A Victim of His Principle

Justice Ayo Salami, suspended president, Court of Appeal, bows out insisting that he was a victim of his principle to respect the independent mindedness of fellow justices

|  By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Nov. 11, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

IT WAS a day of celebration and encomium for Justice Ayo Salami, retired president of the court of appeal on Wednesday October 30, 2013, when a book written in his honour was unveiled to the public. Authored by Funmi Quadri, the unveiling ceremony of the book titled, ‘Isa Ayo Salami: Through Life and Justice’ turned out be a mini carnival as dignitaries from the judiciary, government and various walks of life shelved other activities to celebrate the eminent jurist.

Salami who turned 70, the mandatory age for retirement on October 15, 2013 was still serving out a suspension placed on him by the national judicial council, NJC, following a disagreement he had with Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, former chief justice of Nigeria, CJN. There was, however, no clue to suggest that Salami had any regrets about retiring as he sat through the ceremony soaking all the encomiums from dignitaries who turned out to honour him.

Prominent among the dignitaries who graced the ceremony was Justice Mohammed Uwais, former CJN, Wole Soyinka, Mohammadu Buhari, former military head of state, Bisi Akande,  Bola Tinubu, Kayode Fayemi, governor of Ekiti State, Rauf Aregbesola, governor of Osun state, and  Abdulaziz Abubakar Yari, governor of Zamfara state.  Others were Lai Mohammed, Mike Ozekhome, Nasir el-Rufai and many more.

In his remarks, Justice Uwais who was the chairman of the ceremony, said the suspension placed on Salami by the NJC was unfair. While stressing that the president had no powers to suspend or recall a judge, Uwais added that the fact that none of the committees set up to investigate the allegations levelled against him by Justice Kastina-Alu indicted him was a clear indication of his innocence.

“Justice Isa Ayo Salami has been unfairly treated by the NJC. It is disturbing, to say the least, that the NJC, whose membership consists of eminent and experienced judges and lawyers, should act in the manner they treated Justice Salami.”

Delivering the keynote address titled: ‘Justice is never siddon look’, Wole Soyinka, said injustice at all levels, especially in the judiciary must be condemned. The Nobel laureate added that when justice is denied, something else must feel the vacuum. “It is said that nature abhors a vacuum.  It goes without saying that when justice is denied something else must fill the vacuum created. It is the duty of everyone, especially those in the judiciary to ensure that justice is served at all times.”

Ademola Popoola, a professor at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, who reviewed the book described it as a valuable testimony of the life and career of an eminent jury. He said the book would be useful to lawyers, students and everyone interested in learning about honesty, boldness, integrity and other values that Salami exemplifies.

Tinubu, former governor of Lagos state and national leader of the All Progressive Congress, APC, was full of praises for Salami. He said Salami showed courage, perseverance and doggedness in the discharge of his duty as a judge. “Thank you Justice Salami for teaching us courage. Thank you for teaching us perseverance. In the ocean of corruption, you have provided a craft. At this critical time in the history of our country, we need more men like you who can stand and confront the abuse of power.”

After listening to the eulogies of various speakers, it was time for Salami to respond. The retired justice almost betrayed emotions as he thanked everyone for coming to honour him. Recalling the incident that led to his suspension by the NJC, Salami said he had no regrets over his insistence not to pervert the course of justice despite being under pressure to do so.

Salami also gave a summary of what transpired between him and Katsina-Alu, who was the CJN at the time he was suspended.  “I realise the public interest that my feud with the NJC and former CJN Katsina-Alu generated. It is obvious that people want to know what the fuss was actually about. I was invited by the then CJN, Justice Katsina-Alu to his chambers on the 8th of February, 2010, using Justice Dahiru Musdapher’s phone, and when I got there, I met them together. He, Katsina-Alu, instructed me to direct the Justices of the Sokoto Appeal to dismiss the appeal of the Democratic Peoples Party, DPP, governorship candidate and I responded that I could not do so. Contrary to the deposition of Justice Katsina-Alu that he called me into his Chambers in respect of leakage in the judgment of the Sokoto matter which he gathered from petitions, there were no petitions against me or the Justices in the Sokoto Appeal Panel as at the 8th day of February, 2010, on Sokoto matter or any other matter. Ironically, the petitions in question only emerged on the 15th of February 2010, seven days after I had unequivocally informed the CJN that I would not direct a competent court on what its judgment should be.”

Salami added that, after showing him the petitions on the 15th of February, Justice Katsina-Alu asked him to disband the Sokoto Appeal Panel in view of the petitions. “I responded that I would not disband the panel as the petitions did not contain any allegation of impropriety against the members. In my response to the petitions, I made known what transpired at our meetings of 8th and 15th February, 2010. It was in his own submission to the NJC on my response that he now alleged that the reason for calling me was that the judgment in the Sokoto matter had leaked and that he gathered from the allegation that the judgment had leaked from petitions written against me.”

Salami maintained that the investigating panel set up by the NJC under Justice Umaru Abdullahi, former president, Court of Appeal, rejected Justice Katsina-Alu’s claim that there was an allegation of leakage in the petitions. “In spite of this, they concluded that he, Justice Katsina-Alu, was acting in good faith. On this, I won’t say more. I thank the Almighty God that I refused to pervert the course of justice. Disbanding the panel or persuading them to dismiss the appeal was not the right thing to do. It would have offended the principle of the independence of judges which I so much respect and believe in.”

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