Former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami (Retd.), has explained why he rejected the chairmanship of the Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Monitoring Committee of the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The explanation was made in a letter addressed to Justice Walter Onnoghen, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Chairman, NJC. In the letter, Justice Salami reminded Justice Onnoghen of a discussion they had at the CJN’s chambers on 12 October.
At the meeting, he said he strongly objected to the inclusion of certain lawyers in the committee because of their antecedents, divided interest and personal relationship with one of them, whom he said he could not work with.
He noted that the CJN agreed with him that the inclusion of those members in the committee was inauspicious based on petitions received against their membership of the committee. Justice Salami, however, noted that the CJN was of the view that the removal of the lawyers from the committee should be deferred till after the inauguration of the committee, a view he does not share.
“I do not agree with Your Lordship’s approach to the problem and I am respectfully not prepared to accept it as it would amount to buying a pig in a poke. It is easier to remove them before inauguration than after inauguration,” stated Justice Salami.
The retired jurist further explained that on his return to Ilorin on 12 October, he met letter containing the terms of reference of the committee, which is mainly to be watching the proceedings of courts designated by the chief judges across the country for the trial of corruption cases. Justice Salami said he found the terms of reference disagreeable.
“With the greatest respect, I do not know what we stand to gain by merely watching the proceedings of these courts. A judge who is quiet or friendly to counsel may not necessarily be honest neither is the one who is boisterous dishonest. Even then the most reckless amongst them would not be foolhardy to misconduct himself in the presence of the committee. He would clearly conduct himself respectfully for so long as it takes,” he wrote.
He added that the committee has no way of knowing the intention of the presiding judge by just sitting in court to watch the proceedings, stating that the whole exercise would amount to a waste of time and a huge theatrical show.
He maintained that he is not persuaded about the merits of the committee and suggested that if the NJC is convinced of its merits, it could make one of its members' chairman of the body.
“There are five retired Justices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal including former President of the Court of Appeal in the National Judicial Council. After all, the committee is that of the National Judicial Council, as suggested above, and I am not a member of the council. My own duty would just have been to submit a report to the council for its consideration and conclusion, a role that would be better performed by a member of the council,” he reasoned.
Justice Salami further noted that another sticking point is the inclusion of the five chief judges of some states in it. He wondered what would become of their primary function, which is the administration of their various courts.
“Would they abdicate their responsibility to their courts or be taking time off to see to the running in order to ensure their stability? What would the committee do during their absence? Wait for them or proceed without them? Either view is not salutary to the function of the committee. If we wait for them, the work of the committee would be delayed and if we proceed without them, they would not be seized of all the facts to enable them to participate fully in the deliberations of the committee and to defend its report in council,” he wrote.
The former Appeal Court President thanked the CJN for the honor done to him with his nomination as Chairman of the committee, a move he said represented an act that vindicated him and one that will kick off the healing process in the system by strengthening already intimidated judges or justices to perform their duty.
However, for the reasons set out above and more, it is not possible or feasible for me to accept the offer.