How My Fellow Judges Betrayed Me – Justice Salami
Retired President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami today opened up on his three year travails under the Jonathan administration, saying that he was betrayed by his colleagues on the bench, who in the cause of his persecution sold the independence of the judiciary to the executive arm of the government.
Salami had been suspended by as President of the Court of Appeal by President Jonathan at the peak of his face-off with a former CJN, Justice Katsina-Alu in 2010. His subsequent clearance by the National Judicial Council and recommendation for his reinstatement was roundly ignored by the presidency. This remained his situation until his time for retirement from the bench came. Speaking at a valedictory session of the Court of Appeal in his honour today, Justice Salami argued that the NJC lacked the constitutional powers to suspend him and also acted wrongly when it asked President Goodluck Jonathan to suspend him (Salami).
Going down memory lane, Justice Salami in his remarks at the function today said: “the last three years of my career were dogged by travails which are not dissimilar to the fate of Joseph in the book of Genesis in the Bible. As his brothers conspired to destroy him by throwing him into a well and selling him into slavery, my learned brothers and friends in the legal profession planned and executed doing evil to me.
“The National Judicial Council (NJC) created by the Constitution to protect me, nay any judicial officer, was on the vanguard of my travails. The NJC failed in its duties and thereby surrendered its functions to the Executive arm of government thus, ingratiate itself to the Executive
“For instance, the NJC having cleared me of any wrongdoing, following the recommendations of Justice Aloma Mukhtar’s committee, ought to have recalled me to office without asking the President to exercise the power that he does not possess, on the flimsy excuse that it had earlier referred the matter to him.
“In truth, as a matter of courtesy, all it needed to do was to write the President that in view of its recent decision, this matter was now outside his purview. After so informing him, NJC would be free to take the necessary step to implement its decision. The position in which NJC has found itself is similar to that of the proverbial cock that betrayed itself to the fox that what was on his head was not fire and encouraged the fox to touch it.
“The fox, having satisfied itself that truly it was not fire, has since been hunting cocks to make menu of them. Also, when the report of the committee the NJC set up to make recommendation on Umaru Abdullahi’s report was submitted to it for ratification, neither the CJN nor the next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court was present at the meeting.
“Justice Moses A. Bello, who was neither the CJN nor the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court, took it upon himself to preside at the meeting contrary to the express provisions of sub-paragraph (a) and (b) of paragraph 20 of the Third Schedule of the Constitution. No other members of the NJC, including statutory members could be Chairman.
He argued that by claiming to be Acting Chairman of NJC in the two letters he (Justice Bello) wrote to him, dated August 9 and 18 in 2011, he (Justice Bello OFR) was an impostor, because he was neither a Justice of the Supreme Court, the next most senior Justice of the court nor the CJN.
“This is the levity with which the NJC treats matters of National importance. Clearly, Justice Bello has not only. Behaved irresponsibly, but also recklessly.”
Justice Salami noted that the meeting at which Justice Bello presided and took the far reaching decision to suspend him took place when his application for an order restraining the NJC from deliberating on his case was pending before the Federal High Court. He argued that the consequence of Justice Bello’s conduct is that both meetings he presided over and the decision taken “are null and void.”
“It is this illegal decision that the NJC had been relying upon to keep me out of office from August 18, 2011.” He expressed regret that NJC, a body set up to protect judicial officers ” has dealt so cruelly with me.”
He however said that “I have no regret whatsoever over all that I did having acted according to the dictate of my conscience and in the fear of Almighty God. I swore to uphold the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and to do justice to all manner of people without fear or favour; God has helped me so to do.
“God helped me to overcome the travails of the last three years and I am grateful to Him and all those who have stood by me. However, it is not only about me, but about other innocent judges who may feel threatened and intimidated about upholding justice as a result of my maltreatment.”
Justice Salami urged serving judges to adhere strictly to their oaths of office, warning that departure from such “desecrates the temple of justice and brings untold hardship to the common man.” Speaking earlier, the Acting President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa praised Justice Salami for his contribution to the successes recorded by the court.
She described former President of the court as a renowned jurist, who is “down to earth, consummate thinker, forthright Nigerian, blunt and straight forward. He was a stickler for the full operation of the rule of law. ”He has shown this in his writings and judgments. He has greatly contributed to the growth and development of law and jurisprudence in this country,” Justice Bulkachuwa said.
Present at the event were the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mukhtar, former CJN, Justice Mohammed Uwais, Justice Mahmood Mohammed of the Supreme Court and the President of the National Industrial Court,Justice Babatunde Adejumo among others.