and Justice Aloma Muktar. Onueze Chukwujinka Okocha, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, also voted for Justice Salami’s reinstatement.